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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.
  • 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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Back to the Soil With Organic Farming

Here's the story of various people who have returned back to their soil, organically

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Many professionals have returned back to their soil. PIxabay

By Sukant Deepak

A banker from Canada, a resort director, a top executive in a leading IT company and a senior corporate communications professional with a major hospital chain. Defying all stereotypes and preconceived notions of farmhands, an increasing number of highly qualified professionals from both genders are quitting their lucrative professions and getting back to the soil in Punjab full-time,making responsible farming their way of life.

Using social media including WhatsApp to spread the word, participating in pop-up organic farmers’ markets across the region and organising day-long farm tours, these new-age farmers, compost kit makers and teachers are ascertaining that those wanting pesticide-free food grains don’t have to look too hard.

Rahul Sharma’s wife would always laugh when on a typical IT sprint meeting call, he would be discussing his project at Flipkart, and a few hours later, talking about manure collection with a farmer.

This organic farmer who now grows cereal grains, pulses, oil seeds, turmeric and garlic at his five acre farm in Kapurthala full time, insists that the ongoing lockdown has made people aware about the importance of growing their own food, and that too pesticide-free. “But yes, if the government is serious about providing nutritional security, then it must ascertain economic benefits to farmers so they can go in for sustainable agriculture,” he stresses.

For someone who started doing organic farming in 2016, the thrill that comes with growing safe food for others is unparalled.”The fact that there is a patch of land which is now free of poison, where life thrives, and that I am contributing towards healthy soil.”

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Rahul Sharma now grows cereal grains, pulses, oil seeds, turmeric and garlic at his five acre farm in Kapurthala full time. Pixabay

Not regretting his switch from a corporate IT job, which never allowed him to pursue his passions like photography, Sharma has now decided to streamline production and ordering process. “I have now a set rotation of crops which provide nutrition to the soil, as well as work well in the consumer market. I am also working on an online platform to make it easier for my consumers to order grains and be in touch with me,” he adds. He also lectures and interacts with school and college students at his farm about the importance of sustainable agriculture/lifestyle.

Shivraj Bhullar, who has a four-acre farm in Manimajra and grows a variety of seasonal vegetables, leafy greens and fruits left his cushy banker job in Canada to start organic farming on his piece of land in 2014 post volunteering at different farms across India to learn the ropes. “The organic farming convention that was held in the region in 2015 brought a lot of people together. Since then, the movement has been growing with greater awareness amongst consumers in this part of the country,” he says. For someone who has always been interested in Yoga and nutrition, one of the major factors that keeps him excited is the community around the organic farming movement in Punjab. “Farmers go out of their way to help each other out. It’s been a humbling and continuous learning experience for me,” he adds.

Planning to take his farm to the next level by installing a drip irrigation system and rain water harvesting for water conservation, Bhullar is all set to buy more animals so as to decrease his dependence on outside sources for manure.

Coordinator of the Chandigarh Farmers’ Market, Seema Jolly, who owns a five-acre farm in village Karoran in Punjab and grows vegetables,fruit, grains, oilseeds and pulses wants her farm to be a school for organic/natural farming, yoga and Ayurveda in the near future. One of the directors of the Baikunth Resorts Pvt Ltd, Jolly started organic farming in 2011 and there has been no looking back since then. “There is a certain joy in knowing that what you supply is not harming the consumer in any way,” she says. Instrumental in organising trips for school children to different farmers across Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, Jolly also helps small organic farmers with logistics and selling their produce. “The organic farmers market initiative, in July 2015 was a landmark in bringing relief to the marketing problems of organic farmers and encouraging more farmers to turn organic. Frankly, what is needed is small markets like these in all districts. It may take time, but people are bound to tilt towards organic if there is easy availability.”

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There are many people who own farms including Former National level hockey player Mohanjit Dhaliwal who has two farms. Pixabay

Former National level hockey player Mohanjit Dhaliwal who has two farms — one if Ropar and another in Fathegrah Sahib, the latter being part of permaculture food forest in ‘Sanjhi Mitti Food Forest Community’, has been involved in organic farmer for more than 10 years now. Talking about the roadblocks when it comes to shifting to organic, he feels, that the government’s policy of 100 per cent wheat paddy procurement has to change. “Farmers, who used to be entrepreneurs and solutions finders are now behaving like robots.Nothing is going to change unless policy makers get out of whole process.”

