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Mexico City’s Famed Floating Farms, Chefs Team Up to Save Fading Tradition

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A variety of lettuce grows on a floating farm known as a "chinampa" in Xochimilco, Mexico City, July 13, 2017.
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  • Xochimilco in Mexico is known as ‘Mexican Venice’ and is home the popular floating gardens
  • The capital is conferred by the UNESCO as World Heritage Site
  • The floating gardens’ Chinampa farming and its cultivation techniques dates back to the pre-Columbian era hundreds of years ago

At dawn in Xochimilco, home to Mexico City’s famed floating gardens, farmers in muddied rain boots squat among rows of beets as a group of chefs arrive to sample sweet fennel and the pungent herb known as epazote.

By dinner time some of those greens will be on plates at an elegant bistro 12 miles (20 kilometers) to the north, stewed with black beans in a $60 prix-fixe menu for well-heeled diners.

Call it floating-farm-to-table: A growing number of the capital’s most in-demand restaurants are incorporating produce grown at the gardens, or chinampas, using ancient cultivation techniques pioneered hundreds of years ago in the pre-Columbian era.

While sourcing local ingredients has become fashionable for many top chefs around the globe, it takes on additional significance in Xochimilco, where a project linking chinampa farmers with high-end eateries aims to breathe life and a bit of modernity into a fading and threatened tradition.

“People sometimes think [farm-to-table] is a trend,” said Eduardo Garcia, owner and head chef of Maximo Bistrot in the stylish Roma Norte district. “It’s not a trend. It’s something that we humans have always done and we need to keep doing it, we need to return to it.”

A farmer moves his harvest of squash flowers through the channels of Xochimilco in Mexico City, July 13, 2017.

Xochimilco, on the far southern edge of Mexico City, is best-known as the “Mexican Venice” for its canals and brightly colored boats where locals and tourists can while away a weekend day listening to mariachi music and sipping cold beers.

It has also been a breadbasket for the Valley of Mexico since before the Aztec Empire, when farmers first created the “floating” islands bound to the shallow canal beds through layers of sediment and willow roots.

There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world, and Xochimilco is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

But that World Heritage status and Xochimilco itself are threatened by the pollution and encroaching urbanization that plague the rest of the sprawling metropolis.

Enter Yolcan, a business that specializes in placing traditionally farmed Xochimilco produce in Mexico City’s most acclaimed restaurants Those include places like Gabriela Camara’s seafood joint Contramar and Enrique Olvera’s Pujol, which is perhaps the country’s most famous restaurant and regularly makes lists of the world’s best.

Yolcan has been around since 2011, but it’s only in the last year that business has really taken off with the number of restaurant partners increasing by a third during that period to 22. Last month five of them teamed up with Yolcan for dinner to benefit chinampa preservation.

Ichiro Kitazawa, a chef at the Japanese restaurant Rocoi, inspects herbs on a floating garden known as a “chinampa” in Xochimilco in Mexico City, July 13, 2017.

The company directly manages its own farmland and also partners with local families to help distribute their goods, lending a much-needed hand as an intermediary.

“The thing about the chinampa farmer is that he does not have the time to track down a market or a person to promote his product,” said David Jimenez, who works a plot in the San Gregorio area of Xochimilco. “Working the chinampas is very demanding.”

All told Yolcan’s operation covers about 15 acres (6 hectares) and churns out some 2.5 tons of produce per month. Due to the high salinity of the soil drawn from canal beds, the straw-covered chinampa plots are particularly fertile ground for root vegetables and hearty greens like kale and chard.

Diners reserve weeks in advance for a coveted table at Maximo Bistrot, one of three restaurants Garcia runs. Meticulously prepared plates of chinampa-grown roasted yellow carrots with asparagus puree arrive at the table, accompanied by sea bass with green mole sauce and wine pairings in tall glasses.

Chef Eduardo Garcia, founder of Maximo Bistrot and former migrant worker in the US, cuts mushrooms at his restaurant in Mexico City, July 13, 2017.

Garcia estimated he gets about two-thirds of his ingredients from Yolcan or other organic farms nearby. He was born in a rural part of Guanajuato state where his family raised corn and largely ate what they grew, so sourcing local is second-nature.

