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.”

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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.

 

Global food shortages, soaring prices and alarm over the environment. But every day, Britain throws away 220,000 loaves of bread, 1.6m bananas, 5,500 chickens, 5.1m potatoes, 660,000 eggs, 1.2m sausages and 1.3m yoghurts

By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent, The Independent
Thursday, 8 May 2008

 

A new study has exposed the staggering amount of food thrown away every day by the British public, calculating that the annual total of wasted products adds up to a record £10bn.

 

Each day, according to the government-backed report, Britons throw away 4.4 million apples, 1.6 million bananas, 1.3 million yoghurt pots, 660,000 eggs, 5,500 [CORRECTED] chickens, 300,000 packs of crisps and 440,000 ready meals. And for the first time government researchers have established that most of the food waste is made up of completely untouched food products – whole chickens and chocolate gateaux that lie uneaten in cupboards and fridges before being discarded.

The roll call of daily waste costs an average home more than £420 a year but for a family with children the annual cost rises to £610.

The Government’s waste campaign Wrap (Waste & Resources Action Programme) revealed the extent of Britain’s throwaway food culture after sifting through the dustbins of 2,138 people who signed up to an audit of food detritus. Other items on the daily list included 1.2 million sausages, 710,000 packs of chocolate or sweets, 260,000 packs of cheese, 50,000 milkshake bottles and 25,000 cooking sauces.

The study is published as millions of the world’s poor face food shortages caused by rising populations, droughts and increased demand for land for biofuels, which have sparked riots and protests from Haiti to Mauritania, and from Yemen to the Philippines. Last month India halted the export of non-basmati rice to ensure its poor can eat, while Vietnam, the second-biggest rice exporter, is considering a similar measure after Cyclone Nargis ripped through Burma’s rice-producing Irrawaddy delta.

In Britain yesterday, it emerged that food prices had risen by 4.7 per cent in the past month. The soaring cost of wheat has increased food prices in the UK by up to 11 per cent in the past year, putting more pressure on domestic budgets already struggling to cope with higher mortgage costs and council tax and energy bills.

Wrap suggested households seeking to balance their finances could save money by following basic tips to prevent food waste, such as planning shopping trips better and keeping a closer check on use-by dates. It also pointed out that many people do not know the difference between a “best before date”, which has no implications for food safety, and use-by data, which must be followed.

The Environment minister, Joan Ruddock, said: “These findings are staggering in their own right, but at a time when global food shortages are in the headlines this kind of wastefulness becomes even more shocking. This is costing consumers three times over. Not only do they pay hard-earned money for food they don’t eat, there is also the cost of dealing with the waste this creates. And there are climate- change costs to all of us of growing, processing, packaging, transporting and refrigerating food that only ends up in the bin. Preventing waste in the first place has to remain a top priority.”

Eliminating the huge level of food waste would have significant environmental consequences. Local authorities spend £1bn a year disposing of food waste, which leads to the release of methane, a potent climate-change gas. Wrap calculated that stopping the waste of good food could reduce the annual emission of carbon dioxide by 18 million tonnes – the same effect as taking one in five cars off the roads.

Food experts said the study should serve as a wake-up call to British consumers. As well as an individual “Victorian moral” effort, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, called for the Government to take action to improve the efficiency of the food system to face up to the challenges of climate change, rising oil costs and water shortages. Describing modern supermarkets as “cathedrals of waste”, he said: “The British food economy is one of the most wasteful it would be conceivable to design. We have to create a new set of criteria on what we want the food economy to address; it’s time for politicians to catch up.”

Previously, Wrap’s Love Food, Hate Waste campaign put the financial cost of the 6.7 million tonnes of food discarded annually in the UK at £8bn. After interviewing 2,715 households – and then analysing the contents of most of their bins – researchers found that people were throwing away a greater proportion of edible, unused products. Rather than half new food and half peelings and scrapings from plates, the proportion of entirely unused products was 60 per cent by weight and 70 per cent by value.

Overall, that meant the total level of waste was £2bn higher, at £10bn, with the untouched products discarded worth £6bn. Of those, products worth £1bn were still “in date”, Wrap found.

Launching The Food We Waste report, Wrap’s chief executive, Liz Goodwin, described its findings – which mean that one in three shopping bags is dumped straight in the bin – as “shocking”.

She said: “People aren’t really aware that we are wasting so much food; do we think it’s acceptable to throw so much away when people around the world are starving? But also with the economic situation here purse strings are getting tighter yet the average family with children is wasting more than £600 a year on food waste. It begs some questions which we all need to ask ourselves. As individuals we are all wasting food. By class or age, there isn’t much difference in how much we waste.”

‘I chuck out a lot because I live on my own’

Andrew Small, 46, from London

I waste a lot of stuff which goes way over its sell-by date. If you don’t shop that often like me there is a danger of things like milk and fruit and vegetables going off in the fridge.

Estimated waste per month: £30

Andreia Augusto, 35, from Portugal

I mostly waste salads and vegetables from the fridge; and things like HP sauce, plus beans and lentils tend to get chucked out. It can happen almost without you noticing.

Estimated waste per month: £50

Lisa Jennings, 26, from London

I throw away a lot because I live on my own and I like to cook each night instead of eating ready-made meals. I struggle with vegetables because I tend to buy them in big packets.

Estimated waste per month: £20

Alaria Alongi, 40, Italian, lives in London

I recycle everything and do my own compost. When I make a surplus I tend to eat leftovers. I look forward to a day when you use your own large containers for buying rice and pasta.

Estimated waste per month: £0

Alan Young, 58, from London

I try to avoid throwing any food away, despite eating mainly at home. I was brought up by parentswho came from a wargeneration in which waste was a sin.

Estimated waste per month: £5-10

 

 

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The below about food waste in Britain and Canada was taken from THE SHADOW’S ECHO blog


Apparently, the British throw out a lot of food. Enough to cost them
$10 billion British pounds per year ($15.5 billion Canadian dollars). 
My previous work on food waste for urban agriculture estimated that
Canadians threw out at least 7-14 million tonnes of food. If I do
some more rough estimates then Candians lose at least $3-5 billion per
year conservatively on wasted food.

If this waste were recovered we could prevent the release of roughly
9-15 million tonnes of greenhouse gases for Canada (the weight of
76-127 CN Towers) and 18 million tonnes for the UK (the weight of 152
CN Towers). Yet we seem to waste as much food as the Brits (they
waste 6 million tonnes). The Canadian $ and greenhouse gas values
could be equal to or greater than the British cost. Regardless,
that’s quite a lot of money and climate changing emissions.

Last I checked, people in the UK wasted 30% of their home pantries
(most of it being unopen and uneaten food). The information I have
indicates it’s roughly the same here in Canada (ranging from 20-30%
depending on your local area). Unfortunately we don’t have a campaign
like the UK government’s Waste & Resources Action Programme. There
just aren’t enough hard numbers. Anyone feel like starting a food
waste study?