Saturday, April 02, 2011

havanna's urban agriculture

I just finished listening to a podcast on cuba's agriculture and what captured my attention in particular was hearing that there are 20,000 small gardens in the large city of Havanna. 200,000 people now support themselves by growing food within Havanna alone.

People have taken over all open space areas possible and turned even small areas into "immensely productive" gardens.

I feel so validated hearing this. Ever since the gardening urge came on strong, I've been gardening in containers under restrictive conditions. I look longingly at any patch of unused or under-used land and think of what vegetables and fruits could be grown there. Anything from highway medians to well mulched islands in bank parking lots could turn to lush food production or at the least blooms for birds and bees.

The speaker suggests moving "away from grain dominated staples towards tuber dominated staples" in order to produce more food within urban environments. This reminds me of the fingerling potato I planted indoors last fall that grew vigorously in search of light, until the cats ate its shoots. I shall have to try some potatoes again this year.

"Small scale intensive owner operated enterprises far outproduce corporate farms, government farms, and the smaller the operation, the more productive it tends to be."

Well, I'm really small scale but I'm heartened to hear that I don't need to own a farm to grow food for myself and others.

Here is the link to the podcast from Sustainable World Radio.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I remember the first time I heard the word minimalism mentioned in a negative context. Browsing the table of contents in a book, the chapter on minimalism caught my eye. I get some sort of euphoria from reading about simple living.

However, the author was addressing the "do as little as possible" phenomenon, which can be a sort of laziness.

I mean, I do agree that if there is an efficient way to do something, then it makes sense to make it as easy and quick as possible, to minimize work. But sometimes if we over-simplify, we miss out on beautiful details of our lives. And if we’re too focused on goals, we’ll miss out on the surprise miracles that sneak up on us.

There is a place to move beyond the principles of minimalism.

Today I tore a tag off of a fair-trade, organic pineapple. I was about to recycle the little paper, but I decided to read it. It spoke of the farming community in Costa Rica that benefits from the purchase of the pineapple. (I can't take any credit, as the pineapple was a gift.) I began to think of a pineapple farm in Costa Rica, and how fun it would be to visit. In mid-January in New Jersey, this is a lovely thought, a warm and luscious tropical mental journey.

I used to feel so overwhelmed by life that I would try to block out any additional distractions or non-essentials. I'd ruthlessly recycle any junk mail and flyers, attempting to ban all advertisements from my consciousness. Forget trying to get to community events, museums, performances. The perfect ideal was an extremely uncluttered, clear surface for my life. Go straight home and cook food and relax with a book.

But in part because of the man in my life, I now am working on letting little cluttery extras into my life.

Instead of making a list of things to do and then ruthlessly making a beeline to accomplish them all so that i can relax and usually we just do a few things, and don't sweat what doesn't get done. We keep our eyes open to details along the way.

It really feels like torture for someone who's built like me. I want to cross all those pesky items off the to-do list--they're like flies buzzing in my brain.

But the one thing that convinces me that this other approach has merit is that no matter how hard I try I never get it all done. (I've gotten really close, though!!)

Adam has taught me to keep my eyes open for extra things--art openings, farmer's markets, libraries, thrift stores, health food stores, new state parks, community gardens, meeting people, going to talks or performances. And these have enriched my life.

This is probably obvious to all of you, but it's news to me.

Maybe the idea is simplifying and minimizing but then also looking for the good extras. To create a serene life that is sprinkled with quality experiences.

It's still painful; I hate remembering AGAIN that I still haven't bought a seam ripper, because I really want to re-size those pants that are too big on me. And I really wanted to get potatoes for breakfast, but toast will do.

I think what I'm trying to get at is that if something is really important I have to trust that I'll remember it. Or know that everything will still work out if I don’t.