Last week, the Grinder referenced a Seattle initiative to create “a citywide inventory of public land that could be used to grow food.” It probably wouldn’t help the proposal if its backers cited the case of Cuba—but they should. As a couple of recent stories remind us, no one’s gotten more out of tiny urban crevices and abandoned lots than Cuba.

Turns out the country did so because it had to. As its longtime supporter, the Soviet Union, crashed, so did Cuba’s food supply: “From 1989-93, Cubans went from eating an average of 3,004 calories a day to only 2,323, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, as shelves emptied of the Soviet goods that made up two-thirds of Cuba’s food,” according to the Associated Press. A national network of urban gardens might seem like a quixotic response. It wasn’t: The farms—which are run semi-entrepreneurially and provide a relatively high salary to 350,000 people—have radically improved the Cuban diet, which was always short on fresh produce. Farmers are planting traditional fruits and vegetables, and even raising goat and chicken breeds that had disappeared from the Cuban table. And because fertilizer and pesticides are in short supply, the gardens are almost all worked organically.

Outside the cities things aren’t ideal: Cuba still imports the vast majority of its bulk foods, and rising food prices have hit the country hard. Nevertheless, a nation in which “the fruits and vegetables are freshly picked every morning and go on sale just with[in] a few feet of where they grew” must seem like a Technicolor dream to urban farming advocates here. (For more, see Bill McKibben’s classic Harper’s feature on organics and Cuba, published several years ago.)

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