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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22 MAY 2008

  

about good farm movement (found on COMFOOD)

I’m glad to find other people who are into art focused on food and gardening in cities.  This blog isn’t very big yet, but it will grow, I mean doesn’t everyone want to look at cool art with good food their belly?

 

Good Farm Movement is the art of the urban agrarian. we are a visual art blog that showcases and celebrates the agrarian avant-garde—the forward thinking farmers, cooks, eaters, educators, activists, and artists reclaiming our land, our communities, and our health.

we believe thought provoking visual art is a powerful means for examining the relationship between people and food in society. therefore, we draw on the visually dynamic mediums of design, photography, film/video, painting, and drawing as wellsprings of education and inspiration.

our ambition is to grow an informal collective of contributors who shift and shape the visual commentary regarding the political, economic, cultural, and social issues of food and farming. every contribution is open for commenting, and hopefully will produce critical thought and meaningful dialogue on and away from the site.

we welcome all well composed contributions for consideration. please send your piece to goodfarmmovement@gmail.com.

 

other interesting art exhibits:

fallen fruit

 

edible estates

Hot Summer of Urban Farming

Victory Gardens 2007+

Future Farmers

 

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

 

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!

“Carrots!” says this young intern from FoodShare, a Toronto non profit urban agriculture program
FoodShare is an organization that take a broad look at the entire food system – how food is produced, distributed and consumed.
How people get their food is also important. Food distribution systems that involve communities and help to create neighborhood leaders have a great potential to enhance individual and community empowerment, by leading people to feel that they have some control over this very basic part of their lives. Again, because of its material, cultural and social importance, food is special in its power to mobilize people to action. All our programs are based on this community building principle.
FoodShare tries to take a multifaceted, innovative and long-term approach to hunger and food issues. This means that we’re involved in diverse actions: grassroots program delivery, advocacy for social assistance reform, job creation and training, nutrition education, farmland preservation and campaigns for comprehensive food labelling are just a few examples of the areas we work in.
FoodShare was started in 1985 by the Mayor of Toronto and many citizens concerned about the growing hunger issues of the city. Since then, they have been actively involved in tons of projects all over the city, it is part of the school system, the farmers markets, and food banks of the city as well as host a hunger hotline, cooking classes, gardens and garden education, and healthy food choices classes. 
The Field to Table Urban Agriculture Project, founded by Annex Organics, has been home to a sprouting business, a rooftop greenhouse and garden, living machines, and a composting system. It now also includes honey bee hives and, off site, the Sunshine Garden, a 6000 sq ft market garden. Click here for a flier about the Sunshine Garden.
They also have a program called Good Food Boxes started in 1994, which runs similarly to a large buying club. The project distributes boxes of fresh (and often local) food throughout the city for either $12 or $32 depending of the version they choose.

Professional evaluation of The Good Food Box shows that participating in the program helps people access a more nutritious diet. It is now thought that up to 70% of deaths result from diseases that have a diet-related dimension, and there is mounting evidence that eating enough fruit and vegetables is key to preventing disease. Not only is it a matter of justice that everyone should have access to the food they need to keep them healthy- it also makes sense because of the enormous costs to the health care system that result from treating these diseases.

The Good Food Box makes top-quality, fresh food available in a way that does not stigmatize people, fosters community development and promotes healthy eating.

 

The Salad Bar program is a Farm to School program aimed at getting fresh vegetables to school children in Toronto.  Modeled after salad bar programs from the US, this program aims to get kids excited about fresh, local food.  Click here to see what kids said about the Salad Bar at their school.

 

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?

02/05/2008 

There are huge opportunities to grow more food in our cities, a new report by Sustain[1]  shows.  Edible Cities,[2]  looks at examples of urban agriculture projects in cities including New York, Milwaukee and Chicago and identifies a series of opportunities that other cities could be adopting. 

Edible Cities reportBen Reynolds, one of the authors of the report explains: “We are all familiar with allotments, and the odd community garden as features of the city landscape, but more often than not a lot of space is wasted, where with a little support we could see projects like this in the UK, where salad crops, vegetables and even fish are produced commercially within the city.”

One project in Milwaukee, Growing Power,[3]  has set up a fish farm as part of a river ecosystem where they are able to harvest watercress and fish to sell to local restaurants. This holistic system goes one step further, by feeding some of the fish on worms that are produced as part of a large scale composting enterprise on site.

The report is the result of a visit by a group of London officials, supported by the US Embassy.  Amongst the visitors[4]  was Colin Buttery, Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Parks.  Colin commented: “We saw some really inspiring initiative in the States. In Chicago, they were growing food amongst the ornamentals flower beds in the central park.  There were no fences, and yet there was no vandalism, with the harvested produce sold at a nearby market .[5]  It would be great to see some of these ideas adopted in London and cities across the UK.”

The report draws many parallels with the situation in London, where food growing, despite being a genuinely successful way of bringing the capital’s diverse communities together, is often forced to the extremities of neighbourhoods rather than celebrated and built into the heart of an area.

Many of the opportunities[6]  identified by this report are going to be explored at the Growing Food for London conference in City Hall on the 30th June,[7] where it is hoped the city’s planners, architects, growers and policy makers will buy into an edible vision for the Capital’s future. Watch this (green) space…

ENDS

Press contact: Ben Reynolds, London Food Link project officer, tel (work): 020 7837 1228; (mobile): 07939 202711. Ben@sustainweb.org

Notes

For copies of the report or photos please contact Ben Reynolds.

  Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming represents around 100 national public-interest organisations, Sustain (a not-for-profit organisation) advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture. http://www.sustainweb.org

  Edible Cities: A report of a visit to urban agriculture projects in the U.S.A is launched on April 29th 2008. It is available at www.sustainweb.org/publications (for press copies please contact Ben Reynolds above).

  For more information on the Growing Power centre in Milwaukee visit www.growingpower.org/

  The four visitors included; Colin Buttery, Royal Parks, www.royalparks.org.uk/; Tony Leach, London Parks and Green Spaces Forum www.lpgsf.org.uk/; Catherine Miller, Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (London officer), www.farmgarden.org.uk/london-pages.html; Ben Reynolds, London Food Link, part of Sustain,www.londonfoodlink.org.

  The organisation Growing Power, established the potager kitchen garden in Grant Park, downtown Chicago in 2005.  The food growing plots replaced a formal annual bedding area, so that park users do not realise at first sight that planting is entirely made up of over 150 varieties of heirloom vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.  For more information see www.growingpower.org

  The main opportunities the report identifies for growing more food in London can be summarised as follows:

  • Planting more fruit and nut trees in parks and along routeways 
  • Planting beds of edibles instead of traditional ornamental plants in bedding in parks 
  • Grow more food in under-utilised spaces, setting up community gardens in parks, derelict council facilities, social housing land and unused private gardens. 
  • Alternative food production such as mushroom growing, bee-keeping and planting edibles on roves and window boxes. 
  • Re-establish food growing as a major land-use on the green belt/urban fringe.

  The Growing Food for London conference is an all day event held at City Hall, on Monday 30th June.  Booking is necessary.  Speakers include Tim Lang (City University), Joe Nasr (author of Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities), Fritz Haeg, (author of Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn) and Ian Collingwood (Middlesborough Council regeneration, and lead on the Middlesborough Urban Farming project). The event, which is jointly organised with the London Parks and Green Spaces Forum, is part of the London Festival Architecture