Cuba: an urban agricultural model.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba’s central food distribution system also collapsed. The Cuban people suffered from acute food shortages, due to the sudden cutoff of Soviet imports: both imported food and imported pesticides, fertilizers, and other farming equipment.
Before 1989, Havana, the capital of Cuba, a city of over 2 million people, had no significant urban agriculture, depending solely on imports and on rural farms for its food needs. After the Soviet collapse, Havana residents immediately began planting food in any space they could find: porches, balconies, and vacant lots.
The Urban Agriculture Department: Jointly, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture and the Havana city government formed an Urban Agriculture Department when it realized the food-producing possibilities of the urban gardening movement. The Department secured free land use rights for the gardeners and distributed food selling permits at harvest time. The Department also provided gardening training and opened garden stores that sold seeds, compost, and tools.
Ten years later, in March 1998, a study estimated that 50% of national vegetable production in Cuba came from the urban gardens and farms. There are more than 30,000 people growing food on more than 8,000 gardens in Havana alone.
The Cuban example is just one more piece of evidence to show that governmental support can greatly encourage urban food production. By the end of World War II, Americans were growing forty percent of their own produce locally in victory gardens.
It should not take an economic or political catastrophe or a war to help us realize the many benefits of local, diverse food sources like urban gardens and farms.
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