A conversation with Lucio Usobiaga, cofounder of Arca Tierra, about Chinampas, a wetland ecosystem in Mexico City with a rich history of food production and cultural significance, regenerative agriculture and its connection to soul and purpose, chefs and gastronomy in Mexico City, and much more.
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LUCIO ASSOCIATIONS WITH ‘REGENERATIVE MIND’
The first thing that comes to Lucio’s mind is, firstly, ecosystems that have been destroyed by a mindset that is the opposite of a regen mind. This is a mindset of exploitation: of people and nature. Agriculture connects us with the power of life and the process of life.
”For me, it involves the time we’re living now, that we’re seeing in our lifetime, and in the past few generations, how most of the ecosystems have been degraded, and some destroyed because of our mindset, that is completely the opposite of regenerative mind. So, my first-day definition would be a negative definition in terms of what we’re not doing. Because, as I am saying, the paradigm or the general mindset is one of exploitation of people and of nature. And we need to change that now. The first thing that comes to mind is agriculture, the main activity I’m involved in, and how we can grow food and, at the same time, regenerate our landscapes. So, it links us directly to life and to the power of life, and to the process of life that needs to be taken care of and respected.” – Lucio Usobiaga
ABOUT ARCA TIERRA
It is a platform connecting people in the city with the farmers working in regenerative agriculture. People can visit the Chinampas, take part in cooking and agriculture workshops, and get in touch with nature. They have been working for 13 years in Xochimilco, which is the last of the 5 lakes that existed in what is now Mexico City.
”We’ve been working for 13 years, especially in Xochimilco, a place in the south of Mexico City. It is a wetland ecosystem where indigenous people, the Olmecs, from more than 2000–3000 years ago built these island farms called Chinampas and showed us how human intervention can have a positive effect on biodiversity, food production, and transportation. So it is a big source of inspiration, the Chinampas system, and Arca Tierra. We’re a platform of sorts where we connect people from the city with farmers by working in regenerative agriculture and offering healthy and delicious food to people in the city, and we also invite people who live in the city to Chinampas to visit us and enjoy different experiences such as cooking, workshops, agricultural workshops, and experiences where you can see the sunrise in the canals or in the lake. So, it’s kind of a way of reconnecting, especially changing our mindset to a more regenerative one, by means of food, of being in contact with nature, and by means of showing how producing healthy food works.” – Lucio Usobiaga
XOCHIMILCO IS THREATENED BY URBAN CREEP FROM THE CITY
Xochimilco is rich in biodiversity. The Chinampas are seen by the public mostly as an entertainment area, and they don’t know about their original purpose for food production. Part of Arca Tierra’s work, through workshops and hosting tourism experiences, is to help people become more conscious of the history of the place and its importance. How can we value something when we don’t know how it works?
With surplus of food after their first harvest, they reached out to restaurants, who at first had a negative response, but soon gained traction with chefs as the responsible sourcing movement was taking off. They then created a CSA which provides food boxes to residents.
”Way before the Aztecs, the Chinampas thrived as a way of producing food, not only farming but also fishing and hunting. In a way that created more life, more diversity.” – Lucio Usobiaga
”So, basically, when the Spaniards arrived and conquered the Aztec capital, many of the water systems were destroyed. And the European mindset, in a way, worked against the natural flows of water. And they started diverting the rivers and drying up the lakes and the canals. And this culminated with Mexican independent government in the 19th and 20th centuries, where all, except Xochimilco Lake, were dried up, and most of the rivers were turned into sewage systems, and now the Chinampas, even if they are still one of the most beautiful places in the city, have become endangered, and the city keeps growing on top of them.” – Lucio Usobiaga
”It’s a place of enormous value in terms of food production, carbon sequestration, water infiltration, and of culture, and what we’ve been doing in Arca Tierra is trying to create a model that can restore the place.” – Lucio Usobiaga
DO WE FOCUS ENOUGH ON MINDSET?
We are not focusing enough on the mind. We need to learn to be patient and surrender our illusion of total control over nature.
