written by:
May 4, 2014
The Buena Vista Growers Club: the new book Farming Cuba explores Cuban's urban farming movement.
Farming Cuba: Carrot Harvest
Farming Cuba: Carrot Harvest

At the Vivero Alamar organopónico in Havana, growers harvest carrots that have been grown without pesticides or herbicides, instead using compost tea, mushroom rhizomes, artisanal pest control products, and permaculture strategies such as intercropping.

Photo provided by Carey Clouse

1 / 8
Farming Cuba: Nelson, a Cuban Farmer
Farming Cuba: Nelson, a Cuban Farmer

This rooftop grower employs permaculture techniques to support 40 guinea pigs, 6 chickens, two turkeys, and over a hundred rabbits on a 68m2 rooftop. He sells this meat to area restaurants and markets, which then provide him with the food scraps he uses to feed the animals.

Photo provided by Carey Clouse

2 / 8
Farming Cuba: Organipónico 3
Farming Cuba: Organipónico 3

A co-operative farmer sows seeds using a repurposed water bottle.

Photo provided by Carey Clouse

3 / 8
Farming Cuba: Organipónico 5
Farming Cuba: Organipónico 5

Signage at an urban farm in Havana.

Photo provided by Carey Clouse

4 / 8
Farming Cuba: Havana Cityscape
Farming Cuba: Havana Cityscape

Havana's urban fabric features front yards, rear yards, balconies, rooftops, vacant lots, and public parks—all useful surfaces for growing urban food.

Photo provided by Carey Clouse

5 / 8
Farming Cuba: Oxen Working the Land
Farming Cuba: Oxen Working the Land

Oxen replaced tractors in the Special Period, and remain common in Havana today. This team is working at the Vivero Alamar organopónico in Havana.

Photo provided by Carey Clouse

6 / 8
Farming Cuba: Greenhouse in Havana
Farming Cuba: Greenhouse in Havana

Using biopesticides, companion planting, pest-resistant crops, and mesh greenhouses to protect young plants, Cuba has ushered in ‘the largest conversion from conventional agriculture to organic or semi-organic farming that the world has ever known.’

Photo provided by Carey Clouse

7 / 8
Farming Cuba: Biopesticide Expert
Farming Cuba: Biopesticide Expert

This biopesticide expert, working at a cooperative farm in Havana, combats pests with artisanal pesticides made on site.

Photo provided by Carey Clouse

8 / 8
Farming Cuba: Carrot Harvest
Farming Cuba: Carrot Harvest

At the Vivero Alamar organopónico in Havana, growers harvest carrots that have been grown without pesticides or herbicides, instead using compost tea, mushroom rhizomes, artisanal pest control products, and permaculture strategies such as intercropping.

Photo provided by Carey Clouse

The cornucopia is overwhelming, even overflowing. Sugarcane growing in vacant lots, rabbits and chickens rooting around on rooftops, goats pacing around median strips, coffee, mangoes, avocados, and fruit trees growing in city parks. Havana’s urban harvest is as impressive as the sheer number of people farming within the Cuban capital. In a city of two million people, more than 87,000 acres are dedicated to urban agriculture and “organopónicos,” a system of urban organic gardens.

According to Carey Clouse, author of Farming Cuba: Urban Agriculture from the Ground Up (Princeton Architectural Press), she was overwhelmed by the magnitude of Cubans working the soil.

“It’s all over Cuba,” she says. “ I was amazed by the amount of urban agriculture. They were growing on every imaginable surface: playgrounds, rooftops, public spaces. You can ride your bike and rollerblade through a park, and one second you’re in a classic recreational space, and the next moment, you’re in farm in the middle of the city.”

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, which caused a supply shortage that economically rocked the island nation, was the catalyst for the growth of urban farming, according to Clouse, and made the nation much more agriculturally productive. The resulting shortage of food, fertilizer, and seed decimated the agricultural sector and caused a food crisis. A command economy that always provided suddenly lacked the resources to do so—on average, Cuban adults lost 20 pounds during the so-called “special period.” Everyday Cubans filled in the gaps with their own plants and plots (organic, in most cases, since a shortage of petroleum removed the raw materials for commercial fertilizer). Havana, which Clouse says resembles New Orleans, suddenly found itself as a juxtaposition: high-rise towers and dense apartments contrasting with rows of plants and private plots.

“These enterprising growers took care of themselves and created a totally ground-up movement in 1990 and 1991,” says Clouse. “There was a lot of space hijacking in the early ‘90s. By 1993, the government recognized that it works, realized it was a reasonable way to use public land, and now it provides really important support, like the way some of the WPA programs worked.”

Now, 75% of the produce consumed in Havana is grown in the city, and since growers and farmers can sell their wares in a quasi-free market, they tend to make double what a normal citizen makes. The Cuban support structure for urban agriculture would make anyone in an American city prepping for their backyard garden jealous. Urban agriculture is part of Havana’s official master plan, and farms are often located prominently in major parks. The state provides free land to farmers and subsidizes access to tool, seeds, starts and planting material. Havana alone boasts 40 urban veterinary clinics for those raising livestock, and 52 agricultural support stores to provide advice and services to farmers.

Clouse sees a lot of parallels between Havana and cities such as Detroit. “In many American cities, there are all of these enterprising growers who are creating CSAs and growing their own food, but they just can’t do it on the scale of Cuba without government support,” she says. “Granted, in Cuba, the government owns all the land, and you need the approval of the state. But in the States, the challenge is, can we scale up? Can we take over medians, or perhaps vacant land in the cities?”

