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Mexico City launches community gardens

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But the city community garden program, in which the government provides materials and expertise and the residents carry out the work, is intended to have an immediate impact.

The goal is to double the number of gardens by the end of 2008.

This garden, in the industrial and crime-ridden neighborhood of Iztapalapa on the edge of Mexico City, was among the city's first.

It used to be a garbage dump; how the smell of old milk cartons and beer cans has been replaced with the fresh scent of cilantro.

How the community gardens work

On a recent day, residents pull off pea pods, as a simple irrigation system waters crop beds. Small children, on summer holiday, run around the soccer field-sized space.

Here, about two dozen members of the garden cooperative come together each evening, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and help out with whatever needs to be done, from making compost to planting new crops. In turn, they share the bounty they reap between their families.

The Mexican efforts follow a trend in the US. Backdoor gardens are blooming, with 25 million American households engaged in vegetable gardening last year, according to the National Garden Association (NGA). Bruce Butterfield, the research director of the NGA, says the group forecasts 10 percent growth in the number of households participating, as happened after the 2001 recession. The reason this time: high food and gas prices.

Mr. Butterfield says that part of the allure is a sense of control – a sentiment shared by Mexicans across the border, too. In a country where the minimum wage is $5 a day, and where nearly half the nation lives below the poverty line, growing their own food offers them a cushion of sorts. "This gives me security, if something happens, at least we can feed ourselves," says Marta Aguirre, a retired schoolteacher and cooperative member.

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