Native maize, the inhabitant of Mexico City who resists eviction

Mexico City is one of the most populated in the world. In the imagination, their territory is mostly grey, noisy, crowded and suddenly hostile.

The real estate development of the city is eating up the green spaces, but in the southern outskirts of the city peasant life still resists.

In the southern municipalities of Mexico City, 3,733 tons of native maize are still produced annually.

Growing maize is not easy, we must defend the seed from the transgenic threat, from water problems, from urban growth.

* Cover photo: View of Mexico City from the crop fields in the Tlalpan Mayor's Office, one of the main areas where native maize is grown. 

By Greta Rico and Anaíz Zamora

Mexico City is conceited. She likes to be told that everything happens in her. Enjoy its bank towers that can dance to the rhythm of earthquakes. She is pretentious, boasting the French-inspired streets of her large flea markets where beer with lemon and chili is sold in blender glasses. 

She has developed the ability to pretend that "everything is fine," even though it hasn't been for a long time. She's about to turn 700 years old and it seems that nobody remembers what it was like when it was born. Shewas a lake, without concrete, without pavement and with water canals instead of streets. She has only one inhabitant, even older than her, who witnessed that story: maize. 

That old companion is estimated to be more than 10,000 years old. He has temper, he transforms, he adapts to the whims of a city that seems to do everything to evict him. But maize survives, builds community and is present. He is in every corner of the city, in the form of chilaquiles, quesadillas, gorditas, pozole, tamales, tlacoyos, elotes with chili, and a long list of delicacies offered in street food stalls, and increasingly, in the menus of select restaurants. 

From this fierce presence comes the idea that maize is the basis of Mexican food and its culinary richness, a heritage of humanity. The phrase "maize gives us identity" is often said with pride, however, placing it as an emblem in international laws and discourses contrasts with the decisions that are made for Mexico City to fulfill her desires for greatness, erasing the history of maize and shortening his space. 

In this great city full of buildings, houses and two floor avenues, 3,733 tons of native maize are still produced each year. And although that may seem like a lot, that amount is not enough to satisfy the hunger of the fifth most populated city in the world.

Like the Chilango population - as those who inhabit this territory are called - the city's maize has become used to a hard and chaotic life. He survives the altitude that leaves many people breathless, resists serious levels of pollution and faces climate change that has modified the rainy and dry season. 

His adaptability is such that he can resist increasingly frequent hailstorms. He is stubborn: he insists on staying in a city that is in a hurry to create a purely capitalist identity. But it is a fight that does not take place alone, but hand in hand with those who still plant and harvest it, the best way to care for it and conserve it.

When the city had not developed her taste for cement and before they stopped calling her Tenochtitlan - the name of the ancient Aztec empire -, she could feed herself. Now80 percent of the food consumption she needs comes from other states, but in its pre-Hispanic times, enough maize was planted, and it was even enough to pay tribute. Today, the oldest inhabitant only grows mostly in 4 of the 16 mayorships: Milpa Alta, Xochimilco, Tláhuac and Tlalpan, located in a periphery marked by inequality and poverty, neighborhoods where the ways of life and coexistence are different, where there are still very ancient traditions and religious celebrations and where, above all, ancestral and traditional knowledge is preserved. 

They exchanged chinampas for promises 

Forgetful Mexico City is and always has been. She has increasingly forgotten her agricultural past, the chinampas, a cultivation method that uses all the natural elements from the trees to the mud to create an artificial wetland. 

The chinampas were so important in pre-Hispanic times that alliances were even created between different peoples to defend them, since the most precious thing then was food. Maize began its reign as the most consumed grain in Mexico. 

While in the past, the amount of nutrients from chinampas soil allowed us to have three crops a year, while other agricultural systems generally produced only one. In the City, there remain 2,500 hectares and 20,000 chinampas,the last ones in the world, which represent less than 3 percentof what there was in its glory days, more than 500 years ago. 

The chinampas, which still survive in Tláhuac and Xochimilco (although some have been transformed into nurseries for flowers and non-edible plants), developed the polyculture system that Mexico boasts to the world: the milpa. 