“I think all of the world’s restaurants should make it a goal to use these alternative ingredients,” Garcia said, stirring a pot of beans flavored with the aromatic epazote herb. “Even though it’s a little more expensive, a little more difficult to find.”

Chinampa produce generally sells for 15 to 100 percent more than comparable goods at the enormous Central de Abasto, the go-to wholesale market for nearly all of Mexico City’s chefs that is so monolithic its competition sets prices across the country.

But chefs who buy from Yolcan are happy to pay a premium knowing they’re getting vegetables free of chemical fertilizers or pesticides and also supporting a centuries-old tradition.

Diners at Maximo Bistrot also said they enjoyed their meal, especially the burrata with chinampa-grown heirloom tomatoes. One couple said they are willing to pay the prices of these high-end eateries in order to have the best produce.

“We’ve eaten in 26 countries around the world, and for the price and quality, this was awesome,” said Kristin Kearin, a 35-year-old masseuse from United States. “I honestly think that using small producers is going to come back.” (VOA)

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Willing To Shut Government Over Wall Funding: Trump

The House Republicans have always wanted to secure the border, the House Republicans have been passing bills to secure our border.

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U.S. Border Patrol officers on horseback watch President Donald Trump (not pictured) review border wall prototypes in San Diego. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump says he would “totally be willing” to partially shut down the government next week if he does not get more funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart Central American migrants from entering the country.

The U.S. leader, who almost daily unleashes verbal attacks on migrants trying to cross into the United States, told the Politico news site he is insisting that $5 billion for wall construction be included in measures Congress needs to approve to keep several federal agencies open after their current spending authority expires December 7.

Opposition Democrats have said they will approve $1.6 billion for the wall, leaving the two sides far apart. Some Republicans are also opposed to Trump’s wall, which he vowed in his 2016 presidential campaign would be paid for by Mexico, although he now wants U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill.

 

Trump, Government
President Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. VOA

“I am firm,” Trump said of his $5 billion demand.

“I don’t do anything … just for political gain,” Trump said. “But I will tell you, politically speaking, that issue is a total winner. People look at the border, they look at the rush to the police, they look at the rock throwers and really hurting three people, three very brave border patrol folks. I think that it’s a tremendous issue, but much more importantly, is really needed. So, we have to have border security.”

Trump was referencing a Sunday confrontation at the border in which migrants hurled rocks at U.S. Border Patrol officers, with agents repelling the crowd with blasts of tear gas. Rodney Scott, the chief Border Patrol agent in San Diego, California, just north of the Mexican border, said agents were not seriously injured.

“Their shields and their bulletproof vests actually protected them from the rocks,” he said. “We did have a few vehicles that were damaged, some windows and quite a few dents, but none of the agents were seriously injured.”

Donald Trump, democrats, government
U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges supporters as he arrives for a campaign rally at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. VOA

Even as Trump voiced his determination to win congressional approval for the $5 billion in initial funding for a wall estimated to cost more than $20 billion, he told The Washington Post in a separate interview that he could find other ways to build the wall or add more security along the border.

“I think that’s been shown better than ever in the last short period of two weeks that we need a wall,” Trump told the newspaper. “I see the Democrats are going to want to do something, because they understand, too. Those pictures are very bad for the Democrats. We’re not having a wall because of the Democrats. We need Democrat votes to have a wall.”

“Now, if we don’t get it, will I get it done another way? I might get it done another way,” he declared. “There are other potential ways that I can do it. You saw what we did with the military, just coming in with the barbed wire and the fencing, and various other things.”

Trump, Government
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin returns to Capitol Hill following a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House. VOA

House Speaker Paul Ryan, leader of the current majority Republican bloc in the House of Representatives, told reporters Wednesday that after the nationwide congressional elections in early November, “hopefully … Democrats realize that a secure border should not be a Republican thing, it shouldn’t be a Democrat thing, it’s just good for the country. To actually secure our border. The House is there. We hope the Senate comes with us.”

Also Read: USA Finally Votes On Tuesday To Render Decision On Trump

He added, “Turn on the TV, you can see we have a problem at the border. So, we want to secure our border. The House Republicans have always wanted to secure the border, the House Republicans have been passing bills to secure our border, and I’d like to think that Democrats would also want to join us in securing the border, especially after the election.” (VOA)