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Organic in Cuba: Something from Nothing

There’s a scene in Terry Gilliam’s 1991 movie “The Fisher King” in which a man plucks the discarded wire cage from a champagne bottle off a pile of garbage bags as he walks down a New York City street with a woman he is trying to impress.  He fiddles with the wire in his hands as they walk, eventually holding up what looks like a delicate and beautiful little metal chair, fit for a dollhouse. “You can find some pretty amazing things in the trash,” he says to her.  She is smitten.

That transformation of a piece of trash into a thing of beauty transfixed me then, and still does.  When I traveled to Cuba a few weeks ago, on a food sovereignty study trip with Food First, I had the opportunity to be transfixed again and again. Read more

The Exceptional Nature of Cuban Urban Agriculture

Among the adherents of the food security movement in the United States, many idolize Cuba’s experience in building a vibrant urban farming sector. This idealization is due to the lack of information available on the Cuban system, as caused by the travel embargo and media blackout there. Compounding this situation is the vast difference between the Cuban and American political and economic systems.

Cuba’s accomplishments are undeniably astounding, inspiring and a testament to the country’s flexibility and pragmatism: 350,000 new well paying jobs (out of a total workforce of 5 million) created in urban agriculture nationally; 4 million tons of fruits and vegetables produced annually in Havana, up ten-fold in a decade; and a city of 2.2 million people regionally self-sufficient in produce. These accomplishments have been supported by an extensive network of input suppliers, technical assistance providers, researchers, teachers and government agencies.

Yet, Cuban urban agriculture, no matter how inspiring, is largely irrelevant to Americans. Read more