With her book, Clouse really wants to dig into the design implications of urban farming in Cuba. Vacant lots in Havana and Detroit are very similar—how they can both be best utilized to provide affordable food and leave a small carbon footprint? Can rooftop animal husbandry in Cuba be adapted to New York or San Francisco?

“I’m interested in the formal aspects of design, the materials, orientation of the beds, the signage, market stands and the use of permaculture techniques in the city,” she says. “All these questions that designers are grappling with in the United States have been answered already in Havana, many times using the same types of technology.”

Photos by Andy Cook

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

A renovated brick house with metal standing-seam roof in Arlington, Virginia
With a new skeleton, a brick house on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., gets an eco-friendly upgrade—without losing its local charm.
May 05, 2016
simpler times australian vacation home vertical wood cladding
Robust materials and a flexible floor plan help the owners of an Australian vacation home reap maximum rewards.
May 05, 2016
sweet virginia vacation smart home facade granite stucco mahogany siding
This vacation home fosters connectivity in every sense of the word.
May 05, 2016
monkey see monkey do japan living dining room custom kitchen island stove vent eames chairs
And views of the wildlife aren't bad either.
May 05, 2016
Martis Camp 141 in Truckee California
Martis Camp 141 celebrates it mountainous surroundings with local materials.
May 05, 2016
havart 170
Updating standard pieces, designer Gaëtan Havart turns a misused space into a vibrant kitchen.
May 04, 2016
tech support stillwater dwellings prefab exterior napa
In Napa, a custom menu of apps helps a frequent traveler keep track of security—and his garden—from afar.
May 04, 2016
home for good renovation montreal family rear facade steel cladding footbridge garden
This family opens up an old structure and imagines a long-term house.
May 04, 2016
BKLYN DESIGNS 2016 location
From panel discussions to virtual reality demonstrations and more, this weekend will bring out the designer in everyone during BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint from May 6-8, 2016. Here are just a few activities and installations to check out.
May 04, 2016
cbill timmerman photography jarson residence l7c4109 0
After a successful kick-off program in San Diego, we’re now making our way to Scottsdale, Arizona for the second stop on our Dwell Home Tours series. As the only desert locale on our agenda, we’re giving visitors the chance to explore exquisite modern residences that are fully immersed in the city’s arid landscape.
May 04, 2016
Modern winery in Central California
An updated California winery captures a prestigious architecture award.
May 03, 2016
back to the garden rhode island cottage small space facade landscaping
Outside Providence, Rhode Island, a little retreat takes up no more space than a standard two-car garage.
May 03, 2016
White staircase with skylight and under-stair storage
With clever storage and a retractable skylight, a London apartment feels larger than its 576 square feet.
May 03, 2016
Off-the-grid prefab in pristine Tasmanian landscape by Misho+Associates.
In Tasmania, an eco-conscious architect builds a vacation home that can stand up to an untamed island.
May 03, 2016
30degree pendants by wrong.london
The Danish design brand never disappoints.
May 02, 2016
practical magic brooklyn renocation kitchen caesarstone countertop stainless steel ikea cabinetes green vola faucet
A creative couple flips the script on their family home, a former workman’s cottage on the northern edge of Brooklyn.
May 02, 2016
history lesson kansas city outdoor backyard facade porch saarinen round table emeco navy chairs
An architect pushes the vernacular architecture of Missouri into the modern realm.
May 02, 2016
mission possible san francisco renovation facade exterior french doors cedar
A dilapidated lot in San Francisco gets a second chance.
May 02, 2016
Eames Demetrios of Kcymaerxthaere
The Eames scion and "geographer-at-large" traverses the globe on behalf of Kcymaerxthaere, a network of markers and monuments that tells fictional tales about real-life communities.
May 02, 2016
marcel breuer architect letter office kansas city snower house
See a glimpse into the office of a master architect.
May 01, 2016
Santa Monica living room with an Yves Klein coffee table
Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron talks us through Dwell's May 2016 issue.
May 01, 2016
house that sottsass built maui hawaii memphis group home renovation ettore facade colored volumes
In Maui, of all places.
May 01, 2016
two of a kind padua italy matching family homes facade green roof doors color
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to dream homes , we visited homes from Haiti to Italy. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
April 30, 2016
houseofweek
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
April 30, 2016
W House living room
Our best reader reactions this week.
April 29, 2016
Vineyard house illuminated at night
Rammed-earth construction fuses this Portuguese house to the environment.
April 29, 2016
vintage Scandinavian furniture Kathryn Tyler
In southwest England, interior designer Kathryn Tyler built her home around her ever-expanding furniture collection.
April 29, 2016
steel facade home Seattle
On the sandy shores of Fauntleroy Cove in Seattle, renowned firm Olson Kundig Architects crafts a subtle home with striking steel accents.
April 29, 2016
seperate piece renovated guesthouse eames storage unit cork floor tiles living room
An architect and an interior designer put the tools to the test for this impressive renovation.
April 29, 2016
Ceramics by WrenLab
Manhattan doesn’t get to have all the fun during NYCxDesign. Brooklyn is set for the return of BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint from May 6-8, 2016. Here are just a few exhibitors we are excited to see this year.
April 29, 2016