Future Developments - The Havana Urban Food Growing Model
The collapse of the communist regime in the Soviet Union in the 1990s had dire economic consequences for the people of Cuba. The Soviet Union had been the main import/export partner for Cuba, due to the USA’s trade embargo. The consequences of the soviet collapse would have been worse had it not been for plans that the Cuban Government had been putting into place to create sustainable food production for the island.
The Cubans called their solution organoponics because it uses an organic substrate, obtained from crop residues, household wastes and animal manure. Havana residents began planting food crops wherever space was available. At first, yields were low, owing to lack of farming experience and inputs, but with strong government support, urban agriculture was rapidly transformed from a spontaneous response to food insecurity to a national priority.
In the process, Havana has become a pioneer in a worldwide transition to sustainable agriculture that produces “more with less”.
Urban agriculture has been a key part of this effort. By 1994 a spontaneous decentralised movement of urban residents joined a planned government strategy to create over 8,000 city farms in Havana alone. Urban gardens continue to grow, and some areas produce as much as 30 percent of their own subsistence needs. They have done all this with a focus on person-to-person education and have insisted on remaining an independent entity, even as they work closely with large institutions like the Cuban government and the international Slow Food organisation. Their favoured approach is to teach “promoters,” people who learn from established projects and bring that knowledge back to their neighbourhoods.
We took over the former Kirkleatham Nursery Garden site in January 2019 to create the Growing in Harmony Project. It is a horticultural training area helping people from disadvantaged groups back into employment and encouraging local people to grow their own food. We also want to create a venue that could showcase alternatives ways of growing food that will be educational and a source of produce for local people.
The central purpose of the site will be to help people of all ages and diverse backgrounds to learn new skills, help them to gain qualifications and work in a way that helps them prepare for employment. The project will: create apprenticeship and training opportunities in the Redcar and Cleveland area with particular focus on engaging disadvantaged groups, young offenders and young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) and supporting troubled families out of poverty.
We will bring the training garden back into use as a horticultural site and visitor attraction. Local people, visitors from further afield and schools will visit the project to see how growing food using organic methods can be a viable alternative to harmful modern agricultural systems. The example we will use as an attraction will be Cuba’s organic urban farming and the Havana model which encouraged ordinary people to grow food, organically in every space they could find, to counter the crisis outlined above. We would like the Growing in Harmony Project site to become the Havana Model training site that would act as a central hub where people can learn skills for urban agriculture. Trainees and volunteers will learn about this innovative method of growing food. We want to take the Havana urban agriculture growing system out to local communities.
We are putting together a funding plan to train volunteers who will then pass on their knowledge to groups wanting to set up a Havana model Project themselves. We already have people training on our Growing in Harmony site. We had a community based growing project in east Cleveland interested in the Havana Model and Middlesbrough FC Foundation offered to finance the set up and early development of the project. Unfortunately Covid19 has delayed that development but it is ready to go again.
The work with communities setting up their own projects would be as follows:
- Assess a viable site for the project.
- Set up a support/steering group of local people to oversee project development.
- Help the group clear land, prepare soils, get tools and put structures in place - raised beds, polytunnels, etc.
- Start basic training for Havana Model at Growing in Harmony and on site. Allocate trained volunteer who takes on paid work role [who will be with group 1 day per week] who passes on knowledge plus helps development.
- Growing in Harmony will help recruit more community members and help with fund-raising to run the site. Will continue to train participants but slowly allow group to take over that role.
- The trained worker would cut support days to twice monthly then down to once a month. Growing in Harmony project will always be on hand for help/advice/support.
The pilot project will start on a site in East Cleveland in the coming weeks. We have two other possible venues for the near future but Covid19 and lockdown has put them on hold. We do have some funding for the 1st scheme but will seek funding to continue the next community space and beyond.
Hopefully we will, with sufficient funding and time, be able to spread the Havana Model across Redcar & Cleveland. The Growing in Harmony project will then be the hub for lots of small Havana projects who will then spread the word in their own areas.