Urban agriculture is a refreshing sign of people localizing food production by bringing it into the city. But in Havana, Cuba, the farming movement has evolved as an amazing response to the loss of food imports and agricultural inputs towards the end of last century. Following dramatic political changes, and the ensuing economic, ecological and social crisis, agrarian production was seen as key to food security. This movement towards urban cultivation systems continues to sweep across the city, and according to recent reports, now over 50 per cent of the city’s fresh produce is grown with its boundaries.
Across the city many of Havana’s residents have become creative gardeners, planting wherever they can, and often on concrete ground; in backyards, disused and derelict spaces, on porches, rooftops and balconies. These urban farmers make the most of the space they have, maximising with multilayer planting on self constructed terraces or by using the ground in innovative ways through nurturing specific plants for shade or soil nutrition. Depending on the needs of the gardener and specifics of the space, each site cultivates various agricultural produce, with organic fertilizers being the most common form of aid, mostly from household food compost.
There are a few different types of agricultural projects, but the city’s popular gardens (huertos populares) – which range from a few square meters to three hectares – are the most common. Back in 1995 this number was estimated at 26,600 throughout Havana’s 43 urban districts. The amount of people working on one site also varies, with up to seventy gardeners sharing a space.
With the support from the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture and Havana’s city government the grassroots movement became the Urban Agriculture Department in 1994 that worked to secure land use rights and provide land for free for urban gardeners. This continues today, providing organic agriculture advice and selling agricultural supplies such as seeds. Increasing all the time, Cuba’s urban farms are generating more produce and constantly improving quality. With a visible impact on food security, the natural beauty of the otherwise abandoned spaces, and improved general diet and health, the results are an encouraging sign of changes to come.