Chinampas: An Urban Farming Model of the Aztecs and a Potential Solution for Modern Megalopolis
Abstract, HortTechnology, 2019
Urban horticulture is not as new as many people think. Throughout history, different techniques have been used to ensure sustainable urban agricultural production. A good example of this is the chinampa system, which was developed during the time of the Aztecs in the region of Lake Xochimilco, south of Mexico City. A chinampa is a raised field on a small artificial island on a freshwater lake surrounded by canals and ditches. Farmers use local vegetation and mud to construct chinampas. Fences made of a native willow [bonpland willow (Salix bonplandiana)] protect the chinampa from wind, pests, and erosion. The dominating crops are vegetables and ornamentals. The canal water that rises through capillarity to the crops reduces the need for additional irrigation. A considerable portion of the fertility in the soils is system-immanent and generated in the aquatic components of the chinampa. Complex rotations and associations allow up to seven harvests per year. Chinampas also provide ecosystem services, particularly greenhouse gas sequestration and biodiversity diversification, and they offer high recreational potential. Recently, research and community initiatives have been performed to try to recover the productive potential of chinampas and align this sustainable system with the needs of the 21st century. In other parts of the world, some with a history of raised field agriculture, similar efforts are being made. The chinampa model could help supply food and ecosystem services in large cities on or near swamplands, large rivers, or lakes.