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City Gardens Abound In Cuba, Where 70% Of Vegetables And Herbs Are Local And Organic

HAVANA, June 4, 2008

(CBS/ Reinaldo Gil)

(CBS) This story was written by CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum in Havana.
“Buy local. Eat seasonal. Eat organic.” All now commonplace admonitions in the United States.

But while none of these slogans are household words in Cuba, 70 percent of the vegetables and herbs grown on the island today are organic and the urban gardens where they are raised are usually within walking distance of those who will consume them. So in one blow Cuba reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food. And they began doing this nearly 20 years ago.

The island nation’s move to organic and sustainable farming did not arise from its environmental consciousness, although there was an element of that also. The main reason was the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba’s only source of petroleum and main trading partner at that time.

Overnight long lines formed at gas stations that all too often ran out before all their customers could fill up. Traffic was virtually non-existent. Chinese “Flying Pigeon” bicycles replaced both private and public transportation.

“Puestos” as Cubans call the produce section of their rationed grocery stores displayed only empty bins as agriculture ground to a halt. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers vanished. Tractors became relics of a former time. Oxen pulled the plows that furrowed the fields.

Finding food for the dinner table became a day-long drudge. Cubans visibly lost weight. The communist youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, ran articles on edible weeds. Daily caloric intake dropped to about 1600 calories.

Organic agriculture “made its appearance at that moment as a necessity and that necessity helped us to advance, to consolidate and expand more or less uniformly in all 169 municipalities,” says Adolfo Rodriguez. At 62, he is Cuba’s top urban agrarian, with 43 years experience in agriculture.

He says there are now 300,000 people employed directly in urban agriculture without counting those who are raising organic produce in their backyards as part of a State-encouraged grassroots movement. In all, Rodriguez claims nearly a million people are getting their hands dirty organically.

With 76 percent of Cuba’s population of just under 11 million living in cities, the importance of this form of farming cannot be over emphasized, says Rodriguez.

I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay.
Adolfo Rodriguez, urban agrarian
The urban gardens have been dubbed “organoponicos.” Those located in never-developed empty lots primarily consist of raised beds. More complicated are those created in the space left by a collapsed building, not uncommon in cities like Havana where much of the housing is in a very deteriorated state and where all it takes is a heavy tropical rainfall followed by relentless sunshine to bring down a structure.

“We have to truck in the soil,” before anything can be planted, explains Rodriguez. “The basic issue is restoring fertility, the importance of producing compost, organic fertilizers, humus created by worms,” he says.

In a majority of cases the fruits and vegetables are freshly picked every morning and go on sale just with a few feet of where they grew. Only in exceptional cases, such as the densely population municipality of Old Havana (as the colonial section of the capital is named) do the organic fruits and vegetables travel a kilometer or so by a tricycle or horse drawn cart to reach consumers.

Havana residents line up at the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs. (CBS/Manuel Muniz)

Lucky are the Havana residents who live near the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Occupying nearly an entire city block, it grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as ornamental plants. It will even sell fresh basil shoots for customers to plant in their own herb garden. On a recent day, customers were offered the following fresh produce at reasonable prices: mangos, plantains, basil, parsley, lettuce, garlic, celery, scallions, collard greens, black beans, watermelon, tomatoes, malanga, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Luckily for Cubans in general, organic here is not equivalent to expensive. Overhead costs are low. The produce is sold from simple aluminum kiosks, signs listing the day’s offer and prices are handmade, electricity is used only for irrigation, and no transportation other than walking from the raised beds to the kiosks is involved. The result? Everything is fresh, local and available.

Convincing Cubans to buy this produce, especially the less familiar vegetables, so as to prepare earth friendly meals, presented a hurdle. The ideal meal on the island includes roast pork, rice and beans and yucca. A lettuce and tomato salad was popular. But the idea of vegetable side dishes or an all vegetarian meal was inconceivable to most.

