Updated: Aug 8, 2022
Regenerative agriculture is a term that gets thrown around thoughtlessly, often used to describe techniques that clearly are not regenerative. True regeneration creates an accumulative, restorative, closed-loop agricultural process, and while there are plenty of heroes in the modern regenerative movement, it is worth taking pause to recognize that our ancient ancestors also employed highly successful regenerative processes, ones upon which entire empires were built.
This summer, several members of the Terra Advocati team had the pleasure of meeting the folks of Arca Tierra, an organization dedicated to regenerative agriculture. Together, we explored the network of ancient chinampas, or chinamitl, south of the former Mexica city of Tenochtitlan. Chinampas, a type of regenerative agricultural practice that employs raised field systems surrounded by water canals, were key to the rise of what was once the most powerful civilization in Mesoamerica. Today, the chinampas are surrounded by the sprawling megalopolis of Mexico City and its 23 million souls.
While these chinampas have been a source of sustenance for over a 1,000 years, many ancient techniques, such as organics recycling (composting), canal dredging, and mineral enrichment, have long been lost within the loud and winding corridors of the concrete jungle surrounding it. The city, which owes its existence to the wealth of natural abundance found in the chinampas, now struggles to grasp the concept of its regenerative past. It’s too busy, transferring from one train to the next, constantly moving below the surface of the now dry, ancient Lake Texcoco, to recognize the warning signs of its unsustainable modernity.
As an outsider, it might be easy to dismiss the city, to consign it to the list of unsustainable cities doomed to fail under its own weight. But the city has survived the rise and fall of empires and now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to offer alternatives, to create alternatives, and as Xochimilco bends itself to satisfy the whims of tourists, Arca Tierra forges ahead with its vision to restore the chinampas, to use ancestral, regenerative practices to make the land productive again, and teach others how to do the same.
Join them at ArcaTierra.com. .