Barter in Bloom—Makeshift
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At Trueque Market, Mexico City residents swap used goods for fresh food

— Barter in Bloom

06. Trade Dispatches

Standing in the park’s morning sun, Guadalupe Sanchez wears an old marine blue jumper and an energetic smile. Instead of the typical droves of runners, the park boasts a row of small stalls. Sanchez arrived with a bag full of household recyclables; she now carries a load of organic vegetables. “We are very happy. all the products are fresh, tasty, and very healthy. Plus they give us lots!”

At 30, Edith Casas is half Guadalupe’s age but shares the optimism of her companion—and a similarly large bunch of produce. “This kind of market lets us control our rubbish production, and we realize that we can generate less rubbish,” she stated with a resolute smile. “We improve our local economy and don’t buy our products in Walmart. And we educate our children to create a better environment.”

On the second Sunday of every month, Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park hosts the Mercado del Trueque. Trueque, translated roughly as “barter”, has attracted many participants to arrive with recyclables in hand as currency for organic produce.

Plastic bottles, paper, cardboard, Tetra Paks, glass, and aluminum—up to 10 kilos per customer—are handed over. Staff weigh, classify, and exchange the products for puntos verdes (green points). These points are valid to then pick up organic products like oranges, tomatoes, acelgas (a green herb), cauliflowers, plants, mole, cheese, traditional sweets, and herbs—all produced within the boundaries of the city’s sprawl.

Buoyed by the success of the market’s first two years and pressure in the city to recycle more, electronics such as mobiles, laptops, iPods, blenders, and DVDs are all now legal tender at treuque.

José Juan Gil grows oranges and tunas—the fruit of a cactus—in the south of the megacity. “These activities are very important because our entire product is sold in advance.” Knowing vendors will sell out, the government buys bulk in advance, then sells back into the recycling market. It’s not profitable for the city, but it promotes recycling, healthy eating, and sustainable farming.

Visitors line up with recyclables to trade in for produce grown in the megacity.

Visitors line up with recyclables to trade in for produce grown in the megacity.

“We don’t use pesticides, and we don’t change the natural process to get our products,” explains Gil between carting oranges and trying to land customers. Gil, like many growers, can’t afford steep official certification fees—and the government doesn’t require him to. The piles of small, crooked fruits and vegetables suggest they are organic. But the informal agreement that producers stay pesticide- and chemical-free relies on trust.

Standing in line for almost two hours, Dario Pérez, a 25-year-old artist, believes the market offers a satisfying alternative but also thinks it can improve. “There just aren’t enough products. You need to come really early if you want some.”

Keeping up has been the biggest challenge for Trueque. Its unique vending scheme met instant popularity with people of all backgrounds when it opened last year, but there’s only so much fertile space to grow in the capital. Yet as dozens of families mingle, exchanging smiles and goods in the late morning, the demand for more barter seems clear.

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06. Trade Dispatches