In academic and specialized texts, the milpa is defined as an “agroecosystem,” or as a “dynamic space of genetic resources.” Those who plant it explain that what is done is to take advantage of the land, planting maize and other products around it. It is a system where each element does a job. 

For example, the bean grows entangled in the stalk of the maize, and its roots provide microorganisms that fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, essential for the maize to grow. Meanwhile, the leaves of the squash make shade so that the maize resists the sun's rays. Records of milpas with up to 150 elements have been found, but the most common is to plant maize, beans, squash, chili and quelites. 

When the city gave up territory to industrial development, offices and homes became a priority. Little by little, the city lost the ability to produce its own food, which is known as food sovereignty.

Ramón Vera says that the loss of food sovereignty is the result of a “war to make human beings work for someone else, instead of producing or solving what matters most to them, which is food.”  

He grew up in Mexico City. “When I was a child, there were still maize fields where now there are only factories and suburban train stations”. He has been accompanying communities in the defense of their territories for more than 30 years and, even today, when he talks about maize, his face lights up and his voice brightens. 

That war, says Ramón, co-founder of the Ojarasca supplement of the newspaper La Jornada, is also against the people and their food system. It is executed when industrial development is prioritized over rural development, when laws are approved that benefit companies and forget people, and when the productive capacity of the land is damaged with poor urban planning and real estate development. 

“Maize is the center of origin of an entire civilization, but we think of it as a thing, and when we see it as an object, we see it devoid of all the processes and areas of community that cross it. When we talk about maize, we are actually talking about a relationship of care,” reflects Ramón. 

This is a war disguised as promises that Mexico City cannot keep, such as a better quality of life and employment opportunities for all people. Thus it attracted a large part of its population, which ended up in irregular settlements and peripheral areas. The city’s airs of grandeur tend to be classist and racist.t considers that the countryside and agriculture are “poor people's work,” an idea reinforced by international politics that turn the countryside into an unwanted destination, explains Rocío Venegas, professor of International Relations at FES-Acatlán UNAM.

When Mexico signed the Free Trade Agreement with the US and Canada (NAFTA), it was easy for Mexico City to attract more people: it invited them to leave the countryside and start a life there as factory or office workers. In that agreement, Mexico provided the labor, and the United States and Canada provided the technology. Rocío identifies that at the time, the abandonment of the countryside, rural and agricultural, became even more evident under arguments of free competition, the market and foreign investment. 

After the signing of NAFTA, the Mexican government began to dismantle the support structures for the production of national maize. Social programs that allowed many farmers to invest in their crops and market their products, for example the Company National Popular Subsistence Institute (Conasupo), were eliminated.

This mainly affected farmers who have small planting and cultivation spaces with more artisanal and traditional processes, since their prices could not compete with the prices of imported corn from industrialized agricultural processes and from another vision of the land. 

The most drastic changes that the city has had are its love for what is foreign, and its desire to have ways of life like those of the global north. An increasingly reduced and abandoned field is survived by people who understand it as a way of life and who now must also resist the policies and demands derived from the T-MEC, the international agreement that replaced NAFTA and that seeks to “modernize the disciplines in agricultural trade.

Gaby's grandfather harvested chinampero maize in the lake area of ​​Xochimilco. In the family archive, there are photographs like this one where her grandfather holds some ears of maize that he harvested himself.

One of the main methods of conservation and diversification of native maize in Mexico City is the exchange and sowing of seeds, which also represent the wealth and biocultural heritage of Mesoamerican civilizations. In the image, Gaby is holding chinampero maize seeds that have been in her family for generations.

A threat to seeds

Many stories are told about the origin of Mexico City, as well as about the origin of maize. Some are mythical, and include gods, ants and, in extreme cases, even aliens, but what they have in common is that maize exists because it is related to people, territories and other plants. Its origin and evolutionary capacity are the product of its domestication, a concept that is nothing more than human selection of seeds. 

Maize is a very particular plant, because each of its elements is used. Its flower is the grain and has two main functions. The first, being eaten. The other is to be the seed that is sown. Maize is cyclical: it is planted, cared for, harvested, The grains are selected and the best are saved for the next cycle. To defend maize, you have to plant it. Those who consider it part of their family know that. 