Besides holding regular workshops on permaculture which is attended by people from around the country, Dhaliwal, who is working on a forest therapy centre, adds, ” Our Eco library at the farm where anyone can read or borrow books on related subjects is quite a hit with both children and adults.”

Chandigarh-based Jyoti Arora, who supplies odour-free composters in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Chandigarh to houses, hotels, institutions, municipalities, and engages with Swachh Bharat teams of different municipalities, says, “I also do a lot of lecture demonstrations to sensitise people and encourage people to go green. In fact, my farming is a by product of the compost generated from my domestic waste in which the produce comes solely out of the compost.”

Also Read: Oglivy Launches Video Campaign Promoting Love of Couples in Lockdown

Everything changed for Diksha Suri, a former corporate communications head with a major hospital chain when she spent time at Auroville in 2004. “Being there and learning from experts started a journey of a more conscious approach towards the living greens and browns. I attended formal workshops and started experimenting an organic way of living,” says Suri, who, along with a friend set up Chandigarh’s first Nature Club in 2012.

From organising organic farm visits, forest walks and fossil sites for children and their parents, Suri says that she has been able to make hundreds of children conscious about what they eat. “A lot of them are now at ease with composting, growing vegetables, identifying birds, and more than anything, being in sync with nature. We now regularly hold talks and workshops on organic farming, composting, waste management, across schools, colleges and corporate offices in the region.”

Chandigarh-based Rishi Miranshah, who has made the nine-part docu-series ‘The Story of Food – A No Fresh Carbon Footprint’ which is available to watch online on Films for Action website and YouTube says, “Considering what chemicals have been doing to our food and the need to switch to organic, it was important for me to make this documentary which is an investigation, tracing the trail of devastations bringing us to the point where we are today. Food being the thread that connects us to life; and the way we obtain our food being that connects us to a way of life, the movie begins by examining our agri-culture, our very relationship with the land.” (IANS)

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COVID-19: Infections Spike in Russia, Brazil, India as Lockdown Eases

Countries have eased lockdowns worldwide in order to restart their economies

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COVID-19 patients are treated inside a municipal field hospital Gilberto Novaes in Manaus, Brazil, that has become the world's third worst-hit county with more than 250,000 infections despite limited testing, May 18, 2020. VOA
Coronavirus cases are spiking from India to South Africa and Mexico in a clear indication the pandemic is far from over, while Russia and Brazil now sit behind only the United States in the number of reported infections, according to COVID-19 Information & Resources.

The surges come as much of Asia, Europe and scores of U.S. states have been easing lockdowns to restart their economies as new infections wane. U.S. autoworkers, French teachers and Thai mall workers are among hundreds of thousands of employees back at work with new safety precautions.

Russia reported a steady rise in new infections Tuesday, and new hot spots have emerged across the nation of about 147 million. Russia registered nearly 9,300 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to almost 300,000 infections, about half of them in Moscow. Authorities say over 2,800 people with COVID-19 have died in Russia, a figure some say is surely higher.

Some experts argue Russian authorities have been listing chronic illnesses as the cause of death for many who tested positive for the virus. Officials angrily deny manipulating statistics, saying Russia’s low death toll reflects early preventive measures and broad screening. Nearly 7.4 million tests have been conducted.

In Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, a virus hot spot, all burials now must be with closed coffins as a precaution, irrespective of the cause of death. Previously the measure applied only to COVID-19 deaths.

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Russia registered nearly 9,300 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to almost 300,000 infections, about half of them in Moscow. Pixabay

Russia’s caseload is second only to that of the U.S., which has seen 1.5 million infections and over 90,000 deaths. The country’s prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, resumed work Tuesday after a bout of coronavirus.

Cases are still rising across Africa, where all 54 nations have seen confirmed infections for a total of over 88,000 cases and 2,800 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa has the highest number of cases at over 16,400 and nearly 290 deaths. Infections have increased dramatically in Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province, which now accounts for 61% of South Africa’s total.

