The revolution is fertile

Yippee, we’re going to Cuba!

Ben and I have been attempting to go for years now, but one thing or another always prevented us. Now, in a spontaneous and daring manuver, we’ve booked a flight to Havana for mid-January.

Of course, I started researching gardens immediately. They do have a botanical garden and several smaller gardens I’d love to check out, but while searching, I came across several articles on Cuba’s green revolution, which sprang out of a food shortage brought on by the ongoing US embargo and Russia’s 1990 withdrawal of food subsidies.

An article on metropolismag.com writes:

Although the streets of Havana, Cuba, are dominated by decrepit buildings, it is rare to come upon an abandoned lot strewn with rubble and weeds. Instead, these disused plots are coveted prizes: sites that precipitate heated standoffs between gardeners with trowels and boys carrying baseballs and bats. But, because the Cuban state favors redistributing vacant plots to those willing to grow food on them, the gardeners usually win. The result is that Havana’s urban fabric now boasts an unusual juxtaposition of decay and growth, as urban gardens and farms arise alongside crumbling architectural remnants of bygone times.

In 2002, Cubans produced 3.4 million tons of food from 35,000 hectares of urban land; in Havana, 90% of the city’s fresh produce came from local urban farms and gardens.The urban farms and gardens come in various shapes and forms. One type is the organoponico, or intensive vegetable garden, where vegetables and herbs are grown in containers on hard surfaces. Then there are the smaller plot, patio, and popular gardens, which are managed by a family or group. Factories, offices, and businesses offer a third model of urban gardens–workplace gardens–which grow the food served in company cafeterias.

The workers of Havana are not the only ones who reap the rewards of Cuba’s ambitious urban agriculture program; retirement homes, schools, and hospital kitchens also receive anywhere from a fluctuating donation to steady supply of food from neighborhood plots.

City Farmer says:

Participation in the popular gardens range from one to seventy people per garden site. The majority of gardeners are men, although women and children also participate. Popular gardens are usually organized around a household, but it is not uncommon to find arrangements in which more than one household shares or subdivides a garden site.

A wide selection of produce is cultivated, depending (on family needs, market availability, and suitability with the soil and locality. In addition to vegetable and fruit cultivation, some popular gardens also cultivate spices and plants used for medicinal purposes.

Garden productivity has been achieved with minimal external inputs, applying principles of organic agriculture that are low cost, readily available, and environmentally sustainable. Gardeners seldom use chemical fertilizers, relying instead on organic fertilizers in the form of chicken or cow manure, compost from household food waste, and occasionally vermiculture (the use of worms). Also, there is no great demand or availability for chemical herbicides, as weeds are easily controlled by hand weeding. Inter-cropping is commonly practiced, and vegetation stories are sometimes used with taller trees and plants acting as a protective canopy for lower crops. Farmers often maximize the use of land by cultivating crops which produce in the ground, on the ground, and above the ground. A popular combination includes cassava, which provides abundant shade, sweet potatoes, which provides good ground cover, and occasionally beans, which fixates the soil with nitrogen.

What an inspiring example of necessity driving innovation. I’d love to bring some tools and seeds down to support these urban gardeners, along with the other basic supplies I plan on carrying with me. Can anyone who has been to Cuba before offer recommendations on gardens to visit, and/or supplies to donate?



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