17 October 2009

Mexican Rubbish Dump to Garden of Eden

Reposted in full from the
UK Telegraph, 5 October 2009

'A low-budget scheme has transformed a rubbish dump in an impoverished part of Mexico City into an urban garden, raising hopes for a new shade of green revolution.

Iztapalapa, a bustling borough of two million people within the greater sprawl of Mexico City's 20 million people, is an unlikely place to find an agricultural revolution.

But on a patch of land once strewn with the detritus associated with one of the world's largest cities, there now sits a 400 square metre (4,305 square feet) garden.

It is maintained by 40-year-old Irma Diaz as part of the district council's "agricultural development" program.

"We started in 2007 with 20 projects, we now have 82," said Edgar Duran, coordinator of the scheme, which has invested just 131,000 pesos, or around $10,000, and relies largely on volunteers to farm mini-plots where they are available.

In Iztapalapa fruit and vegetables are grown in mini-gardens, on roofs and even on the walls of buildings. The natural produce is in demand from the many chic restaurants that dot the capital.

"We grow tomatoes and dozens of vegetables: lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, and all without fertilizers or pesticides," said Diaz, a nurse who entered the scheme with some friends.

"Everything is natural, 'bio', as they say. It is for our use, but we sell a little," she said.

Susana Duran, a project coordinator for Iztapalapa, explained the transformation of a shady area of the capital. "Here people were throwing their garbage, young people were using drugs," she said.

Juanita Galeana, 60, comes to work in the garden twice a week with her husband. They sell a portion of production with Diaz on Wednesdays and Fridays. "I lived in the country until I was 16. Like any kid, I planted seeds and I loved to harvest with my father," she said.

Now, she said, she sometimes sells the produce for a nominal sum of around 80 pesos (six dollars).

Eugenio Varga is at the plot every morning. He is responsible for watering, which he takes care to ration because supply is frequently cut.

"It distracted me," the 75 year-old said. "I am a widower, I live with my nephews. I take a few vegetables at home, they are tasty, fresh," he said.

Today, with Irma and Juanita, he is preparing a succulent salad of beets and tomatoes.

When the two women want to sell something they go to regular clients, who appreciate the freshness of the products and a slightly lower price than in the market.

"More than money, it's satisfying to take home good quality food, or when our customers tell us they had only seen carrots with their green stalks, as we sell them, in drawings," Irma Diaz said smiling.

She has one regret though, young people show little interest in the project, including her own son. It may not be a agricultural revolution just yet.'

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