Thursday, March 14, 2013

water farm history with Crow


A few days ago Crow and I were sitting in his parlour sipping Remy and  nibbling on fruitcake talking about this that when I suddenly remembered reading about a new food growing method called aquaponics. An aquaponics system circulates used water from fish tanks through plants, whose roots extract by-products as nutrients. The purified water is then sent back to the fish with next-to-no water loss. It sounded pretty good to me as a development for feeding people who live in urban areas since the systems can be set up in either large or quite small areas. I wondered why nobody had ever thought about it before.




'It sounds like an industrial version of a chinampa to me', he retorted.

'Chinawhat?', I replied.

'Just goes to show how much you know', replied my venerable corvid companion with some asperity, 'It seems you must never have heard about the Aztec Chinampas either. How is it you went to school for all those years and didn't learn anything useful?'

There's not much for me to say when he gets into one of these moods, other than to sit quietly and wait for the inevitable lecture that will reveal all, so I nibbled on an especially delicious morsel of brandy soaked cake and sat back to listen.


'The simplest definition is that chinampa describes a system of intensive agricultural production in marshes and muddy-bottomed wetlands. The chinampa system was established in shallow lagoons where the terrain was raised into long narrow islands separated by canals. Nowadays they're usually known as Aztec Chinampas because the Aztecs were in charge of Central America when the Spanish arrived in the Valley of Mexico but the technique itself is far older and was in use throughout Central and South America for more than 1500 years before the conquistadors arrived. It was the Maya who first developed chinampa agriculture as a way to feed their huge populations in an environment that was rough and rocky land intermixed with swamps and vast wetlands. The garden land was built up from the wetland by stacking alternating layers of lake mud and thick mats of decaying vegetation that allowed them to grow exceptionally high yields of many crops as well as fruit and flowers. When modern Westerners look at wetlands today, you see nothing but trouble but in the past they were considered real breadbaskets in many parts of the world. The Maya were long gone by the time the Europeans arrived in Central Mexico but the area surrounding the old pre-conquest capital city of Tenochtitlan with its population of 1.5 million people was a 75 sq mile, or 22,400 acre, metropolis of cultivated chinampa farms.'




'Even though I saw it myself it's difficult to imagine an area where masses of people lived in close harmony with nature to the new Mexico City. Now 21 million people live there but those lakes and floating gardens are just distant memories except for a tiny, polluted area mostly saved for tourists. Just in case you still don't believe me, here are a couple of descriptions written by early chroniclers:'

Tenochtitlan was bigger than Paris, Europe’s greatest metropolis. The Spanish gawped like yokels at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away. Boats flitted like butterflies around the three grand causeways that linked Tenochitlan to the mainland. Long aqueducts conveyed water from the distant mountains across the lake and into the city. Even more astounding than the great temples and immense banners and colorful promenades were the botanical gardens – none existed in Europe.

The first hand account of Francisco Lopez de Gomara (1553) describes the Aztec capital as a city…

…built on water, exactly like Venice. The whole body of the city is in water. The wide and pleasant streets are of three kinds. Some consist entirely of water with a great many bridges, others are completely solid, and a third type combines solid and water, with people walking on the dry half and using boats on the other half… Almost all houses have two doors: One leading to the pavement and the other to the water on which they travel by boat.


'I can see from that starry eyed look on you face it all sounds pretty nice but Mexico City isn't going to get its drained lakes back any sooner than Chicago is likely to build chinampas in Lake Michigan or NYC in the Hudson River. Still, it's good to remember that human beings have been clever for a very long time (although not as clever as crows). Babylon had its hanging gardens and Mexico had floating islands, so maybe one day when the thousand mile fruit delivery to your local supermarket comes to a halt, there may be more options than you can imagine now. If one of them is an aquaponic garden set in an abandoned shopping mall in what used to be Detroit then I wish you well. I have a feeling there are many surprises in store when your fossil fueled empires are remembered no better than you remember the glory of the Nile Valley. What? That's a story for another time. Now please refill my snifter, I'm dry from all this talk of water gardens.'