“We’re cultivating some 40-plus species but you have to know who your customers are,” says Rodriguez. “We can’t plant a lot of broccoli right now because its not going to sell but we’re making progress.” For example, he notes, in the beginning practically no one bought spinach. Now, all the spinach planted is sold. Persuading people to eat carrots, according to Rodriguez, was an uphill battle. “We had to begin supplying them to the daycare centers,” so as to develop a taste for this most common of root vegetables.

The “queen” of the winter crop is lettuce. The spring/summer “queen” is the Chinese string bean. Cuba’s blazing summer sun doesn’t allow for growing produce out of its season, even under cover, except in rare circumstances.

The saving of heritage fruits, vegetables and even animals has also gotten a boost from the urban agrarian movement. The chayote, a fleshy, pear-shaped single-seeded fruit, had virtually disappeared from the market. Now, Rodriguez says, 130 of Cuba’s 169 municipalities are growing the fruit that many remember from their grandmother’s kitchen repertoire in which it was treated as a vegetable, often stuffed and baked.

“We are working to rescue fruit orchards that are in danger of extinction,” stresses Rodriguez. “We’ve planted fields with fruit species that many of today’s children have never even seen, such as the sapote. To save these species we’ve created specialized provincial botanical gardens,” he explains.

Similarly, the urban agrarian movement is rescuing native animal species such as the Creole goat and the cubalaya chicken, the only native Cuban poultry species.

Currently spiraling global food prices are hitting the island hard. Cuba has been importing just over 80 percent of the food consumed domestically. The government is making more land and supplies available to farmers and this may well include chemical fertilizers and pesticides in an attempt to greatly reduce this foreign dependency.

Adolfo Rodriguez, Cuba’s top urban agrarian (CBS/Reinaldo Gil)

Rodriguez does not believe this push to quickly increase agricultural output will negatively impact on the urban organic movement. Even during the 1990s, known in Cuba as the “Special Period,” he says, the potato crop continued to receive chemical pesticides and fertilizers. And even today, the 30 percent of the non-organic produce includes, for example, large-scale plantings of tomatoes for industrial processing.

“I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay,” concludes Rodriguez. “That there is a little increase in the application of fertilizers and pesticides for specific crops is normal but that’s not to say that the country is going to shift away from organic farming, to turn our organic gardens into non-organic ones.”

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29th 2008

CONTACT: Holly Freishtat, 360-391-2888, holly@cultivatehealth.com

Seattle Hospitals Purchasing Local, Sustainable Food: National Report Outlines Leading Trends in Health Care Sector

127 Hospitals nationwide are buying healthier food to promote public health

(5/29/08 – Seattle, WA) 

For 127 hospitals across the United States, the words “hospital food” and “healthy communities, healthy environment” are one and the same, according to a new report released by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH)  today. The Healthy Food in Health Care Report outlines concrete steps being taken by hospitals regionally that support the national trend to change their food buying practices towards more sustainably produced, healthier choices for patients, staff and visitors.

Eight Seattle area hospitals out of the 127 facilities, in 21 states across the country, pledged to source local, nutritional, sustainable food. “When hospitals sign and implement the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge they redefine healthy food beyond nutrition to include community and environmental health. Hospitals are changing the culture of food in healthcare by sourcing local produce, hormone-free milk, meat without hormones or antibiotics, sustainable seafood and through hosting farmers’ markets, community- supported agriculture boxes for employees,” says Holly Freishtat, Sustainable Food Specialist for Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR), a  member organization of HCWH. 

The Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge outlines the steps to be taken by the health care industry to improve the health of their patients, local communities and the environment. This Pledge Report details the concrete food purchasing steps these facilities are making. For example:

·         80 facilities (70%) are purchasing up to 40% of their produce locally

·         Over 90 facilities (80%) are purchasing rBGH-free milk

·         100% have increased fresh fruit and vegetable offerings

·         50 facilities (44%) are purchasing meat produced without the use of hormones or antibiotics

