Chinampas: Permaculture seen by the Aztecs?

5 months already, time flies here… We take advantage of this article to give you news of our trip before telling you more about the chinampas.

Upon our arrival in the state of Mexico at the end of November, we stopped at Ensenada to repair Kalima’s bike (gratitude to our 2 sponsors: Azub and Bajadventours, for the new suspension and it installation!!)
This was an opportunity for us to take Spanish classes intensively. It may be useful later on…

Baja California Desert reaches us; we lived one month immersed in a new universe: cactuses, coyotes, azure sea and desert as far as the eye can see. We fond ourselves lonesome, with our tent to camp under the stars in the middle of nowhere…

We celebrated Christmas with music in La Paz with Eduardo and his family. Thank to them for this wonderful evening!
We enjoy being in the south of Baja California, to dive with whale sharks. Big breeze of adrenaline in this face to face with the biggest fish of the world!


The crossing of the Sea of ​​Cortes, from La Paz to Mazatlan will be done by night, on the deck of a Ferry, exposed to the 4 winds. Short night but happy to start this new year here in Mazatlan.

On the way to Mexico, we return to filming the documentary and enjoy Balnearios on the road.

During our first shoot, we met, in Morelia, the founder of Biofase, a revolutionary plastic made of avocado cores. We have not finished investigating Bioplastics and we will tell you more in the next article!


Arrived in Mexico City, we go directly to Xochimilco where Marissa and her family welcome us for 4 days, time to turn our topic on Chinampas.


Since the time that we are told about Chinampas, we were very curious to go there. We were not disappointed.

The Chinampas are the vestiges of the ingenuity of the Aztecs to feed the great city of Tenochtitlan (which will become Mexico). According to the predictions of their religious leaders, the Aztecs (Mexicas), hitherto nomadic, were to settle permanently when they saw an eagle on a cactus (nopal). It was in 1325 that the prediction was realized, on an islet in the middle of Lake Texcoco.

This land of hostile swamps was unsuitable for cultivation. The major challenge of the Aztecs was to transform this environment to increase the cultivable surface and feed a city of 200,000 inhabitants. By building artificial islands and using the fertile mud of the lake, they managed to transform this constraint into a strong point that allowed them to develop the city considerably.

Channels were first dug to facilitate the flow of water. The nutrient-rich lake mud was then placed on the island, which was maintained by a network of cane branches and foliage.

Seedlings were then made in a mixture of mud and foliage to be deposited on the island. Very early, these seedlings no longer needed to be watered since they absorbed moisture from the soil, itself irrigated by the water of the lagoon. Trees, planted on the edges of the islets made it possible to consolidate the banks and to limit the erosion of the island. By alternating crops, they managed to harvest 4 crops a year and obtain exceptional yields. This ingenious farming technique, based on the forces of nature, recalls the principles of permaculture used today!

They cultivated mainly corn and beans but also potatoes, avocados, tomatoes, guavas, amaranths, peppers, as well as flowers used in the ceremonies.

The result is a mesh of small, extremely fertile, rectangular islands, where you can move in trajineras, beautiful colorful flat-bottomed boats. A pleasure for the eyes!

The decline of the chinampas occurred during the arrival in the sixteenth century of Spanish conquistadors who brought new techniques of cultivation and domesticated animals, then unknown to Aztecs such as horses and oxen. Those facilitated the transportation and trade of food that no longer needed to be produced locally. They then dried up the lake to build the city of Mexico.

Today this type of culture has practically disappeared. Some plots have been preserved in Xochimilco south of Mexico City and have been listed since 1987 as UNESCO World Heritage.

We were fortunate enough to meet two of the few farmers who still cultivate Chinampas in a traditional permaculture way, without fertilizers and pesticides.

We go first to the Yolcan Chinampas where we meet Lucio, who tells us how since 2011, they managed to rehabilitate old Chinampas previously abandoned.

Their farming technique is quite similar to that used by the Aztecs. They will draw nutrient-rich mud directly from the bottom of the canals for sowing. This black earth is cut in grid, and then with the help of the finger they put a seed in each cube of ground.

The plant can be transplanted by remaining in its fertile substrate. Soils are obviously mulched to prevent evaporation and erosion. In order to benefit from germ-free water for irrigating crops, Yolcan has introduced biofilter at the entrance of the canals and a pump system powered by solar panels. A mix of tradition and modernity successful!

Yolcan delivers baskets of vegetables in down-town Mexico City to private individuals with monthly subscriptions and chic restaurants in the city. The CSA does not really exist in Mexico. It is still an innovative practice here to create this direct engagement between the producer and the consumer. Many restaurants have chosen to trust Yolcan to cook fresh, seasonal and organic products. Some have also become delivery points for vegetable baskets.

We met Joaquin Cardoso, a great Mexican chef who studied cooking in France and who gets his supplies from Yolcan. He tells us about the unique taste of Chinampas beets, much sweeter than standard beets. We take the opportunity to taste his exceptional dessert of roasted bananas accompanied by an ice cream of cocoa flowers. A delight!


The second person we met was Claudia. She is one of the few women farmers in Chinampas. She is from Xochimilco and spent her childhood here. Her grandparents themselves had Chinampas, but the work of the land stopped at the generation of her parents. After spending 10 years in southern Mexico in Chiapas, she decided to return to her home town and resume an abandoned Chinampa. While taking us on a boat on her plot, she tells us about her pleasure to work in this magical place and the importance for her to preserve this heritage by growing organic and tasty vegetables.

We are always admiring the work of farmers; a noble and courageous profession that responds to the essential need of everyone to feed on a daily basis.

We end our stay in Mexico City with a conference at the French Alliance, an opportunity to share our first experiences in this long journey to the heart of sustainable food.

See you soon for new discoveries!

Sylvain and Kalima


Categories: Before the departure

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