Judith Cabello and Daniel Vázquez are residents of Milpa Alta, a mayorship whose name refers to the long maize stalks that grow there, which reach up to two meters and are still the tallest in the south of Mexico City. 

They have managed to build and maintain their relationship with maize in different ways. For Judith's family, maize has always been another member. They have never stopped planting it. Daniel had a more distant relationship, since his family did stop planting it, but, during his academic and professional career as an industrial biochemical engineer, he studied and worked with agrochemicals that damage the earth, which led him to question many laboratory processes and find ways to make it different. 

Out of that concern, the desire to anchor themselves in their community with their family and to stop commuting more than 4 hours a day, as well as their increasing interest in maize, Judith and Daniel created the Rural Collective Atocpan, an initiative that seeks to make traditional knowledge about maize and the milpa part of daily life once again. 

In the most populated neighborhoods of the city it is rare to take the time to get to know all the neighbors, it is even rarer to talk to them. However, it is in these towns in the periphery, where the City still weaves its community. In Milpa Alta, people still greet each other by name, say good morning, and practice long-standing customs, such as exchanging seeds, one of the most efficient agricultural technologies for reproducing better crops. 

This exchange of seeds is fundamental for life, the city and maize. Daniel knows this and that is why he and his wife Judith, as part of the Collective's actions, opened the “Seed House” in Milpa Alta, for which they allocated a space in their own house. In academic spaces, what they did is known as a “germplasm bank” or “seed bank.” 

Daniel and Judith have toured the Milpa Alta mayorship, held events and seed exchanges, to create the first community native maize germplasm bank in the area. This bank has a seed adoption system that promotes, through sowing and cultivation, the conservation of native maize, which represents the basis of people's diet in Mexico.

The Milpa Alta space does not have giant vaults that protect seeds in sub-zero temperatures, like the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT,by its acronym in Spanish), based in Texcoco, or the germplasm bank of the Commission on Natural Resources and Rural Development(Corenadr, by its acronym in Spanish),but the variety of maize seeds is gradually growing due to donations from farmers who believe in the project. Anyone can donate, and anyone can request seeds, with the commitment to sow them and return a part of their harvest to continue the cycle. 

The effort that seems to exist to evict maize from its territory is also seen in alsoMexico's desire to be in fashion with the rest of the world and monopolize seedscurrently protected by the International Convention for the Protection of New Vegetables Varieties (UPOV 78) that privileges the right of farmers to use and exchange their seeds and favors genetic diversity. 

But there is the threat of making a Reform to the Federal Plant Varieties Law,which would assess unpayable fines to anyone who uses seeds, flowers, fruits or any protected plant structure without permission and prohibit the free exchange of seeds and privatized plants. Thich would put those who take care of the maize from its seed at a disadvantage. 

And although it may seem like the plot line of a movie, it has already happened that commercial giants sue small farmers for the “intellectual property” of seeds. 

The milpa system is a polyculture that has been practiced in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. The variety of foods grown there prevents the soil from eroding, and the combination of foods provides high nutritional value to the people who consume it. Judith and Daniel monitor the growth of a small milpa that they planted in one of the patios of the Seed House. This year, they planted beans, pumpkin and maize, which will be accompanied by the planting of some flowers and quelites in the coming weeks.

With the desire that Mexico City has to become more “avant-garde” and neoliberal, it is betting that those who live there will think that what is packaged, what is expedited, and what is produced in large quantities is better. Ignorance of the past and traditional methods – which oppose the immediacy of any supermarket – work in their favor. 

This increasingly stronger alliance with large companies makes the threat against seeds and native maize feel dangerously close. 

There is a corn that has had its autonomy and its ability to adapt to the environment gradually taken away. “Genetic engineering forced a transformation that would not occur under environmental conditions,” explains Alma Piñeyro, a doctor of science from the UAM, who, for years, has dedicated herself to researching the genes that characterize maize. 

Transgenic corn is a strong rival that seeks to inhabit the spaces that have already been taken away from native maize. It was created in a laboratory by agroindustries with the promising idea of ​​generating food more quickly and in the quantities demanded by hungry cities. 