·         63 facilities (60%) are composting food waste

Seattle area hospitals have been leaders in the movement of providing healthy sustainable food. The eight hospitals that have signed the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge are; Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Overlake Hospital Medical Center, Northwest Hospital and Medical Center, University of Washington Medical Center and MultiCare Health System that includes Good Samaritan Hospital, Tacoma General Hospital, Mary Bridge Children’s and Health Center, and Allenmore Hospital. Each of the facilities is implementing their Pledge commitments in various ways. They are rolling out new patient menus featuring healthier selections, purchasing locally grown produce when possible, and increasing the amount of organic sustainable foods. A few highlights include:

  • Food Composting: Four hospitals composted a total of 310 tons of food compost in 2007, two more hospitals are planning to compost by the end of 2008
  • Farm Stand and/or CSA: three hospitals have a farm stand and/or a CSA, thus increasing the access of organic fruit and vegetables to over 14,000 employees
  • Nutritional Quality: All the hospitals are decreasing the amount of processed foods and Transfats while increasing whole grains and fruits and vegetables

Hospitals around the country are linking their operations to impacts on human and environmental health, and an emerging part of this trend is increased attention to food service.   Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is joined in its work to encourage support for local, sustainable food by major medical associations.   In 2007, the American Public Health Association recognized the urgency of transforming our food system and passed a policy to promote environmental sustainability, improve nutritional health and ensure social justice.  That same year, the California Medical Association passed a resolution that encourages hospitals to adopt policies that increase the purchasing and serving of local, sustainable food .

“When hospitals serve and promote nutritious, local, sustainably grown food to patients, families, staff and visitors, hospitals are modeling preventive medicine,” stated Sue Heffernan, RN, MN, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Across the country, pledged hospitals are continuously working to address the public and environmental health impacts from current industrialized food production practices by sourcing nutritious, local sustainable food.

For more information and expert list please contact:

Holly Freishtat, WPSR Sustainable Food Specialist, Food & Society Fellow

360-391-2888, holly@cultivatehealth.com

Heath Care without Harm, an international coalition of more than 473 organizations in 52 countries, is working to transform the health care sector, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. For more information on the healthy food pledge seehttp://www.noharm.org/us/food/pledge.

To learn more about HCWH’s work on food and other issues related to health care www.healthyfoodinhealthcare.org

To view the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge Report:

 


 The 2007 California Medical Association resolution encourages hospitals to adopt policies and implement practices that increase the purchasing and serving of food that promotes health and prevents disease. Included are meat and dairy products produced without non-therapeutic antibiotics, meats derived from non-CAFO sources such as free-range animals, food grown on non-industrial agricultural operations such as small and medium-sized local farms, and food grown according to organic or other methods that emphasize renewable resources, ecological.

 


 The 2007 American Public Health Association policy “Towards a Healthy, Sustainable Food System” urges support of environmentally sound agricultural practices to reduce contamination, resource use, climate change, in addition to improved food labeling for country-of-origin and genetic modification, and a ban on non-therapeutic antimicrobial and arsenic use. It recognizes the urgency of transforming our food system to promote environmental sustainability, improve nutritional health, and ensure social justice.

 

Grocery bills are rising through the roof. Food banks are running short of donations. And food shortages are causing sporadic riots in poor countries through the world.

You’d never know it if you saw what was ending up in your landfill. As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study — and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.

Grocery stores discard products because of spoilage or minor cosmetic blemishes. Restaurants throw away what they don’t use. And consumers toss out everything from bananas that have turned brown to last week’s Chinese leftovers. In 1997, in one of the few studies of food waste, the Department of Agriculture estimated that two years before, 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products and sweeteners made up two-thirds of the waste. An update is under way.

Food, a Shrinking Burden

After President Bush said recently that India’s burgeoning middle class was helping to push up food prices by demanding better food, officials in India complained that not only do Americans eat too much — if they slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, said one, “many people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plate” — but they also throw out too much food.

Click here to read the rest of the New York Times article.

Here is an awesome blog all about wasted food

Charles Fox/Philadelphia Inquirer

Kacie King checked honey production at the North Philadelphia farm, Greensgrow, which provides fresh food where it is rare.

Published in the New York Times: May 20, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Amid the tightly packed row houses of North Philadelphia, a pioneering urban farm is providing fresh local food for a community that often lacks it, and making money in the process.

