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.

Portlandroof.jpg

Photo by Kym Pokorny from her blog “Dig in with Kym”.

 

“If you look around and see all the flat roofs, you can start to imagine a food-sustainable city,” says Marc Boucher-Colbert, one of the partners who contracts with Rocket restaurant to design and maintain the garden. “We’ve taken away all this space, but we can reclaim it.”

 

Click here to read the article at City Farmer News

 

Watch this video from MSN about Maverick farms hosted by Anna Lappé of the Small Planet Institute

 

Maverick Farms is an educational non-profit farm dedicated to family farming as a community resource and reconnecting local food networks.

Maverick Farms formed in spring 2004 to preserve a small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, an area under intense pressure from development. It operates as an open laboratory, experimenting with human-scale farming techniques and traditional food preparation.

Homepage_pic_2

Maverick Farms works to reclaim the pleasures of eating and sharing meals in a culture overrun by industrial agriculture and flavorless food. The project arose out of Springhouse Farm, which for 30 years sold hand-picked vegetables to local restaurants. Maverick Farms is continuing with that tradition while embarking on new education and outreach projects to connect local food producers and consumers.

They just started a new program that they call Farm Incubator and Grower Program (FIG) on mentoring aspiring young farmers and teaching them over the course of two years all that great stuff you need to know about planning crop rotations and balancing farm budgets, and running a CSA and restaurant supply business.  On successful completion of the training, Maverick works with the young farmers gain access to land, financing, equipment, and a ready-made markets to launch their own farm enterprises.  The program will hopefully help to reestablish local food sources in the area.  Because viable local food systems are often constrained by a lack of both land under cultivation and new farmers, FIG will collaborate with local landowners, land trusts, and town and county governments to identify land that could be rented at below-market rates or deeded as common agricultural property.

I found Maverick Farms from this Grist article.  Grist is great for all environmental news!

Thursday, July 17th – Asheville NC

Sponsored by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

and the Community Farm Alliance,

Southeast Regional Lead Agencies for the National Farm to School Network

 

 

What is Growing Minds Farm to School Program?

 

As part of a national farm to school initiative, Growing Minds is the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s (ASAP) farm to school training program. Growing Minds strives to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships between farms and schools that create dynamic, wellness-focused learning environments for our children. We do this by working with farmers, educators, and communities to serve local food in schools, while expanding opportunities for farm field trips, experiential nutrition education and school gardens. Currently at least one of these four components is being implemented in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Rutherford, and Yancey County, as well as Asheville City Schools.

Who should attend the Farm to School Conference?

If you …

  • live/work in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia or Florida AND
  • are either an agriculture professional, farmer, Child Nutrition Director, food distributor or school personnel AND
  • are currently involved in farm to school work or plan to be

YOU SHOULD BE THERE!!!

 

Workshop topics include:

Making the Pitch to Child Nutrition Directors

Policy Panel

Distribution: Opportunities and Challenges

Connecting Farm to School with Local Food Campaigns

Child Nutrition Directors’ Perspective

The National Farm to School Network and How Farm to School Works

The Education of Farm to School

 

Conference cost? $50 

Includes a full day of workshops, resource notebook, breakfast and lunch

 

Registration is limited. 

Sign up now to reserve your spot.

 

Registration Deadline is July 1st!

Email your registration and pay online

or

Download registration form

or

call 828-236-1282

Scholarships (that also cover travel expenses) are available on a first come, first serve basis. Contact Libby at libby@asapconnections.org or call her at 

 

828-236-1282.

 

Accommodations available the Four Points by Sheraton

 

Call the reservations department (828-253-1851 or 888-854-6897) and mention that you are with Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project (ASAP) and that the group has a rate offer and the reservationist will automatically extend your discounted rate ($150 per night for standard king and double rooms plus 10.75% tax

Travel information

Questions?

libby@asapconnections.org

828-236-1282

 

 

 

 

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

 

729 Haywood Rd., #3, Asheville, NC 28806

(828) 236-1282 (phone); (828) 236-1280 (fax)

www.asapconnections.org

 

Accra.jpg

IDRC Photo: Monica Rucki
Urban Farming in Accra

“While we in the urban West congratulate ourselves on innovations like the 100-Mile Diet and eating food raised close to home, much of Africa has been quietly surviving on the 100-metre version.

“Their produce isn’t trucked halfway across the continent. Some of it grows in greenspace hacked right out of city landscapes.

“That’s why you’ll see lettuce under power lines, and cassavas in the culverts.
“But harvesting the cities may not just be practical. In times of soaring food prices, it might help make the difference between a stable society and civil unrest.

“So you have to wonder; why is it still such a struggle? Canadian journalist Kim Brunhuber began his quest for answers in Uganda.

Listen to Kim’s story on Dispatches.
See Contents May 12/18 2008.
11 minutes 33 seconds.

Books about African Urban Agriculture:

URBAN AGRICULTURE IN WEST AFRICA
Contributing to Food Security and Urban Sanitation

CITIES FEEDING PEOPLE
An Examination of Urban Agriculture in East Africa

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.”