Alma puts in simple words the process carried out in laboratories: genetic material from viruses or bacteria was introduced into the DNA of the corn, so that the corn is capable of producing its own insect. When a seed is planted and the corn grows, the insect larvae die by eating the plant. 

Another genetic addition was a gene resistant to glyphosate,a broad-spectrum herbicide that kills all the grasses and weeds that grow around the corn. This is one of the most-used chemicals in industrial agriculture and has been shown to have a high environmental cost. 

Some studies have been done on whether genetically modified corn could have an impact on human health when we eat it, but Alma says that there are none that fit the Mexican reality, where maize is consumed throughout life. 

Mexico is one of the few countries that still resists transgenic corn, since its planting is not authorized, however, Mexico City already eats this type of corn. It is found in any supermarket, in products such as snacks and toast, in imported meats (since it is used to feed livestock), and in the syrup that sweetens soft drinks. 

One of the most common native maize still grown in Milpa Alta is red maize. These grains are some of those found in the Seed House of the Atocpan Rural Collective. From a single ear, you can obtain up to 200 seeds for the next growing cycle.

The real business of the transnational companies that sell transgenic corn is not in the food, nor in the sale of the seeds; it is in the technological package that they offer: They promise that the seed will produce more, but they do not mention that without the chemicals they sell, the seed does not work. They do not say that the magic ends soon and the seeds do not last many cycles, like those that have always existed in the country. 

In Mexico, and of course in the capital city, people love to eat what grows around maize, even its mushrooms – huitlacoche – are enjoyed in a quesadilla, with or without cheese, squash blossom or purslane. “It is an absolutely different worldview from the land and the maize field, and from what feeds us and from how we conceive ourselves. For the United States, maize is to feed animals, here it is something else,” explains Julia Álvarez Icaza, one of the members of the “Without maize there is no country” campaign. 

Another unsaid thing about transgenic corn is that it is impossible to contain its reproduction. By nature, maize has a pollination system that occurs with the wind, or with the rain, "the issue with the transgenic is that if it begins to release pollen, part of that transgene can travel in the pollen and be introduced into a native maize and you don't know the potential risk it has, because you've already contaminated it,” says Julia.

She is also part of the team of lawyers that filed a collective lawsuit that has managed to stop the planting permits for transgenic corn requested by Monsanto, Monsanto Comercial, Dow Agrosciences de México, PHI México (Pioneer-Dupont), and Syngenta Agro. 

July 2023 marks 10 years since 53 people filed a collective lawsuitrequesting that federal courts declare that “the planting of genetically modified corn will harm the human right to the biological diversity of native maize, of current and future generations”, as well as the rights to food, health and cultural rights,” explains Julia.

With their Casa de Semillas initiative, Daniel and Judith promote the circulation and exchange of seeds among the people of their community in Milpa Alta. Over time, they have gained the trust of farmers who still plant and care for native maize. For this reason, they have donated ears like these that have an important genetic adaptability to the conditions of Mexico City, such as the elevation and the weather.

A series of legal resources has allowed that although this lawsuit has not yet been resolved, there are several protections and precautionary measures, ratified by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, to maintain the suspension of planting of genetically modified corn. Another barrier that transgenic corn has to enter Mexico is the recent presidential decree, published on February 13, 2023, where glyphosate is prohibited.

Transgenic corn has not yet made its triumphant entry into the Chilangian crop fields, but the companies that promote it and seek to plant it throughout the territory already have their offices and headquarters in the large buildings that make up the favorite landscape of the City of Mexico. 

The chinampera

Because she is pretentious, Mexico City likes to think herself big, but compared to its neighboring states, she is small. Her surface barelyrepresents 0.08 percent of the national territory.She feels large because of how populated she is, since with just 1,485 km2, she concentrates 7.5 percent of the country's population, just under nine million inhabitants. Although if we count those who travel there every day to work or study there, we are talking about 20 million people. 

And to say populated actually means crowded, since those 20 million are concentrated in less than half of its territory. The rest is conservation and agricultural land. What we call soil is a territory that was previously water, canals, lakes and wetlands. Like the Xochimilco wetland that still exists. 