Greensgrow, a one-acre plot of raised beds and greenhouses on the site of a former steel-galvanizing factory, is turning a profit by selling its own vegetables and herbs as well as a range of produce from local growers, and by running a nursery selling plants and seedlings.

The farm earned about $10,000 on revenue of $450,000 in 2007, and hopes to make a profit of 5 percent on $650,000 in revenue in this, its 10th year, so it can open another operation elsewhere in Philadelphia.

In season, it sells its own hydroponically grown vegetables, as well as peaches from New Jersey, tomatoes from Lancaster County, and breads, meats and cheeses from small local growers within a couple of hours of Philadelphia.

The farm, in the low-income Kensington section, about three miles from the skyscrapers of downtown Philadelphia, also makes its own honey — marketed as “Honey From the Hood” — from a colony of bees that produce about 80 pounds a year. And it makes biodiesel for its vehicles from the waste oil produced by the restaurants that buy its vegetables.

Among urban farms, Greensgrow distinguishes itself by being a bridge between rural producers and urban consumers, and by having revitalized a derelict industrial site, said Ian Marvy, executive director of Added Value, an urban farm in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.

It has also become a model for others by showing that it is possible to become self-supporting in a universe where many rely on outside financial support, Mr. Marvy said.

Mary Seton Corboy, 50, a former chef with a master’s degree in political science, co-founded Greensgrow in 1998 with the idea of growing lettuce for the restaurants in downtown Philadelphia.

Looking for cheap land close to their customers, Ms. Corboy and her business partner at the time, Tom Sereduk, found the site and persuaded the local Community Development Corporation to buy it and then rent it to them for $150 a month, a sum they still pay.

They made an initial investment of $25,000 and have spent about $100,000 over the years on items that included the plastic-covered greenhouses and the soil that had to be trucked in to cover the steel-and-concrete foundation of the old factory site.

“The mission was: How do you take postindustrial land and turn it into some kind of green business?” said Ms. Corboy, an elfin woman with the ruddy cheeks of someone who works long hours out of doors.

She approached her early lettuce-growing operation with conventional business goals and little thought for what an urban farm could achieve.

“I thought you didn’t have to have a relationship with the community,” she said. “You would just be a business person.”

Customers said the farm was a breath of fresh air in a gritty neighborhood.

“It’s a little piece of heaven,” said Janet McGinnis, 47, who lives on nearby Girard Avenue. “We live in the city, and it makes me feel good to wake up and see flowers.”

Ms. McGinnis said she could buy herbs, bread and produce elsewhere but did so at Greensgrow because it is part of the community. “We’ve got to keep it in the community,” she said. “We have to give back.”

Despite the community goodwill, the farm lives with urban problems like theft and violence. “I have gone through every tool in the box eight or nine times,” Ms. Corboy said.

Although no one at Greensgrow is getting rich from the operation — after 10 years’ work, Ms. Corboy is making an annual salary of $65,000 — there is a sense that their time has come.

“Ten years ago when I said we were going green, people thought we were out of our minds,” Ms. Corboy said. “Now we are top of the party list.”

I am fascinated in how American culture and changes over time effect how America feels about gardening. Thats why I would love to go to this forum and hear from older generations their ideas.  Adults and youth in your organization are encouraged to participate. Students can even get community service hours by going and taking notes that can be used for organizations. And free seeds?  I know its a bit late in the season, but I’ll never turn down free seeds…  So go and enjoy the light refreshments and soak up some knowledge and experiences.

 

If you’re interested in presenting at the forum you can fill out this form and send it in!

Have fun- I wish I could go!

I’ve only met Ed Bruske a handful of times, but I was impressed by the garden outside of his Columbia Heights home and his dedication to local food and DC Urban Gardeners.  He helped found DC Urban Gardeners last year after finding that there was a lack of outreach for urban gardeners in DC.  His blog, The Slow Cook, is updated constantly with great recipes, informative news, and goings on both around his home and in the DC foody community.  

