The Centro de Agricultura Urbana Romita teaches composting and gardening to chilangos
By Sally Cave Original Print Publication: April, 2009
When I moved to this sprawling metropolis five years ago, I found the topic of waste disposal disconcerting. After years of recycling in the UK, it felt wrong to throw everything into big black garbage bags.
"Don't worry," my Mexican friends would assure me, "we have our own recycling system." Over at Nezahualcoyotl, the city's biggest landfill site, informal recycling takes place as impoverished residents scour the dump looking for hidden treasures they can sell.
Despite the lack of formal recycling infrastructure, about 15 percent of the city's trash is recycled. Francis Alÿs, the celebrated Belgian artist who lived in Mexico for many years, decided to put this home grown recycling system to the test in 1994, taking seven identical statues and depositing them in bins in different parts of the city. Through the course of a year, at least two of these statues resurfaced in city flea markets.
This resourceful nature has become a source of some comfort to me in recent years.
My grandfather, uncles, and father all had green thumbs: an Englishman takes great pride in his garden. Ever since I can remember we had a compost heap, and we ate vegetables from our own garden. I would moan and groan every time my dad asked me to help with the weeding, but by my mid-twenties I had my own tiny garden. My housemate and I enjoyed many a cold afternoon drinking beer, digging the soil, and planting bulbs which bloomed in early spring.
When I found myself living in one of the world's most polluted cities ten years later, the recycling issue niggled. As luck would have it, my husband, aware of my longing for a compost heap, stumbled upon the Sembradores Urbanos. Lily Foster, Carolina Lukac, and Gabriela Vargas opened the Centro de Agricultura Urbana Romita in 2007, offering workshops to the public on a wide range of urban gardening subjects.