The Urban Farmers of Cuba

In Cuba, urban farmers utilize sustainable practices that help mitigate the economic realities of their nation.


| May 2014



an urban market in Cuba

Called an "agricultural miracle," the urban farmers of Cuba have cultivated a sustainable system that has improved the lives of health of its workers.


Photo courtesy Slow Food

Slow Food Almanac (Slow Food, 2013) argues that something valuable has been lost in this era of fast food and instant gratification. Humanity needs the pleasure meals made with love and attention, and from locally grown ingredients. A global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world, Slow Food International promotes the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment. This selection highlights urban farmers on the island nation of Cuba.

Urbanismo y Comida

Necessity, possibility and will. With these three words, an urban farmer sums up the driving forces behind the Cuban “agricultural miracle” for his interviewer, Sinan Koont, author of the article “The Urban Agriculture of Havana”.

I visited Organiponico Vivero Alamar, a sustainable community food urban garden on the outskirts of Havana, on a May morning in 2012. The organopónico* was about half an hour’s drive from where we were staying, past old baroque mansions and Art Deco buildings, green parks and the blue sea along the Malecón.

An Exemplary Experience

The entrance to the organopónico — also called UBPC (Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa) — takes us into a shady area where crates of pineapples, okra, chile peppers, tomatoes, spices and spinach are on display, their prices listed in moneda nacional or pesos cubanos. There is a bustling queue of women, old people and families. The neighborhood’s residents do their daily shopping here, and when they have finished making their purchases, many treat themselves to a glass of iced guarapo, sugar-cane juice pressed to order.

Moving on from the entrance, we meet Miguel Salcines López, the cooperative’s president. A statuesque man, he has great ideas and a strong conscience. Miguel takes us through the history of food and production on the island, from an agriculture defined by monocultures to the collapse of the Soviet economy, which swept away machinery, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, means of transport, gasoline and diesel. During this período especial, it was seen as essential to become self-sufficient in food production, to grow food near the cities to reduce transport costs to a minimum and to adopt sustainable practices that did not rely on fossil fuels. In some ways, Cuba was prepared for this crisis: Since the 1970s, research centers and state institutions had been studying ways to live without using oil.

Vivero Alamar grew out of that crisis. Miguel has been here since the beginning, in 1997, when together with four other people he obtained the right to work a plot of 3.7 hectares. The land was uncultivated and seemingly worthless. But then came the “miracle,” clear from the current figures. The cooperative now covers 11 hectares of land and employs 162 workers, including younger people who see working the land as a way to a better life, university-trained professionals, more than 40 women and 35% retirees. The work conditions are good: seven hours of work a day, salaries of around 800 pesos (compared to the national average of 450), the chance to follow training courses and free meals from the communal canteen. This business clearly has a strong social impact, improving the quality of life of those who work here and the diet of the whole neighborhood.





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