PlantTherapy: Vegetable Gardens of Cuba

PlantTherapy: Vegetable Gardens of Cuba

May 3, 2008

Havana uses vegetable gardens within the city to feed the population, locally and organically. They aren't doing it to be nice guys - they are doing it because they have to.

Last year Maria Finn posted on her blog about traveling to Cuba and visiting these gardens. This morning she is sharing with us a few pictures and describes how these gardens/farms are set up - and why...


"On Saturday mornings, the 17th Street market in El Vedado in Havana, Cuba comes to life. Venders shake their hips to music by Los Van Van as they weigh yucca roots. The smell of guava fills the air and flowers from the flamboyant trees drift onto the streets. Here, produce from the organoponicas, or small produce gardens planted throughout Cuba's cities, are sold at far less than the cost at grocery stores. While the rest of the world is now talking about growing organic vegetables in urban spaces to save of fuel and food costs, Cuba has been long ahead of the curve.
"Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba lost 80 percent of its imports. Almost overnight, government food rations were cut in half and buses quit running due to lack of fuel. This became known as the "Special Period". The U.S., hoping to crush the Socialist government tightened their embargo, and not only was food scarce, but also pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Cuba had no choice but to go organic. They decided to plant vegetable gardens in all the empty lots throughout cities because they couldn't truck the food long distances due to the lack of gasoline. Since they didn't have chemical pesticides, they plant in rows with natural barriers. Corn stalks rim the exteriors to attract aphids off the crops. Large bunches of marigolds and basil flank the ends of the plantings to throw insects off the scent, and then finally, chives line the beds to further confuse the olfactory systems of pests.
"These gardens in Cuba are not "community gardens" in the sense that residents all have private parcels to tend. They are run by experts, such as the man pictured here, Alfonso Martinez Verdero. He is an agricultural engineer who oversees eight gardens for the municipality of Plaza de la RevoluciĆ³n in Havana, Cuba.
"The gardens are tended by state employees, such as the group mugging for the camera.
People from the neighborhood can stop by, and for a few Cuban pesos, fill a big bag with vegetables for their evening supper.

"School children are mobilized to give presentations on the benefit of organic farming and the health benefits of vegetables."

-Maria Finn

It was Garden Rant's post the other week on the movie "Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" that made me recall Maria's post about Cuba, and how seeing these photos and learning about another city's reality made me think more about how our own city operates and survives.

Maria Finn's original post can be found on her blog,

Cuba is very near and dear to Maria's heart, having compiled and edited the anthology "Cuba in Mind" (Vintage Books, 2004), taught a creative writing course for Hunter College in Havana in 2003, covered the Havana Biennial for the New York Times in 2003, and written about Sandhill Cranes in Cuba for Audubon. She also wrote an essay about falling in love with a man in Havana, which was included in The Best Women's Travel Writing 2006.

matt at apartment therapy dot com

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