Cuba Leading the Way in Urban Agriculture with ‘Organopónicos’
Although urban agriculture is by no means a new concept, it is becoming ever more popular in Canada in recent years, with rooftop gardens springing up on downtown condo buildings, community gardens increasingly being developed throughout our cities and small businesses getting involved by growing food on undeveloped lands (i.e. TOPSOIL). While often considered small-scale, urban agriculture can be effective at transforming an area’s food system if a large percentage of the population gets involved, and a great example of how this can be done is found in Cuba.
When Cuba was abruptly cut off from trade after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s, the country entered into an economic crisis. Cuba was essentially forced into being the sole producer of its own food overnight and the country’s residents experienced a widespread, inescapable hunger. Out of necessity to feed its people, Cubans began growing food gardens, or organopónicos, anywhere and everywhere they could - from empty parking lots and alleyways, to apartment patios and roadsides, to larger urban farms on the outskirts of their cities.
The Cuban government responded to this citizen-led movement with an overhaul of agriculture on the island. In urban areas, they helped guerrilla gardening initiatives become new state-supported urban farming programs, with widespread voluntary participation. They also bolstered these growing efforts with training and support, hosting subsidized agricultural stores, compost production sites and more. These farming efforts are said to have produced “what may be the world’s largest working model of semi-sustainable agriculture” .
Through organopónicos, a term coined by Cubans referring to growing crops in a sustainable manner without the use of chemical pesticides, and with 90% of all their fruits and vegetables being produced by small, self-sufficient growers, they have been able to provide their people with local and affordable food and have completely transformed their local food system . Close to 40,000 people now participate in urban agriculture on an roughly 33,500 hectares of land,  proving that the combination of top-down support and ground up citizen participation can be wildly successful.
While there are many great examples of urban agriculture here in Victoria and throughout Vancouver Island, if this is something you are interested in getting involved in yourself, here are a few resources that can be helpful to get you started:
The City of Victoria’s ‘Growing in the City’ resource page. Here you can find information on:
Boulevard gardening guidelines
Keeping bees and hens in the city
Growing food and gardening in mixed-use, multi-unit residential developments
Community gardens and orchards
Urban food tree stewardship pilot program
Growing food to sell
More resources to get your hands dirty!
The Compost Education Centre has an amazing workshops series on a range of topics regarding urban agriculture
Photo from www.cityfarmer.info/category/cuba
Cuba’s Urban Farming Revolution: How to Create Self-Sufficient Cities, The Architectural Review
Sustainable Food Trust, Josh Gabbatiss
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean