Urban Farming Solutions for Mexico City’s Schools

2014

Aida Real’s life has been a story of constant reinvention. Like many young Mexicans, Real began working immediately after high school. She landed jobs producing television programs and as an advertising agency’s business manager. After several years, she founded an advertising firm, with major clients such as Grupo Modelo, the Mexican purveyor of the beer Corona, and Televisa, the leading Mexican media company. In just a few short years Real learned much about the business. And yet, the 31-year-old recalls, “I realized I needed to get more knowledge about how to manage new products and new businesses.”

One day, she noticed a Universidad del Valle de México (UVM) advertisement for a new business administration program for working professionals. Real quickly registered for the program. She worked during the day and attended class at night. In 2009, she received a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

By then, she had started volunteering with Sembradores Urbanos, a nongovernmental organization that promotes farming in the heart of Mexico City. Her first assignment was simple: working in the small greenhouse of Huerto Romita, a garden in Mexico City. Despite her lack of formal education in urban agriculture, Real quickly expanded her duties.

“People see farming as not only fashionable—but a way of living.”
Aida Real, urban farmer

She became Huerto Romita’s project manager, and the following year created Colmena Educativa, a social enterprise to boost the number of Mexico City schools with farms. She has expanded the program to seven schools and 33 childcare facilities across Mexico City. Offcials at several schools have sought her team’s guidance on how to convert fields littered with trash, rocks and piles of soil into gardens verdant with green beans, kale, pumpkins and tomatoes. Schools regularly use vegetables and fruits from the gardens. Real and about 30 volunteers rotate between the gardens, monitoring their development and teaching new urban agriculture techniques.

Huerto Romita and Colmena are now Real’s full-time job—and private individuals are clamoring to pay her team of eight employees to develop sustainable gardens at their homes.

Barely five years ago, people called Real a “hippie” and said: “You don’t farm in the city.” Urban farming is certainly unusual in much of Latin America and the developing world’s booming cities. But increasingly in Mexico City, “people see farming as not only fashionable—but a way of living,” Real observes. Now, Aida Real is moving onto her next big challenge: expanding the urban farming movement into less affluent neighborhoods.