Technicolor boats bumping their way along crowded canals. Floating mariachis. Big Gulp-size micheladas. For many visitors—whether they come from across town or across the globe—this trinity of elements is at the core of Xochimilco’s appeal. Forgotten by most is the fact that the rows of chinampas (manmade islands) that form the famous canals of this swampy corner of Mexico City were once highly productive farmland, providing the city’s markets with a year-round supply of flowers and produce until well into the twentieth century, when the chinampas began to rapidly lose ground to urbanization.
Now a group of ecologically and socially conscious chefs and entrepreneurs is attempting to breathe new life into the area’s agrarian roots. Businesses like De la Chinampa cofounded in 2007 by Ricardo Rodríguez, a former bank executive, and his wife, Laura, a biologist—help some of the remaining farmers in the 50-hectare Cuemanco ecological reserve in Xochimilco find new markets for their products. According to Rodríguez, the chinampa zone and its agricultural communities have been so marginalized that “the producers themselves denigrate their product—they see it as something that doesn’t pay off, doesn’t sell, and isn’t well-known.”
De la Chinampa operates an online store, where consumers from around the city can order everything from chilacayote squashes to raw milk and artisanal tortillas for home delivery. It also supplies a number of restaurants, and runs educational tours to the Cuemanco reserve. The bulk of its work, however, is with the company’s 30 producers, whom Rodríguez is helping tackle the challenges that come with producing for a new, twenty-first century market.