This story was originally published by Atlas Obscura and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
In the south of Mexico City, about 100 miles of murky canals wind their way through the Xochimilco neighborhood. Here, the urban sprawl of one of the world’s densest cities yields to a lake region where indigenous farmers have been cultivating a unique system of floating gardens since precolonial times. Called chinampas, these floating gardens were built by the Aztecs to feed a growing population.
Xochimilco became one of the city’s main sources of food, but rapid urbanization in the 1900s meant less land available for farming. In 1985, when an earthquake struck Mexico City, many chinampas were abandoned as people who had lost their homes built shanty towns. Today, only an estimated 20 percent of the approximately 5,000 acres of chinampas are in use, and only 3 percent are used for farming.
But since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Mexico, interrupting the industrial food supply in important ways, small farmers have increased production and rehabilitated abandoned chinampas to fill the demand for fresh, local food.