Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lessons From Cuba - Urban Farming

Risking the visceral reaction garnered when anyone says anything positive about Cuba, I found this interesting article concerning how that nation is, and has been dealing with the global food crisis. From the online edition of Newsweek.

(HAVANA) For Miladis Bouza, the global food crisis arrived two decades ago. Now, her efforts to climb out of it could serve as a model for people around the world struggling to feed their families.

Bouza was a research biologist, living a solidly middle-class existence, when the collapse of the Soviet Union — and the halt of its subsidized food shipments to Cuba — effectively cut her government salary to $3 a month. Suddenly, a trip to the grocery store was out of reach.

...Cuba's urban farming program has been a stunning, and surprising, success. The farms, many of them on tiny plots like Bouza's, now supply much of Cuba's vegetables. They also provide 350,000 jobs nationwide with relatively high pay and have transformed eating habits in a nation accustomed to a less-than-ideal diet of rice and beans and canned goods from Eastern Europe.

I think there might be a lesson here if we choose to learn it.

Organic farming is on the rise here in the U.S., mainly because the profits for organically grown products has soared through the roof during the last few years. However that's taking a very narrow view of the overall impact that agriculture and the production of food has on the economy and our health.

With fertilizer use suspected of helping create oceanic dead zones, the still under examined role pesticides and their impact on human health, genetic modification of plants and seeds restricting countries abilities to produce and control their own food supply, and the sheer amounts of petroleum needed to produce food and get it to market, the agricultural sector in this country has long moved from the idealized "family farm" into the realm of big business. Really big business, much of it subsidized.

Most food is not produced anywhere close to where it's consumed, which is one of the reasons the increase in the price of gasoline has marched in lockstep with a corresponding increase in the price of food. Ultimately, like many other aspects of our economy, its unsustainable, and though the mounting global food crisis has yet to reach our shores, can it be that far off?

I don't know, but I do know there are plenty of open areas here in Houston, and I do have a backyard, so...


Crys said...

i had the same thought process this morning driving to work. trying to figure out what all i could attempt to grow in my own back yard....sign o' the times.

Marcus LANGFORD said...

My great-uncle is always talking about Cuba and the countries ability to produce. I believe America is still getting something from Cuba. If America could stop being so d-mn consumed with taking over everything, a lot more could be reaped in terms of foreign resources.

:::Marcus LANGFORD:::

Roxanne Christensen said...

Cuba may be more a model of indentured farming, rather than progressive farming, but that does not negate the case for commercial urban farming in developed countries. It is already happening in the U.S. and Canada. As the co-author of SPIN-Farming, what I see every day are more and more entrepreneurs using SPIN’s franchise-ready farming system as an entry point into the farming profession. They are using front lawns and backyards and neighborhood lots as their land base. Perhaps most importantly, this is happening without significant policy changes or government supports. This is not subsistence farming or social mission-based farming. This is recasting farming as a small business in cities and towns and integrating it into the built environment in an economically viable manner. It is "right sizing" agriculture for an urbanized century and helping to make local food production a viable business proposition once again.

DP said...

Crys - Thanks for coming through, and appreciate your comment. All it takes is a trip to the grocery store and one look at those prices to start thinking about laying in a crop in the backyard!

Marcus - We fancy ourselves as purveyors of knowledge here in the US, and no little Caribbean Island with 12 million people has anything to offer us regarding a better way, do they? Especially not a communist one. Arrogance will be our downfall.

Roxanne - We appreciate your visit and comment. I'm in no position to say whether the Cuban model is "indentured" agriculture, but according to the article this type of farming has actually led to more of a capitalist element being introduced into the Cuban economy, with farmers earning more than doctors and lawyers.

In any case, thanks for the information on SPIN Farming, and I agree with you that food production needs to devolve back to local production/local consumption. Do you have more info on SPIN-Farming you want to share?

that girl boo said...

crys when ever you get ready let me know and I'll tell you everything that helped and hurt my garden, one of my major problems I've faced is teaching myself and the problem with that is a lot of messed up's not like a batch of cookies where you can toss out the burnt batch and try again in 15 mins

DN Lee said...

urban gardening is a great thing. If really adopted (seriously) it it is just the thing to address the food security issues and get more produce into the diets of the urban poor. It's affordable, good exercise, and good nutrition.

If these gas and food prices keep up, we'll all be gardening - for survival sake. I just hope we have the good sense to do that instead of lose our minds, revolt and riot to get groceries. Which I fear will happen because so many people have no real concept about food chain/supply. They think their food comes from the grocery store.

that girl boo said...

ha ha ha "dn lee" I'm afraid you could be right