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Beautiful, “unmanicured” Cuba and its organic gardens

April 15, 2010

Travel and Places

This video on Cuba’s food system by Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International sure makes me want to go check it out. Aside from the curious mix of vintage ’50′s cars and rundown colonial buildings, I’ve heard over and over how impressed people are with the country’s organic farm system. Here Doiron does a good job explaining Cuba’s history and need for self-sustaining food.

A more poetic BBC travel video examines the “charming old world with healthy new growth”  and its sophisticated gardening system. These huertos, or plots, are not at all like our private farms. Some larger ones are on the outskirts of Havana, but many coexist with crumbling buildings right in the city. The growth of these gardens has made the city that much more beautiful.

An excellent article on Civil Eats compares the systems that have enabled Cuba’s public organic farms, versus the ones that pose so much difficulty for those growing food in the United States.

Consider this, for example:
“The success of urban agriculture in Cuba has been grounded in the distribution of public land for food production. For example, a law passed in 2008 allowed any citizen or entity to request idle lands up to 33 acres to be passed out in usufruct for 20-40 years. This law resulted in 16,000 persons requesting land in the past two years.”

And this:
“Since they do not purchase or rent the land, they have no mortgage or rental costs to pay. Inputs and technical assistance are subsidized by the government.”

Background
After the fall of the USSR, the country suffered huge losses of food and the average Cuban lost up to twenty pounds. Today the country relies on certain imports like dairy and rice, but grows vast amounts of produce through its own agricultural system. The amazing thing is Cubans implement tools like compost with worms, raised beds for drainage, and liquid smoke to keep bugs off using no pesticides. This could serve as a model for many other countries in a time of global warming and peak oil.

It’s hard to believe that an organic farmer makes three times more than a doctor does there!  As a result, the younger generation is getting more involved in farming now. More and more foreigners are visiting Cuba to see one of the most progressive sustainable agriculture models in the world.

I’m curious to learn what the average Cuban’s health is like in comparison to the average American.  I can only imagine that Cubans must eat so many more servings of daily fruits and vegetables than American counterparts. Just the other day, a young friend of mine here in the states was diagnosed at risk for diabetes and fertility problems due to her weight. In America, this happens every day, to younger and younger folk. I wish we could turn our food system around to really support our weight. Building gardens that make organic produce more available certainly helps.

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