”I don’t think we are; I think that what’s happening is that as long as we have the means, we’re just consuming whatever we want, regardless of how it’s produced, how it’s farmed, or where it comes from. And in terms of the mind, we have to voluntarily put some constraints on our desires. We have to look closer at the seasonality, at the carbon footprint, and at the work of farmers. Obviously, it’s not easy with the busy lifestyles that we have and with easy access to food. Since the pandemic in Mexico City, with a few clicks, you can have food delivered in two hours to your doorstep. So, in my opinion, we can get inspiration from farming in terms of how we need to be patient. We plant a seed, and maybe it takes three or four months before we harvest. We have to be mindful of the weather and when to plant. If there’s no rain, if there’s too much rain. We need to surrender our illusion of total control of nature. And understand that there is a mystery to life and that it’s not good to try to suppress and control the way we’re doing things. And at the same time, the way we consume dictates the way we produce. So how can we practice healthy agriculture if farmers are pressured to produce homogenous foods of the same size that are very energy-intensive? We need to take a step back and rethink the way we eat and how we relate to farmers.” – Lucio Usobiaga
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Emma and Lucio also talked about:
- Lucio’s mindset shift – he comes from urban background, not from farmer family. Arca Tierra began as a commercial food business sourcing organic food to sell. Visiting Xochimilco was a revelation for Lucio, he intuitively discovered that food connects with the soul. He realised how food can tackle issues across economy, society, ecology through the act of growing things that people can eat. At the same time, he saw the contrasts and realised the negative aspects of the Chinampas — he feared losing a place that matters to the city and wanted to create something that works with the life processes working w the life processes — magical working with life. Lucio realised that one of the main reasons we’re here is to work with life and the business evolved into Arca Tierra as a consequence.
- Arca Tierra started as commercial endeavour to sell organic food in the city, making money was the main goal, but after this visit to Xochimilco, Lucio quit his masters studies to do this full time and began reaching out to chefs, researchers, government agencies to help articulate a project that would revive Xochimilco. A key learning early on was the need to develop a web of supporters – peasant families, chefs, people in the city
- Lucio credits learning from his studies in Philosophy as helping him see the full picture, taking an integrated, holistic approach towards creating conditions of possibility
- Importance of La Via Campesina farmers: Arca Tierra now works with 35-40 farmers and they have a programme to educate next generation of farmers; this has huge potential as there are millions of peasant farmers (campesina farmers) in Mexico, which differs from US/ Europe, so there is still time to reverse tendency of rural people migrating to the city
- The next generation: Lucio asks, ‘Why has a profession that is so sacred been de- valued?’ Arca Tierra works to change the perception of farming and make it an attractive profession for young people.
- he role of chefs: chefs have become very important in the last decades because they can try out different foods and ideas and pass them onto the general public, shaping food cultures. Restaurants like Silo in England are innovative and elevating ingredients, designing out waste. Mexico City has a new generation of chefs translating traditional recipes and turning around the value of peasant farmers, because these new chefs come from peasant families — they understand farmers and are connected with nature. These chefs are promoting campesina culture, sharing the generosity of peasant farmers, the generosity of nature
- On measuring mindset: regeneration in agriculture is easier to measure than the mindset, which is highly qualitative but can be experienced. Yes, we can measure the amount of energy and photosynthesis and microbiology of a natural system, but what we aim at goes beyond technical and quantitative aspects. This qualitative step is the one we need to make as a species
- We need to embrace the mystery of nature and discover its abundance
- Action for helping investors and food system decision makers to adopt a regenerative mindset: first, develop awareness, which can help people understand what level of consumption is enough and accept our human nature for greed and other tendencies and buffer against it. At the moment, awareness is so low that we continue to need bigger and bigger natural disasters, etc. to make us realise how our relationship with nature needs to change.
- Arca Tierra
- Chinampas of Mexico: Most Productive Agriculture EVER?
- Agenda Gotsch Syntropic Agriculture
- Silo Restaurant in London
- La Via Campesina
- Laurence Tremblay – How mindset is everything when turning chocolate into a tool for good
- Giles Hutchins – How we can use the achiever mindset as a tool for crafting a regenerative world
Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.