This is Xochimilco: the pre-Hispanic waters that feed Mexico City

By Roger Vela

Xochimilco — which in Nahuatl means “Field of Flowers” ​​— is a place of pre-Hispanic origin where the ancient Mexicans created a farming system in the middle of a large lake.

This place is surrounded by kilometers of water channels, here the pelicans spread their white wings that contrast with the blue of the sky, while little fish jump when they hear the motor of the boat. For a moment, everything that your eyes can see seems to be taken from an oil painting whose strokes managed to catch time. It’s a surreal postcard because it doesn’t look like Mexico City. Here you don’t hear the car engines that stun your ears, nor do you see a crowd spilling into the streets.

On the other hand, the auditory harmony is made up of the song of the birds, the swaying of the water and the hiss of the wind hitting the grass. This is a unique place. This is Xochimilco.

To gain ground from the water, they built small islets out of tree branches, logs, and dirt. With the passage of time, these small mounds grew and began to be used to plant vegetables. Those portions of land within the lake were called “Chinampas”. Currently, some families use the chinampas as housing and as fertile ground to grow food and flowers. For this reason, this place located south of the capital seems a kind of rural Venice.

Miguel del Valle is a farmer who begins his day in the chinampa at 8 in the morning and ends when evening falls. Several generations of his family have dedicated their lives to planting in these lands. “We create a cooperative that preserves what our ancestors left us. My parents taught me this way of growing, I taught it to my sons and them to my grandsons,” says Miguel surrounded by dozens of vegetables that will soon be for sale in markets and through WhatsApp.

“Working the land implies physical and mental fatigue, but to continue with this tradition is to continue the Aztec path. We see it as the flowering of oneself. This place took thousands of years to be built. It is living archeology.”

The ancestral weight of this agricultural production technique has led Miguel’s family to be guided by the stars to begin their cultivation. The moon shows them when to deposit the seeds on the ground. The connection they have with the cosmos and the earth derives from a worldview of the world that provides them with ancestral knowledge to better understand what nature offers.

But in addition to the ancestral traditions, one of the advantages of Xochimilco is that what is grown there is sold right there, so the prices of products such as carrots, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage and onions are sold at low prices, since there are no excessive transportation costs, or intermediaries.

Julen Ladrón de Guevara, market chronicler, assures that the vegetables offered in the main market of Xochimilco maintain their nutrients and grow freely due to the conditions in which they are grown. “Unlike the ones sold in supermarkets, the ones here are cheaper and more nutritious. If we do not consume what is produced here, we will abandon the mexican countryside. Also, in times like these it is important to eat locally to be better fed.”

Although beyond the economic and nutritional benefits that are obtained from buying fruits and vegetables in Xochimilco, there is the experience of visiting this place. “Being in Xochimilco is feeling that you left the city, listening to the water, seeing the people who plant it is a feeling of tranquility. Imagine the impact that the beauty of these lands caused on the Spanish conquerors.”