The Maya were skillful farmers. They used their knowledge of calendars and seasons to grow crops. In the beginning, they grew more food than they needed. City-states did trade some surplus food for other items. But most of the surplus food was stored by each city-state to feed anyone who needed it in that city-state.
As the population grew, farmers found it ever more difficult to grow enough food to feed the growing population. Farming was difficult in the Maya region. There were dense forests, little surface water such as rivers and lakes, and the soil was poor. But the Maya were clever.
The Maya did not try to use one system of agriculture. The farmers in each city-state fit their system to the land.
- In the mountainous highlands, they used step farming, so that each step would be flat and able to be irrigated to better grow and harvest crops.
- In the swampy lowlands, the Maya built raised earth platforms, surrounded by canals, on which they could grow crops. (Later on, the Aztecs improved on this system, and built floating gardens.)
- In the dense forest, they used a slash and burn technique to create a flat surface to plant crops. They dug canals throughout the fields to irrigate the crops.