When you think of Cuba, some of the first things to come to mind are likely to be cigars, rum cocktails and its colourful revolutionary history. You may be surprised to learn, however, that Cuba is a world leader in the field of urban agriculture, with more than half of its produce now grown in a city environment. Cuba’s capital, Havana, has developed a model of inner-city food production that is currently emulated in many other cities, including Detroit and Istanbul.
The origins of the practice
During the era of the Soviet Bloc, Cuba’s food was largely imported from overseas, along with agricultural supplies and raw materials. In 1989, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba experienced the sudden onset of food shortages and responded in an innovative and proactive way. With a US embargo in place, fuel had been in short supply, making transport of crops from rural areas difficult to maintain and it quickly became obvious that local solutions would be vital, so residents began planting food crops in any available space. In cities, such as Havana, this included back yards, porches and derelict spaces in their neighbourhoods.
The Ministry of Agriculture soon recognised the value of this endeavour and began to support the citizens, in conjunction with government officials in Havana, by clarifying legal issues over land use and providing growing space, free of charge, to anybody who wanted it. With the introduction of organic cultivation methods, developed by government horticulturalists, as well as simple irrigation equipment, the production of food in urban spaces grew and the practice continues to increase, providing ample food for Cuba’s population and ensuring the Cuban cuisine is not just tasty but healthy as well.
In addition to being interesting as a socio-economic phenomenon, Havana’s agricultural developments are a draw for tourists who want to experience this unusual way of life and to sample the fresh food which is produced this way. Not only can tourists visit these organic smallholdings, but they can also volunteer on them in much the same way as volunteers get involved in the Israeli kibbutz system. Whilst staying on the farms, travellers enjoy the simplicity of a lifestyle that is rarely seen in more industrialised nations, including the UK, as well as witnessing an extraordinary success story first hand. One of the great advantages of holidaying in one of Havana’s urban farms is that you are able to enjoy the great outdoor experience of a country holiday, whilst being close enough to all of the city’s tourist attractions to pay them a visit.
As Cuba is a popular holiday destination, it is very easy to book flights from the UK. For added convenience, Heathrow provides long-stay parking facilities in conjunction with an overnight stay at their hotel, allowing you to be well rested before the fairly long flight. After all, if you’re going to be volunteering, you’ll need to save your energy for digging.
About the Author: Ruth Kennedy is passionate about travel, politics and writing. She mostly writes about travel and current affairs, in between trips abroad whenever possible. She writes from her home in the UK, which she shares with her dog Billy.