Owing to their location on the slopes of mountains on the neovolcanic axis, most Nahua communities have access to a great variety of natural resources, for example, forests of oak, oyamel ( Abies religiosa ), and pine and various types of pastureland. Besides, all these communities have access to unirrigated lands dependent on seasonal rainfall. Access to irrigated arable land is the exception and only occurs in the area of Texcoco and, in isolated cases, toward Ozumba, on the slope of Popocatépetl.
In the majority of these towns, landownership is in the form of ejido property. The form of land tenure is closely related to the necessity of proving to the agrarian authorities that the original titles granted by the viceregal authorities during the colonial period contain the requisite elements to make them legally valid communal titles.
Among the most common cultigens are maize, beans, broad beans, wheat, and barley, all destined for household use. The most important for commercial purposes are fruit trees, flowers, and medicinal plants. Several kinds of livestock are kept: cattle (for investment), horses and mules (for transportation) sheep (for meat and wool) and, among penned animals, mostly hens and turkeys.
Many nonagricultural resources are obtained from the mountain ecosystem. Forests provide lumber, firewood, charcoal, cane (used for the construction of pens), and pine boughs (for decorations). The mountain bushes provide wood for handcrafted animal figurines and handmade brooms. They are also the source of medicines, as are some smaller plants. The Nahua also gather numerous varieties of edible mushrooms, another widely used resource.
Cattle and sheep raising and the use of oxen for plowing are increasingly important, mainly because of the availability of various kinds of pastureland for grazing, especially during the rainy season. During the dry season, animals are fed mostly maize, wheat, and barley stalks.
An important factor in the economic development of Nahua communities in the state of Mexico is their proximity to large market centers. For communities in the Texcoco and the Amecameca-Ozumba regions, the commercial center is Mexico City, especially the markets of la Merced, Jamaica, and Central de Abastos. For communities located in the Valley of Toluca, the market center is the city of Toluca.
Besides the direct link to markets in urban centers, the communities of the Amecameca-Ozumba region enjoy a system of weekly traditional rotating markets. The main open market is in Ozumba. The Valley of Toluca has another system of rotating markets; their main open market center is in Santiago Tianguistengo.
Throughout the twentieth century, the Nahua communities have responded to the demands of urban markets. At the beginning of the century, commerce was based mainly on the sale of forest products (lumber, firewood, and charcoal) and handmade crates. In the 1940s, with the ban on the use of forest resources (decreed to accelerate the production of natural gas from the recently expropriated petroleum industry), the communities' strategy became to diversify the range of products for sale. In Nahua towns located in the Valley of Mexico, this strategy translated into the cultivation of flowers and medicinal plants, the collection of edible mushrooms, and the collection of wild medicinal plants. In the Valley of Toluca, besides gathering mushrooms, people began to raise sheep and goats in order to sell the meat. In addition, in some cases, people began to sell ornaments made from pine branches.
Nonagricultural occupations within these communities consist of work in the construction trades, as gardeners, as maids, and in other service occupations. In certain highland towns in the area of Texcoco, local bands of musicians are formed, from which, in earlier times, musicians were recruited by important musical groups in Mexico City, such as the military band of the Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Department of National Defense).
New small commercial businesses that sell flower arrangements, medicinal plants, juices, and handmade Christmas decorations were added to these occupations in the 1990s. Furthermore, an emphasis on formal education by the state has increased entry into nonagricultural occupations. These educational opportunities have resulted in more Nahua obtaining white-collar jobs in industry and government.