How the Aztecs could improve modern urban farming

Related Articles

Related Articles

Roland Ebel of the Sustainable Food Systems Program at Montana State University conducted a research project to determine the extent to which an ancient Aztec agricultural technique could benefit 21st century horticultural needs.

Specifically, Ebel examined the use of “chinampas” with the hope of discovering their modern utility. A chinampa is a raised field on a small artificial island on a freshwater lake (usually surrounded by canals and ditches), where vegetables can be produced year round. The irrigation needs of chinampas is low and the productivity extremely high. Chinampas provide fresh produce for a megacity such as Mexico City and are conceivable around many of today’s exploding urban areas.

Ebel’s findings are illustrated in the article “Chinampas: An Urban Farming Model of the Aztecs and a Potential Solution for Modern Megalopolis”, found open access in the online journal HortTechnology.

 

The chinampa system, commonly called floating gardens, is still practiced in certain suburban areas in Xochimilco, in the southern valley of Mexico City. These raised fields are constructed by digging the canals and mounding the displaced earth onto platforms. Similar historic raised field systems can be found in South America, Asia, Oceania, and parts of Africa.

In a chinampa, the canal water rises through capillary action to the plant roots, which reduces irrigation demand. Additionally, a considerable portion of the soil fertility is generated in the canal floors. Complex rotations allow up to seven harvests in a year. Chinampas also provide ecosystem services, particularly greenhouse gas sequestration and biodiversity. In addition, the recreational benefits are tremendous: today, chinampas generate even more money from tourism than by horticultural production.

Ebel discovered the chinampa to be one of the most intensive and prolific production systems ever developed, and it is highly sustainable. It can be kept in almost continuous cultivation, and the microclimate is favorable for many horticultural crops, including ornamentals, which play an increasingly important role in Xochimilco. Even small animals can be raised on chinampas.

During the Aztec period (1325-1521), the development of chinampas is linked to high regional population density and the growth of sizable local urban communities. The raised field agriculture provided pre-Columbian farmers with better drainage, soil aeration, moisture retention during the dry season, and higher and longer-term soil fertility than in conventional outdoor production.

“Today, many cities face very similar challenges as Mexico City did 700 years ag– a rapidly growing population, and less and less arable land available for food production. Highly intensive production systems with low resource demand are, therefore, a strategic goal of urban agriculture developers. Thus, while most strategists emphasize high-tech solutions such as complex vertical farms, I think it is worthwhile to learn from the achievements of our ancestors,” states Ebel.

Nevertheless, despite versatile efforts to revitalize and reinterpret chinampas, the raised-field production system today is mostly limited to small-scale research and development projects.

Ebel supports efforts for a revitalization of the chinampa system. “A restored use of chinampas would allow intensive production of fresh vegetables close to Mexico City, avoiding transport needs and avoiding negative consequences on produce quality and greenhouse gas emissions,” he states.

Furthermore, chinampas could provide a series of desirable ecosystem services, including water filtration, regulation of water levels, microclimate regulation, increased biodiversity, and carbon capture and storage. Ebel adds, “Wherever you have freshwater lakes near a big city, chinampa-like systems are conceivable–and this applies for many parts of the world.”

The benefits of creating chinampas are not limited to big cities, although the assistance it could provide urban farming would be difficult to overstate. This system could be adopted into smaller rural communities as well, especially in tropical wetlands.

AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR HORTICULTURAL SCIENCE

Header Image – Chinampa, Credit : Jflo23

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Ancient Mosaic Criticises Christianity

An ancient mosaic from a 4th-century house in the centre of the ancient city of Paphos in Cyprus, was a 'pictorial' criticism of Christianity according to experts.

Geoscience: Cosmic Diamonds Formed During Gigantic Planetary Collisions

It is estimated that over 10 million asteroids are circling the Earth in the asteroid belt. They are relics from the early days of our solar system, when our planets formed out of a large cloud of gas and dust rotating around the sun.

Vettuvan Koil – The Temple of the Slayer

Vettuvan Koil is a rock-cut temple, located in Kalugumalai, a panchayat town on the ancient trade routes from Kovilpatti to courtallam, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The Testimony of Trees: How Volcanic Eruptions Shaped 2000 Years of World History

Researchers have shown that over the past two thousand years, volcanoes have played a larger role in natural temperature variability than previously thought, and their climatic effects may have contributed to past societal and economic change.

Sentinels of Ocean Acidification Impacts Survived Earth’s Last Mass Extinction

Two groups of tiny, delicate marine organisms, sea butterflies and sea angels, were found to be surprisingly resilient--having survived dramatic global climate change and Earth's most recent mass extinction event 66 million years ago.

The Venerable Ensign Wasp, Killing Cockroaches For 25 million Years

An Oregon State University study has identified four new species of parasitic, cockroach-killing ensign wasps that became encased in tree resin 25 million years ago and were preserved as the resin fossilized into amber.

Modern Humans Reached Westernmost Europe 5,000 Years Earlier Than Previously Known

Modern humans arrived in the westernmost part of Europe 41,000 - 38,000 years ago, about 5,000 years earlier than previously known, according to Jonathan Haws, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Louisville, and an international team of researchers.

Akrotiri – The Ancient Town Buried by a Volcano

Akrotiri is an archaeological site and a Cycladic Bronze Age town, located on the Greek island of Santorini (Thera) near the present-day village of Akrotiri (for which the prehistoric site is named).

Popular stories

The Secret Hellfire Club and the Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Club was an exclusive membership-based organisation for high-society rakes, that was first founded in London in 1718, by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and several of society's elites.

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.