Lessons from Cuba: Farming and Urban Gardening

Before its collapse, the USSR had been providing Cuba with much of its oil, farm equipment, pesticides, fertilizer and food. Cuba, in return, provided them with sugar. All of this ended with the break-up of the Soviet Union. This was a crisis for the small island nation who grew little of its own food (sugar and tobacco were its main crops). Cuba was starving and the average person lost 20 pounds during this time. By necessity, Cubans began growing their own food. And they did it in every corner of land that they could find. Without pesticides and petroleum based fertilizers, they had no choice but to grow their food organically. Cubans, up to this point, were not big vegetable eaters and the meat they ate was from factory farms. Diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer were relatively common. In addition, with major shortages of gasoline, they began riding bikes instead of taking their cars. Many farmers were forced to farm with oxen. By necessity, their diets changed, and the country is now growing up to 80% of its fruits and vegetables. Produce stands are numerous, and much of the fruits and vegetables available at the stands were grown within walking distance. During the time of transition, many people, especially children and pregnant women, suffered from malnourishment related illnesses. But now, with the drastic change in diet and the increase in exercise from walking and bike riding, cases of diabetes, heart disease and cancer have been significantly reduced.

Although this story can clearly not be separated from politics, that is not the point of my article. (If you comment, and choose to make your comment political, please excuse me from engaging in the conversation.) I clearly do not wish to see my country, the United States, have to suffer what these people have suffered. But my country is suffering from a crisis of health that has less to do with insurance and politics, than with the choices we make every time we eat. We need to take responsibility for our own health, and one way that many of us can begin is by gardening. Yes, urban gardening is growing in our cities and I’m thankful. I live in small town America. I walk my streets and something is missing. Gardens are few and far between. But I am encouraged. As a Master Gardener, rarely a week goes by that someone does not ask me how to start a garden, or how to improve the one they have. I hope we can learn a little from the people of Cuba without having to suffer what they have suffered.

Shared at Sunday School, Monday ManiaFat Tuesday, Homestead Barn Hop, Teach Me Tuesday, Tuesday Garden Party, Country Garden Showcase, Real Food Wednesday, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Whole Food Wednesdays, Homestead Helps, Simple Living Wednesday, Healthy 2Today, Rural Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Farmgirl Friday, Freaky Friday

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34 Responses to Lessons from Cuba: Farming and Urban Gardening

  1. thisiscristinasblog says:

    Thanks for the great post. I am dumbstruck by the examples of Gods blessing amid adversity. Love you.

  2. Annette says:

    Hi! Found your page via Real Food Forager. Would you like to see more on Cuba? Have a look at this awesome video… The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1721584909067928384

  3. Rosinha de Maracajau says:

    Great example of Cuba!!! I am living now in a small fishermen village in the Northeast of Brazil, where the local people buys garlic from China…nobody plants anything…we just start working gardening with the kids in school…Thank you for this post!

    • It makes me sad, Rosinha, that people all over the world can’t see that they are setting themselves up for hardship in the long run. It’s wonderful that the children are learning to garden!

  4. marina says:

    We visited Cuba in March of this year (we are from Canada), and rode our bikes to a local village where there was a little farm where the owner was selling honey, coconut water and making juice from raw cane (they had a big juicer and were growing cane). Also, it was amazing to see all the veggies he was growing there for his family – cabbages, herbs, squash. He was diagnosed with bone cancer a while ago but was eating all raw and drinking lots of coconut water (up to ten coconuts per day) to keep cancer from spreading. For his age (50), he looked very very young and energetic.
    This farm inspired me to start my own herb garden this year!

    • What a blessing to be able to see this country that has been so closed so for long. I wish I could remember the name of a documentary I saw a number of years ago on Cuba and some old time musicians. It put a desire in me to see this country. So glad you were inspired in such a positive way!!!!!

  5. nekalta says:

    I too am concerned about hitting rock bottom like the people of cuba, but hopeful for our future being one of renewal, life, health and wholeness.

    I am considering trying to start up a community garden. How do you connect with people to share your knowledge?

