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Mexico City launches community gardens

The 21 community gardens are part of the mayor's bid to improve the city's quality of life.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 5, 2008

Growth: Participants in one of Mexico City's 21 new community gardens check out their crops. The program makes food more affordable.

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Montior

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Mexico City

Teresa Trujillo's family income took a hit when her husband, a carpenter and the family's sole breadwinner, lost his job due to an illness just as food prices in Mexico started to skyrocket. So she looked for help with putting food on the table wherever she could find it.

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It turns out the mother of two didn't have to look far: right around the corner, among concrete-block homes, some with sheets hanging as doors, neighbors grow squash, spinach, and cauliflower in neatly potted beds.

It's one of 21 community gardens planted in Mexico City since last year as part of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard's push to improve the quality of life for this sprawling city of 20 million. It's also part of the city's answer to food inflation that has led to clashes and riots the world over.

"Our goal is that Mexico City be self-sufficient when it comes to food," says Pedro Ponce, who directs the community garden program for the Mexico City government. "This is not to make anyone rich, but it can help."

"This helped me move forward when I needed it most, even though my kids didn't like vegetables," says Ms. Trujillo. "Now they do."

Skyrocketing food prices

Since Mexicans took to the streets last January after the price of tortillas doubled, the cost of corn, tomatoes, and onions has dominated conversations and editorial pages.

Over the past year, food prices in Mexico have gone up by 9.18 percent as of July, compared with a 5.39 percent rise in the consumer price index in general, according to Mexico's central bank. In May, Mexican President Felipe Calderón announced measures to counter prices, including the elimination of tariffs on wheat, corn, and rice.

But the city community garden program, in which the government provides materials and expertise and the residents carry out the work, is intended to have an immediate impact.

The goal is to double the number of gardens by the end of 2008.

This garden, in the industrial and crime-ridden neighborhood of Iztapalapa on the edge of Mexico City, was among the city's first.

It used to be a garbage dump; how the smell of old milk cartons and beer cans has been replaced with the fresh scent of cilantro.

How the community gardens work

On a recent day, residents pull off pea pods, as a simple irrigation system waters crop beds. Small children, on summer holiday, run around the soccer field-sized space.

Here, about two dozen members of the garden cooperative come together each evening, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and help out with whatever needs to be done, from making compost to planting new crops. In turn, they share the bounty they reap between their families.

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