By Sarah Sterling
While I was on my way back from Cuba to D.C., I had a three-hour layover in Miami with nothing to read and lots of time to kill. I decided to peruse a bookstore, as expensive as they might be in airports, to pick up something light and fun to read. There I found a great book called “Fork in the Road” by Lonely Planet, which contains short stories by food aficionados from their travels all over the world. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. It made me realize how much my travels and memories of places are linked to the food I have eaten while I was there.
While I am not a famous food critique or a professional chef by any stretch of the imagination, I do love food. It’s not necessarily the food itself — the ingredients, the aroma, the flavors — that I love about food but more so the emotions it evokes in me and how it can directly connect me to a specific place and time. All three of the foods are linked to memories that I will now have forever of Cuba.
In Cuba food is so much more than just food – it contains the soul of the culture, history, and the people. It is infused with meaning and in Cuba, food is a type of daily religion that everyone practices. Croquetas, ropa vieja, and tostones were all iconic foods during my short trip in Cuba and while there were many other staple foods (like my favorite Cuban black beans and rice) these three were the ones that also connected me to the country itself and helped me to start to try to make sense of a country full of wild juxtapositions and contradictions, and a place that will leave you with more questions than you had before you got there.
by Iris Nolasco 4.22.13
A rainy day might not be viewed to most as a day for an adventure, but my excitement grew when we neared the urban garden. Armed with my rain jacket and flip-flops I hopped off the bus into the sticky red mud. Today our class from the Monterey Institute of International Studies was going to get to explore the Alamar Urban Garden in Cuba where we would learn about the co-operative and partake in fresh food prepared on site.
It is important to understand why urban gardens like Alamar have become so essential to the Cuban people. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost ties with one of the few outside resources it had. In 1990’s Cuba entered into a terrible time of isolation and a lack of resources known as the “Special Period”, where almost overnight the average Cuban lost 20 pounds, and millions of dollars in food and supplies were halted. The Cuban government incentivized the agricultural movement by providing land for free to those willing to work it and produce food.
The Alamar Garden was originally founded in January of 1997 with 80 sq meters of land and only five employees. Currently the co-operative employs 174 and has expanded to 11.2 hectares. In Cuba 1.5 million tons of produce are sold by small cooperatives throughout the country. Alamar produces 300,000 tons of produce which they sell from the kiosk that faces the road. The garden is ran in a nearly sustainable manner. With the exception of one small tractor, heavy machinery is obsolete. Manure is used from rabbits, goats and oxen, the latter, is also used to turn the soil. Twelve different species of Lady Bugs are farmed and released amongst the garden, to combat other insects, providing a natural method of pest control. Additionally “repellent” plants are used in creating bio-pesticides, saving 150 tons of agro-chemicals from being released and causing harm to the environment. This garden never makes contact with industrialized chemicals. Seeds are produced on-site at the farm and in all fifteen provinces. There is an enterprise which houses and sells seeds, some of which are imported, but none are genetically modified.
While some transnational companies such as Monsanto, may argue that organic agriculture is not sustainable, Alamar Urban Garden stands by its hands-on methods of farming. In the absence of mechanized resources the garden prides itself on creating jobs where knowledge of plant, soils, and relationships among living organisms cannot be replaced by technology. Although this Urban Garden system may have been created in a period of desperation and self-sustainment, it has flourished throughout the country. The holistic sense created at the garden and by those employed there makes me wish gardens like this could live in every corner of the world. It is a truly remarkable system. A message to take away from Alamar is “Vivir con la tierra, no de la tierra”, or “live with the Earth, not from the Earth”.