Latin America has seen more than 480,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and about 31,000 dead. The highest number of cases is in Brazil, which became the world’s third worst-hit county Monday with more than 250,000 infections despite limited testing. Hospital officials reported that more than 85% of intensive care beds are occupied in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Some countries have seen encouraging signs reverse: Iran reported a steady drop in new infections through April, only to see them rise again in May.

But there is new hope after an experimental vaccine against the coronavirus yielded encouraging results, though in a small and extremely early test. Stocks rallied Monday on the news.

In a surprise announcement, President Donald Trump said he has been taking the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to protect against the virus even though scientists say there is no evidence of its effectiveness against the disease and his own administration has warned it should be administered only in a hospital or research setting because of potentially fatal side effects.

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In a surprise announcement, President Donald Trump said he has been taking the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to protect against the virus even though scientists say there is no evidence of its effectiveness against the disease. Pixabay

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has declared that a partial economic shutdown imposed in late March helped slow the outbreak and prevented the nation’s health care system from being overwhelmed. A week ago, he ended the nationwide lockdown.

He has given Russia’s 85 regions a free hand to determine how they will ease their own lockdowns, but some have been struggling. The mostly Muslim southern province of Dagestan has reported a spike in infections that left its hospitals overflowing.

In India, coronavirus cases surged past 100,000, and infections are rising in the home states of migrant workers who fled cities and towns during a nationwide lockdown when they lost their jobs.
India is now seeing more than 4,000 new cases daily. States including West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Gujarat, the major contributors of India’s migrant labor, are showing major spikes in infections as the country’s lockdown rules have eased. More than 3,100 with COVID-19 have died, according to India’s Health Ministry.

And in densely populated Bangladesh, where authorities reported a record number of new positive tests at over 1,600, thousands of cars were on the streets of the capital, Dhaka, despite a lockdown. Authorities have relaxed some rules and allowed shops to open ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

In Latin America, intensive care units in the Chilean capital of Santiago have been beyond 90% capacity for days, and officials warned that intensive care staff members are reaching their limits.

“They can’t keep going forever, no matter how many beds or ventilators there are,” said Claudio Castillo, a professor of public policy and health at the University of Santiago.

Infections are also increasing in poor areas of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, where authorities relaxed strict lockdown measures last week, allowing some businesses to open and children to walk outside on weekends.

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India’s migrant labor, are showing major spikes in infections as the country’s lockdown rules have eased. Pixabay

Colombia struggled with an outbreak in Leticia, a city on the border with Brazil, where hospitals were overwhelmed and patients were being sent to commandeered hotels. Colombia has recorded about 16,300 confirmed cases and close to 600 dead.

In Europe and in the United States, which has seen 36 million Americans file for unemployment, economic concerns dominated the political landscape.

Unemployment claims in Britain jumped 69% in April, the government reported Tuesday. European car sales collapsed by an unprecedented 76% last month.

Also Read: These Books Can Drive Boredom Away in Lockdown 4.0

An experimental vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. triggered hoped-for immune responses in eight healthy, middle-aged volunteers. They were found to have antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19.

Much bigger studies on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness are planned. Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are in or near the first stages of testing.

More than 4.8 million people worldwide have been infected and over 318,000 deaths have been recorded, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is too low for several reasons. (VOA)

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People With “No Access” To Clean Water in Mexico Face Challenges Due To Coronavirus

Acutely aware of the dangers of the highly contagious virus that has infected over 11,600 people and killed 1,069 in Mexico  

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Acutely aware of the dangers of the highly contagious virus that has infected over 11,600 people and killed 1,069 in Mexico.

By Kashish Rai

The Coronavirus pandemic has stricken the whole world by all means. Therefore, grappling with this largest public health crisis, health authorities in Mexico are trying to stem a growing number of new coronavirus infections by repeatedly urging people to wash their hands.

However, that’s not so easy for those who live in poverty and don’t have access to clean water.

Know More in this Video:

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Acutely aware of the dangers of the highly contagious virus that has infected over 11,600 people and killed 1,069 in Mexico.