My love for planting, growing, and – most importantly – eating food has followed me here, to a country that, despite its lush countryside and availability of land, imports about 70% of its food. I spent last summer traveling the northeast, working on organic farms and learning about American food security from a small farmers’ point of view. I now want to delve into this situation in Cuba. My goal for this project is to trace the distance a plate of food travels, from farm to table.
This journey will certainly lead me to the political and economic motivations of a food system rooted in communism. Technically, a Cuban farmer doesn’t own the land or the food, so I am eager to investigate the regulations involved in selling produce and furthermore, the role that food plays in Cuba’s international relations.
Driving through the countryside on our way to Viñales last weekend, we got a glimpse of rural Cuba – vast, unused spaces with potential for crop production or animal grazing. I will research the reasons why the government imports the food that could be grown on the island. Growing food locally would create a more sustainable country and perhaps lessen Cuba’s trade imbalance. Also in the economic realm, the U.S. Embargo has put a visible dent in not only Cuba’s supply of food, but also its access to farm equipment and means of transportation from rural to urban areas. I think it will be interesting to see how Cuba’s relationship with food would be different if the embargo was not in place, and how things will change if it is lifted.
The grassroots movement of urban farming is one solution. Small, unused plots of land are being converted into herb and vegetable gardens in the middle of the city. They are called “organiponicos” and have on-site stands where residents can purchase in-season produce grown by their neighbors. Organiponicos are a progressive, new phenomenon for Cuba, as the first one was allowed to open about twenty years ago. The farmer-to-consumer exchange is usually not allowed, although still exists with the presence of the black market. I am interested to see how these small vegetable farms have impacted the country’s relationship with food. There is one about a 15 minute walk from where we live, and I have talked to Roberto, the owner, about volunteering there once a week to help them plant, maintain, and harvest the produce. This will give me a unique perspective on a communist food system from the farmer himself, and of course, help me with my Spanish.
My research for this project is something I plan to take with me back to the states to help create a more sustainable community in Tuscaloosa.