Xochimilco is a space where many want to use everything, except for agriculture. The National Guard plans the construction of a barracks in the Nezahualcóyotl nursery. Airbnb already offers cabins to welcome digital nomads and people who want to “connect with nature.” Amazon and Tv Azteca install filming sets and several companies offer immersive experiences through the channels, to take “unique” photographs at sunrise or sunset. 

And to think that just 36 years ago, the chinampas, a unique agricultural system in the world, and the farmers of Xochimilco were named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. 

The tourist tours in Trajinera that are now common in Xochimilco began relatively recently, in 1930. Previously, the canals were used only to transport local people and market products, mainly foods that were planted in the chinampa: maize, fruits, vegetables and quelites.

Those who are unaware of the agricultural tradition of the territory call it “the Venice of Mexico,” a nickname it earned because it is now better known as a tourist destination. It has 11 piers where you can rent a trip on a trajinera, the most popular boat on the canals, which has also been transformed to satisfy the foreign or foreign eye, since before they did not have the plank roof that now characterizes them.

Due to its size, the trajinera was used to transport goods and people, its arches (which are actually called portals) are part of the Xochimilca lake culture, and they were only decorated with flowers on holidays or celebrations thay brought the neighborhoods together, such as the “The Most Beautiful Flower of the Ejido” contest that continues to be held.  

The demand for trajinera trips has been increasing since 2000, when Xochimilco was declared a “Priority Tourism Zone.” But it is very likely that the more than 200 thousand annual visitors ignore the history of the place and are unaware that some of its inhabitants continue to row between the canals to reach their houses and their chinampas, using smaller boats: canoes and cayucos that are also made there. 

Tourist activity represents an economic income for many families, but it also leaves a significant ecological footprint on the water of the canal, which receives clandestine wastewater discharges and is contaminated with fertilizers and pesticides that are used for the production of greenhouse plants.

The xochimilcas tell a parallel history of the City. Vicente Morales is from there, that's why he knows how to move between the channels that cannot be traversed like the streets. When he was a child, the water was clean, he could even drink it, what he remembers most about that Xochimilco are the days when his family would get together to eat in one of the chinampas and his mother would send him to get a fish to roast, and she even scolded him when he brought her two. 

Now the wetland has been transformed so much that it is no longer the same place where he grew up. The animals that still survive in the lake are not edible. Among them is the axolotl, a 100 percent Chilango species that is in danger of extinction. The same thing happens to maize: Mexico likes to boast about it, they even put its drawing on the 50 peso bill,but does not carry out enough actions to protect it. The pollution levels of the lake make its survival increasingly difficult.

As part of the folklorization of the lake area of ​​Xochimilco, the government of Mexico City is mainly concerned with the areas where tourists travel. However, people like Gaby can no longer plant crops using ancestral and traditional farming methods, nor use the water from the canals near their chinampa, due to pollution and the presence of garbage and the discharge of wastewater from surrounding houses.

That is the Xochimilco in crisis that Vicente's daughter, Gabriela Morales, lives in, a chinampera woman who went from reading about agricultural work at the University to dedicating herself to it. 

Seven years ago, she decided that she wanted to rebuild her bond with the territory and set out to learn how to plant. She started with the help of her brother, and although she didn't know how to do it very well, because it was not something that was still done in her family, she did know that you learn from the land by working it.

The first time she dedicated herself to the fields, she ended up very tired and with her hands hurt, which made her understand something her grandfather told her: we revere the land and that is why you have to bend down to work it. “Agricultural work is hard, and it is also expensive, you have to buy tools, materials, supplies, few people know that,” she says now with more experience. 

She also did not know how to row, despite it being customary in Xochimilco, because it is not something that women have always done. Although, as a child, she listened to the stories that her family told her about chinampero work, she was unaware of the tremendous physical exhaustion that both activities require. Gaby, as she likes to be called, now feels proud of the strength that her body has developed. 

In mid-March 2023, Gaby began preparing the land of her grandfather's chinampa to plant native maize. In his words: “100 lessons are learned in agriculture, one each year.” To do this, Gaby ordered a special tool to allow her to tear up the grass and loosen the soil faster and more efficiently.