    • Rosalyn @ http://rosalynhomesteads.blogspot.com/ recently began a community garden in Prince Edward Island. I’m sure if you visited her blog and asked her, she would be delighted to share her experience. I haven’t done anything so big, but I found that after taking the time to become a Master Gardener in my county, people began to hear more of what I was saying regarding gardening. I now have the occasional opportunity to teach, and lots of opportunity to answer questions.

      • Rachel @ Rediscovering the Kitchen says:

        Thank you! I had not heard about becoming a “Master Gardener” before either. I am very new to this, so just relying on a lot of enthusiasm at the moment, hehe.

        • Marie says:

          Rachel, good luck with your community garden!! How exciting. I’d love to have one, but we are too far away to make it worth anyone’s drive, and vice versa. Awesome idea!
          Susan, I am just now diving into your blog, hoping to read more about your master gardener experience.

  6. Wonderwoman says:

    Thanks for the enlightening post on Cuba…and I’m with you on the rest of the subject. NOW is the time to learn how to do the things that our great-grandparents did. I’m finding more and more people in my blog ‘circle’ who feel the same way, but there’s not enough of us.

    • Yes, I find lots of kindred spirits in the blog world. Here and there I am finding them in the “real” world, too! I now have a group of friends who get together once a month to talk nutrition, cook together, and laugh our heads off. It’s so refreshing!

  7. I recently read about this from Noah Sanders and was greatly encouraged that a people group could actually recover from a huge set back like the Cuban’s experienced. Like you said, I would hate to see us have to go through something so drastic. Hopefully, the trend will continue and more and more people will grow a portion of their own food, urbanites as well as country folk.

  8. You know, I can’t remember where I first heard about Cuba’s situation. Perhaps it was from Noah. Did he talk about this in his book “Born Again Dirt”? How encouraging to know that God provides for us in our distress.

  9. Marie says:

    So insightful and beautifully written… This is perfectly instep with some things I have been studying and thinking about all winter, ready for the growing season! Sharing your article with some like minded friends and bookmarking for reference!

  10. Nancy says:

    A thought-provoking post, Marie. Thank you for sharing at Rural Thursdays. xoxo

  11. Wonderful points. After watching Sicko, I felt like Cuba actually had a lot going for it. And I didn’t even know about the gardening!

  12. Ya know? I’ve often thought that if this country were to collapse financially (as Cuba did) we’d be forced to be more creative about our food choices. I think we are pretty close to the brink now where subsidies will no longer be able to be given out unless other things are removed. Maybe that is too political. I don’t mean it to be. It just seems that once our conveniences are taken away that maybe we can start to get back to the basics. We are certainly over privileged in this country and I think because of it we have lost our sense of culture and pride in making things ourselves. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I am guessing that the Cubans are much better off for having learned it. Great post!

  13. Debbie says:

    Just one more reason we American’s should take head from what others have been through… Certainly many of us garden for the pure pleasure of it, but I believe God intended us to learn the many benefits to our selves and our communities through the process. Homesteading groups, local locavore groups, and farmgirl chapters are popping up everywhere for folks who wish to connect with like-minded gardners and farmers… It’s a wonderful thing! My gal pals and I recently went to a local meeting where 8 different farmers were featured. We learned a lot and had fun too! Thanks for sharing this post with the farmgirls!
    Oh, yes… certainly the blogisphere is a wonderful place to meet kindred spirits and find inspiring information too!

    • Hi Debbie. I often have the sense that God has given me this gift of growing food, so that I will be able to share, not just what I have, but what I know, if harder days come along. And of course, he has gifted others with knowledge and skills that I don’t have, that we may be a blessing to each other.

  14. Found your article off A Rural Journal. Very interesting. I was giving my 88-year-old neighbor a drive recently, and she said every yard used to have a garden and many a chicken coop, even in town. Now you can go miles without seeing a garden. I think a lot of things go hand in hand — the rise of fast food, the decline of the home garden, etc. I am doing the master gardener program next spring. I’m very excited! This is my first year to do a garden, and I’m loving it.

  15. Pingback: Simple Lives Thursday #95

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