That's my Crow - smartass - but I love him.

16 comments:

marja-leena said...

Just goes to show you how smart those Aztecs were, and how stupid white man's society is today. Hrrumph! How about a nibble of that cake and a sip o' brandy to calm me down? Bravo, Crow!

susan said...

Yes, Marja-Leena, there were a lot of other sensibly run societies before our current version. In just 150 years we've made quite a mess, haven't we? Your slice of cake and sip of Remy are on the way. Crow sends his greetings.

Life As I Know It Now said...

One, that cake sounds scrumptious. Two, the Spanish were yokels indeed. Three, humans can only attempt to be as clever as crows, and finally, fossil fueled empires, it makes me shudder to think of it.

gfid said...

it's bizarre imagining the lice infested, nearly starved, sick with scurvy europeans arriving in the cultured and socially responsible lands of these 'primitive' people, and imagining themselves superior..... oh, yeah forgot the guns. THAT's what proved their 'superiority'.

susan said...

I'm glad you're also a fan of fruit cake, Lib. You wouldn't believe the huge displays at the grocery stores here in the Christmas season - plus, they can just pack the unsold ones away for the following year. What a savings!

That the Conquistadors destroyed everything in their path is true but it's also a fact that the most damage done to the peoples who lived in the Americas before the invasion got well underway was disease. More than 90% of native North and South Americans had no immunity to European pathogens. Most of the white settlers who arrived later had no idea the land had ever been widely populated.

Yeah, fossil fueled empires is a term worthy of a good shudder.

susan said...

It's always amazed me to consider that the Chinese had gun powder for 2 thousand years and only ever used it to make fireworks displays. White people are crazy.

linda said...

white people ARE crazy but then again, i know some others who are too. :) names shall go nameless ...

this was a fascinating read i had no idea about. especially blows me away about mexico city but i did find myself wondering what they did for their toilets... if they used the waterways for that too or they had the sense to realize that didn't work too well. seems the europeans were woefully behind and that's always been something that has intrigued me. i've wondered if it's the weather, the culture of warring and territory-stealing, monarchies, lots of space and not lots of people. they certainly couldn't have had the wetlands if it froze all winter, i don't think they could anyway.

thanks for another great topic to ponder, dear susan. it's been awhile since i had a walk-about my favorite places. granted yours is the first and last for tonight but at least i got to read this and comment at the same time. sometimes i will read your posts in email and think what i want to say back and then promptly it leaves my brain-full-of-holes. oh well... there's worse things..maybe. :) xox

susan said...

I think Western culture has made a whole lot of people crazy. It's hyper aggressive.

The answer to your question about toilets is that they used human waste along with other composted vegetation to fertilize the chinampas. What's also true is that they had a pretty complex system of dams to route the water flow through the channels. After the Spanish destroyed the city the next thing they did was to use the stone from those dams as material for their replacement buildings.

I'm so glad you came by to visit.
xoxo

Randal Graves said...

Crow's not here, man. Is there a New World equivalent to Godwin's Law, that when someone mentions something as cool as this, it's only a matter of time before someone brings up human sacrifice?

susan said...

Those Aztecs may have had their faults but nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

okjimm said...

I'm with Randal. We need to bring back human sacrifice. In fact, I think CPAC just endorsed it.

susan said...

I'm not sure CPAC counts as human but I'll go along with sacrificing them.

Murr Brewster said...

I suspect when the next generation, or the one after that, gets pared down to a minimum, the survivors will be living in much smaller groups with much more modest notions of wealth. Either that, or everyone dies.

susan said...

I just hope there are a few 'how to' books left for them to read - presupposing reading isn't a lost art by then.

Anonymous said...

Yup, human beings used to be real smart, but then they started thinking the were too good for their britches and invented bombs. Not smart.

Nunly

I like the idea of snacking on brandy soaked cake. I'll listen to anybody then. Even a crow. (no offense to Crow, of course).

susan said...

You've got that right. There have been so many wrong turns you'd think we lost the map. Nevertheless, well soaked fruitcake eases the pain.