“When we are women and we grow up in Xochimilco, they tell us a lot not to row and not to try because we are going to get hurt.” It took Gaby almost half a year to learn to row and balance in her canoe. Now she does it with great skill. Rowing has allowed her to achieve the autonomy of transporting herself between the canals.

She has two chinampas, one that she bought and another that she rescued after her grandfather abandoned her when he believed in the promises of an industrialized city, and left his job as a farmer to work on the trams. That chinampa became a clandestine garbage dump when his grandfather told his children to study and not work in the fields, because they were not going to do well. That's why Vicente, Gaby's father, couldn't teach her how to plant, he didn't know how. 

The City that has never stopped growing, began to further urbanize the peripheries when Gaby was a child, and many people decided to dry the mud and earth from their chinampas to be able to build houses; some sold them. Several canals were filled with concrete to build streets on which they could walk and not paddle. That's why her grandfather's chinampa was surrounded by houses. And although there is still a canal that is a few meters away, Gaby cannot use that water because it is no longer suitable for irrigation.

Despite being surrounded by houses, the chinampa that belonged to Gaby's grandfather is still highly productive due to the characteristics of Xochimilco's soils. At the beginning of May, Gaby called for a tequio day (calling her friends and acquaintances to work collectively in her field; it is common that in the tequio, in addition to exchanging knowledge and knowledge, food is exchanged and shared) to plant milpa and some flowers.

The contradiction of a city that was built on water is that now it does not have it. Until 1910, the water that existed in Xochimilco supplied all of Mexico City. In 1940 the first general drying of the lake was carried out, a decision that was made to have streets and not canals. So now the water comes from wastewater treatment plants,or from the states of Michoacán and the State of Mexico. Drought is a word that we are afraid to say, but a predictable future that the city refuses to address. 

Now the proposal for a new territorial planning in Mexico City would exacerbate the water problems.It would even dry out the underground and rainwater collection tanks, since it is intended to build a series of tunnels and ducts to transport water, and although it seems like something that does not impact the Agriculture, in reality, capturing water in this way decreases the capacity of the land itself to recharge the aquifers, a natural process that is conserved when agricultural activities are not aggressive with the land. 

Being named Xochimilca is an important sense of identity and roots for Gaby, which is why she is interested in knowing the history of her territory and why it has been transformed in that way. Her political commitment is to transform the logic from which is understood. 

“They began to dry up the lake, because having a lake culture, where you live with water all the time, is not the same as having a culture where, on the contrary, you want to be dry, you want to walk without staining your shoes, without getting muddy (… .) Thus they began to discriminate against those who farm, those who speak a language, and well that has a consequence on how the territory is inhabited,” says Gaby.

Gaby likes to feel the cool earth on her feet when she works in her chinampa, especially during the planting season, which is usually the hottest in the Mexico City area.

Their great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers received that message, abandoned the Nahuatl - mother tongue of the native peoples - and began to be ashamed of their lake culture. 

Addicted by this colonial conception of what it should look like, the City has given up much of its central territory to real estate development, and has treated the south as a waste warehouse. Several of the 800 daily trips that dump trucks made full of remains of houses and buildings during the five months after the 1985 earthquake ended in some chinampas. Even today, that debris is visible. 

And although they told it what it should look like, no one ever planned the city, and its disorderly growth tries to be resolved with decisions that actually generate more problems. For example, to resolve traffic on that side of the city, the Cuemanco Bridge was built, which was opposed by the Xochimilco Town Coordination, which anticipated the floodingproblems that now exist. 

Beyond what they tell her about this part of the city, Gaby saw how they used to work in the mud, sowing in chapines (blocks of mud that are taken from the lake and used to germinate seeds) “it was something else, before you could see ahuejote trees, bigger, more leafy, you see smaller and smaller trees, with pests, those trees are the natural barrier for the chinampas, because now, going in those canals is just seeing trajineras and many greenhouses." 