He recently wrote an excellent article on the global food crisis that I though was very interesting, especially for people who live in DC.  I would check out his article and the links (especially the Washington Post ones).  While you’re there, take a look at his blog- he’s got great links, great recipes, and great advise.  

For anyone living in the DC area, Ed Bruske and the DC Urban Gardeners are a goldmine of information, take advantage of it!  They know pretty much everything growing going on in DC and their website has tons of links to local organizations, stores, and garden info. They’re involved in lots of projects so if you’re looking to volunteer, they’ve got some awesome opportunities. They also have a mailing list and a yahoo group you can get involved with.   They’re super open to talking so just drop them an email

So check out:

The Slow Cook 

DC Urban Gardeners

 
Urban agriculture could be one of many solutions to the imminent global food crisis.

I’ll start this article out with some little blips from NPR about the global food crisis and the riots they have sparked in Haiti this week.

Rising Food Prices Spark Growing Concern

Haitians Tense after Food Prices Spark Riot

The hand of a woman is covered in mud as she makes mud cookies on the roof of Fort Dimanche, Nov. 30, 2007.  (ABC News)

They’re eating mud?

Does no one remember the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made in 1948?

Article 25 states:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Last year on World Hunger Day (October 16) the FAO released a press release to remind us of this human right.

Eleven years after the 1996 World Food Summit the number of undernourished people in the world remains unacceptably high, with 820 million in developing countries, 25 million in countries in transition and 9 million in industrialized countries. As a result, promoting the right to food is not just a moral imperative or even an investment with huge economic returns, it is a basic human right, according to FAO. -FAO NewsRoom

Sixty years after this Declaration was signed by General Assembly of the United Nations, study after study show that we do produce enough food to feed the world over- its poverty thats the real problem.

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9).  The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.-worldhunger.org, 2008

Not only that, but a University of Michigan study from 2007 shows that “low-intensive food production systems (including organic and other natural approaches)” could sustain the current world population and maybe even more.  Here’s the abstract.

Check out the proceedings from this FAO Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security from 2007.

Earlier this year the UN released a statement admitting that it no longer has the money to keep malnutrition at bay this year.  

“We will have a problem in coming months,” said Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). “We will have a significant gap if commodity prices remain this high, and we will need an extra half billion dollars just to meet existing assessed needs… This is the new face of hunger. There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before.”

Its budget for 2008 was $2.9 billion dollars, which includes voluntary contributions from wealthier nations.  “But with annual food price increases around the world of up to 40% and dramatic hikes in fuel costs, that budget is no longer enough even to maintain current food deliveries (Borger).”

What are the main causes of these incredible hikes in food costs?

Recently, land and resources taken up by biofuels has been blamed for raises in cost. Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, says that this counts for about 30% of the raises in cost.  Another 50% comes from the sharp growth in demand from a new middle class in China and India for meat and other foods, which were previously viewed as luxuries.  Filling in the gaps are losses in world levels of grain storage due to erratic weather-induced changes…. And climate change will only become a greater issue over time. (Borger)

So what does all of this have to do with urban agriculture?  TONS!

Urban agriculture enables individuals and families feed themselves on a very small-scale production.  This agriculture can take place in open lots, on balconies, old tires, bags, baskets, rooftops, and around the perimeters of cities.  the FAO realizes the value of urban and peri-urban (a silly name for agriculture on the edges of cities and other similar areas) agriculture.  You can check out their websites here:

Food to the Cities

Urban/Peri-Urban Agriculture

And one of the most instrumental advocates for urban agriculture, Jac Smit, had written tons and tons on sustainability through urban agriculture.  Check some of his papers out here:

Farm the City

From the Desk of Jac Smit- tons of his papers in a big bundle

Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs, and Sustainable Cities. UNDP, Habitat II Series, 1996.

Another great resource for information on how great urban agriculture is in the International Development Resource Centre.  They have an exhaustive list of books you can download for free from their rather confusing website.

Here is the page of books about agriculture and development, many of them about urban agriculture.

Luc J.A. Mougeot works for them and is an INCREDIBLE person.

Lastly, a great website with lots and lots of documents is Resource centers of Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF).

 

 
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