Harmony Community Growing Project (Havana Model)
One of our biggest sources of inspiration for the natural gardening work we do is the Havana model, a method of growing food sustainably in urban environments and small spaces that supports the environment as well as producing food.
We would love to see these methods adopted across all of East Cleveland and our established training area at Kirkleatham, Growing in Harmony, will become the central hub for our planned Community Growing Project.
While the Growing in Harmony site is easy to reach from Redcar and the surrounding areas, it is not very accessible for the people of East Cleveland (Saltburn and beyond) We have reasoned that if the people of East Cleveland are unable to come to the training site then we can go to their local areas to develop outreach community growing projects that will be accessible across the region.
Our work with communities setting up their own projects is as follows:
- Assess a viable site for the project - we are currently working on a site at Skinningrove supported by MFC foundation who helped us find the site and may help us find others going forward.
- Set up a support/steering group of local people to oversee project development. - As well as our existing volunteers we have already had interest and participation from the local community at Skinningrove.
- Help the group clear land, prepare soils, get tools and put structures in place - raised beds, polytunnels, etc. - We have made a good start on clearing the land, which already holds raised beds and polytunnels that we will use as the project continues.
- 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. - Our funding application is well underway and we hope that we'll soon have the funds we need to recruit our worker.
- 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 began in September 2020 at the Skinningrove community hub site. We have two other possible venues for the near future that we will follow up once the pilot is fully established. We do have some funding for the first 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.
Our history and aims
After many years working with people and the land at Beechwood allotments, 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 alternative ways of growing food that will be educational and a source of produce for local people.
The central purpose of the site is 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: creates 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 supports troubled families out of poverty.
After taking over the site, we brought the training garden back into use as a horticultural site and visitor attraction. Local people, visitors from further afield and schools can visit the project to see how growing food using organic methods can be a viable alternative to harmful modern agricultural systems.
During the Covid-19 crisis visits and volunteer sessions had to be stopped, however we are now beginning to welcome groups back on site in safe numbers.
History of the Havana 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.