She dismissed concerns that growing vegetables in the sometimes visibly polluted air of the capital would affect one’s health.
“With a good rinsing, they are fine,” Lukac said.
A specialist with City Hall agreed.
“There’s a mobile lab that belongs to the secretariat and it does tests to determine levels of heavy metals and toxic residues,” said Vanessa Morales, an engineer who works with the urban farming program. “So far, we see no problem that would affect the health of consumers.”
Lukac said the vast majority of those who visit her demonstration garden are women, many of them young.
“I see this do-it-yourself spirit as stronger among young people,” she said.
A sense of pride in producing crops native to Mexico throbs at another demonstration garden in the far western Cuajimalpa district, run by a retired teacher, Maricela Segura Gamez.
She walks by a carefully tended patch of calabaza squash and chilacayote squash threaded between stalks of corn.
“The chilacayotes are pure Mexican, grown only here in Mexico,” she said.
Along one wall of her outdoor compound, she points to fruit-bearing trees. One is a capulin cherry and another is a tejocote, a fruit that is similar to a crabapple; Mexicans often eat them around the country’s Day of the Dead holiday on Nov. 1 and on Christmas.
In her herb garden, shrubs of rosemary, dill and thyme sprout as well as epazote, a leafy Mexican herb with a strong aroma, a mix between lemon and fennel.
“Epazote is also purely Mexican. The Chinese can never imitate it,” she said.
Segura has 10 chickens in her plot, and the city program encourages residents to raise small animals (rabbits) or fowl (chickens, turkey and quail), if they live in certain areas. For those residents who need help getting started and meet certain criteria, the city program offers grants of the equivalent of between $1,000 and $2,500.
“They have to agree to participate for three years. This is the minimum timeframe,” Garcia, the deputy director, said. “Only a few abandon the project, and it may be because the plastic breaks on their greenhouse. They don’t want to pay to replace it.”
Mexico City is far from the leader in encouraging urban agriculture in Latin America. It took cues from Havana and receives guidance from Cuba’s National Research Institute for Tropical Agriculture. Urban garden programs also exist in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Caracas, she said.
But in some ways Mexico City has advantages. Residents can tend gardens 12 months out of the year, and a generous four-month rainy season lessens pressure on water resources. Moreover, most buildings in the city have flat rooftops.
“Many buildings are made with accessibility to the rooftop where frequently there are cages to hang and dry your clothes,” Lukac said. “So those spaces that have easy access … are excellent places to grow food in Mexico City.”