TRACKING THE FUTURE OF CITIES
Urban agriculture is gaining momentum around the globe. Havana’s experience, coupled with initiatives in other large cities and the growth of private, community supported agricultural models, proves that we can bring food production back to our cities.
When it comes to the benefits of growing fruits and vegetables in an urban setting, where do we begin? From an enormous reduction in the amount of fossil-fuels and other energy inputs needed to get food to your table, to the vastly lower amounts of pesticides and herbicides typically used in urban gardens (many if not most are organic), not to mention the boost to food security that is provided for the 50% of the world’s population that currently live in large metropolises and that largely depend on imported food from fields afar. It’s why sustainability experts, progressive city governments and wise urbanites are all saying: let’s bring the farm back to the city.
But can we really grow all the food we need within our own city’s limits? If Cuba’s experience is any indication, yes we can. The city of Havana grows an incredible 90% of the fruit and vegetables it’s citizens consume, all organic, and many of it grown on pocket-sized parcels of land fitted with cement planting walls or raised metal containers in a system called “organopónicos”. The city accomplished this amazing feat not with lofty sustainability goals, but out of sheer necessity:
When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did cheap food, fossil fuel and pesticide/herbicide imports the country depended on for agriculture. With government intervention, seeds, materials along with organic pesticides and pest-devouring insects were provided, creating what is probably the world’s largest organic farming system.
In the rest of the world, private and city-funded farms are blooming. In Montreal, Canada, urban agriculture is officially part of the city’s sustainable development plans. 95 community gardens already provide 26 hectares of land for 12,000 gardeners and another 70 smaller collective gardens are maintained by the city, community organizations and tenants associations.
With just those 26 hectares, given the city’s calculation that 2 people could be fed all the fresh vegetables they need for 6 months of the year with an 18 square meter plot of land, nearly 29,000 people could already be swearing off imported supermarket veggie purchases for half the year. That’s a far cry from feeding the 2 million+ citizens of this city for the whole year, but its a great start.
But what if you don’t have the time or will to grow your own food, or lack access to these types of gardens? Asking around at the local farmer’s market in your area, where some of this food is most certainly sold, is one way.
Another way is to seek out a local “CSA” – a community supported agriculture model. In Seattle, Washington (USA), City Grown is one example of growing number of small networks of urban farmers that gives locals the opportunity to buy shares, (in this case in the amounts of $200, $300, or $400) which goes towards necessary farm inputs like seeds and of course the sheer toil of farm work. In return, members receive a weekly allotment, with this organization giving members the luxury of picking and choosing which veggies they want and which they don’t.
Whether you buy locally produced veggies at your farmer’s market, support a local CSA initiative or grow them yourself in your own backyard, food experts agree that urban agriculture is here to stay and can only help us in our quest for sustainable living. And aside from buying, why not find out what your city is doing to promote urban farming and push them to support local growing initiatives.
Farming Cuba — A new model for cities and countries facing threats to food security brought on by the end of cheap oil
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba found itself solely responsible for feeding a nation that had grown dependent on imports and trade subsidies. Citizens began growing their own organic produce anywhere they could find space, on rooftops, balconies, vacant lots, and even school playgrounds. By 1998 there were more than 8,000 urban farms in Havana producing nearly half of the country’s vegetables. What began as a grassroots initiative had, in less than a decade, grown into the largest sustainable agriculture initiative ever undertaken, making Cuba the world leader in urban farming. Learn more in Farming Cuba: Urban Agriculture from the Ground Up, by Carey Clouse, available now from PAPress.
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