The mud from the Xochimilco canals is rich in nutrients, since it contains a lot of organic matter. The use of chapines (mud blocks) to germinate seeds and then sow them is an ancestral and traditional practice, which has been carried out in the chinampas area since pre-Hispanic times. Maize is already beginning to grow in these chapines and they are ready to be planted in the ground.

Gaby did not have time to learn from her grandfather how to plant milpa and how to take care of the chinampa, when she began to want to resolve those curiosities, her grandfather was already quite old and could not work alongside her, although they did manage to have quite a few talks before he died. 

What she did inherit from him was the maize seeds that he saved from his crops, and it is the seed that she continues to sow. She knows that there is a latent risk that the knowledge of traditional agriculture will be lost, since it now lives in the memory and knowledge of people who are no longer young, which is why her chinampa also serves as a classroom. Under a small aluminum roof Gaby places a table, some chairs and a blackboard, and organizes workshops for women and young people. Her desire is to share and expand knowledge. 

“The chinampa would not exist if we did not eat it, that is why it is important to understand it beyond a space that gives us money to support ourselves; It is a unique space, it has very high levels of organic matter that make it suitable for growing crops all year round, we cannot wear it out or waste it on laying grass, making fields, or even cabins,” for Gaby it is important that the City show off the lake's past not only with visits to beautiful places, but also with agriculture.

Gaby currently has two chinampas, the land that belonged to her grandfather and this one that she recently managed to buy. Here, she usually grows maize, beans, vegetables and quelites for consumption and market in local and agroecological consumption networks.

The still unpaved land that remains in the south of Mexico City is home to very particular maize fields, mostly chalqueño maize, “which is not very big, it is a sweet maize,” Gaby describes. There are also mazes that are redder or bluer, which are then turned into more colorful tortillas or snacks, and of course, the most anticipated maize that is harvested in September, the maize that is eaten on a stick with mayonnaise and cheese: elote. 

The milpa that Gaby plants is the product of her experiments and is less complex: she only plants round squash and beans with the maize. She has also experimented with seeds from other places, which she obtains through exchange. “Before they made fun of my brother and me, when we started planting popcorn maize, they told us, no, that doesn't grow here, and we started with little and the ears got bigger and bigger and now we already have enough seeds.” 

The effects of climate change are notable in Mexico City. The 2023 rainy season has been delayed by two months, this has caused both Gaby and other farmers to delay the planting season. Gaby planted her milpa at the beginning of May when previously people in Xochimilco used to plant from the month of March.

Gaby tried to sell food made with the products of her milpa in a cafeteria that she opened in Xochimilco, but it was not so successful because there were people who asked her about dishes with meat or ingredients that are not from there. She says that sadly, the city's efforts to erase the knowledge linked to the territory led its inhabitants to ignore seasonal products and their nutritional benefits.

But she did not give up and has no intention of doing so, her chinampa is also a shared dream and projecthe gave it a name: “Chinampa Tlazolteotl”. They already recognize it by that name in their neighborhood, or as “Ahuehuete Workshop”, If someone who is not from there comes asking about the rowing workshop for women or about a land care workshop with Gaby Ale, some neighbors will already know where to send them. From this project, she will continue to make visible the importance of wetlands. 

Diversity should come to Mexico City because of how different the stories are told in its neighborhoods. “Mexico City is also native peoples, it is also street closures, it is also fun and partying, it is the neighborhood and it is the difficulties it has,” says Gaby, who has managed to plant crops for several years based on tequio, a custom that It involves collaborating with work when someone needs it. In this way, the work in the fields has become less burdensome, and is accompanied by laughter, anecdotes and pulque 

- a traditional beverage from maguey ferment. At the beginning of May, Gaby sowed little seeds, as she refers to them, which she grew in chapines made with the mud that her neighbors took from the lake and gave her. This is how she inhabits the city, from micropolitics and love for the land. But Mexico City is so busy coveting what it doesn't yet have, and relating from dispossession, that it doesn't seem to want to listen to those neighborhoods, who still proclaim their love to it. 

Learn more maize stories:

Women of maize, ancestral wisdom against an industry that sickens

The agricultural cycle of native maize and how it is affected due to climate change.

About maize, we must continue talking