by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Urban-farming

Jul 2 2015

Urban farms in Havana: a brief report on my brief visit

Because transportation from rural areas is expensive and trucks are few and far between (one result of the U.S. embargo), the Cuban government is promoting urban agriculture.  Our Food First tour group went to a small organic farm and store (Organopónico) in Havana:

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The farm grows a wide variety of vegetable crops, some outdoors but some under mesh.  The sun is hot.

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The farm sells produce to local residents.  I watched a steady procession of people coming to shop, only to be disappointed at the scarcity of items available.  It’s too hot to grow much this time of year.

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The board lists prices in pesos (indicated by $)—$4 to $10 a pound.

Another of the many Cuban contradictions: Cuba has two currencies, pesos and CUCs (Cuban Convertables).  A CUC is roughly equivalent to one dollar, or 24 pesos.  Salaries are paid in pesos.  Markets sell in CUCs or, recently, both.  This system, designed to take advantage of tourist dollars, is slated to end soon.

To put vegetable prices in context: the average Cuban salary is about 470 pesos a month, or $20 (but note that Cubans are given free food rations, education, and health care).

We also visited the much larger 25-acre farm in Havana’s Alamar neighborhood.

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You can see the surrounding apartments in this photo, but not the next one.

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With no money for gas or tractors, plowing gets done with oxen.

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This farm also has a store.

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I waited on a long line to buy a glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.

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This was incredibly delicious and totally worth the wait.

How much sugar is in this?  I searched for, but cannot find reliable Nutrition Facts for fresh cane juice.  If you happen to know where to find this, please send.*

On Monday, I’ll file the last of these Cuba posts, this one on food availability.

Note: the resumption of diplomatic relations and agreement to reopen embassies yesterday should make travel much easier.

*Answer to query: Thanks to Andy Bellatti and Cara Wilking for sending this link to a Nutrition Facts label for cane juice.  No wonder it was so good: 30 grams of sugar in 8 ounces!

Jun 9 2014

New book for city folk: The Rooftop Beekeeper

Megan Paska: The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees.  Chronicle Books, 2014.

Megan Paska sent me a copy of her new book and I’m so glad she did.  I know lots of people who want to try raising bees in their home towns but don’t know how to start.

Now I know what to tell them.  Read this book.

It covers what bees are, why they matter, why you should raise them, why cities are great places to raise them, how to start, what you need—hives, nets, food, and the like—where to put them, and how to take care of bees in every season.

And it provides recipes for doing wonderful things with the overabundance of honey your bees are likely to produce.

I particularly like this section:

What to say to your neighbors.

Bee stings hurt.  It’s easy to see why many people assume that they’re going to die when they get stung by a bee…The fact is that bees already live with us, even in a city…Next time you are at a park or see a planted flowerbed on the street, consider not only the honeybee but also other wild pollinators you will likely see there, drifting from flower to flower…As beekeepers, it’s part of our job description to enlighten others to this simple fact: Bees are not so different from us.  They live for one another, and they can’t thrive without community.

May 22 2012

Get your kids interested in farming: here’s how?


This appeared in my e-mail.  I tried to find out where it came from, but no luck.  Can anyone tell me its source?

Mar 16 2012

New books on farming, urban and not

Atina Diffley, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

I blurbed this one, with much pleasure: “Turn Here Sweet Corn is an unexpected page-turner.  Atina Diffley’s compelling account of her life as a Minnesota organic farmer is deeply moving not only from a personal standpoint but also from the political.  Diffley reveals the evident difficulties of small-scale organic farming but is inspirational about its value to people and the planet.”  The book comes with an insert of glorious photographs illustrating the history she recounts.  The political?  The Diffley’s fought to keep an oil company from running a pipeline through their property—and won.

David Hanson and Edwin Marty, Breaking Through Concrete: Building an Urban Farm Revival, University of California Press, 2012.

Wonderfully photographed visits to a dozen urban farms all over America from Seattle (P-Patch) to Brooklyn’s own Annie Novak’s Eagle Street.  The authors asked hard questions and got honest answers.  This is a great resource for anyone who wants to get started, and the beautiful farms and farmers are well worth a look.

Jennifer Cockrall-King, Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution, Prometheus Books, 2012.

Cockrall-King went international.  She visited cities in the U.S., England, France, Canada, and Cuba to see what urban farmers were doing to create alternative food systems.  They are doing plenty.  This looks like a great excuse for ecotourism, dropping by, seeing for yourself, and getting to work.

Jan 25 2012

Books worth reading

I’m at the Emma Willard school in Troy, NY today and will miss the noon USDA conference call announcing new school nutrition standards.  I will post on them tomorrow.  In the meantime…

Sarah Wu (aka Mrs. Q), Fed Up With Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth About School Lunches–and How We Can Change Them!  Chronicle Books, 2011.

I did a blurb on this one:

Only someone who has actually eaten what our kids are fed in school—every day for an entire school year—could write so convincing an expose.  Mrs. Q did not set out to be an activist, but her book is a compelling case study of what’s wrong with our school food system and what all of us need to do to fix it.  Her account of what one person can do should inspire every parent to advocate for better food for kids in school as well as out.

Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal.  The Essential Urban FarmerPenguin, 2011. 

This book is a must for anyone interested in growing food plants in urban environments.  Carpenter wrote Farm City about her own inner city farm in Oakland, CA and teams up with the founder of City Slicker Farms, also in Oakland.  They cover everything you can think of, from dealing with contaminated soil to growing enough food to start your own business. 

They illustrate the how-to with photos, diagrams, and line drawings that make it all look easy.  Urban farming IS easy, at least in miniature (tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, and blueberries flourish on my Manhattan terrace).  It doesn’t have to be a big deal.  Go for it!




May 10 2011

Agronomic angst in Oakland, CA: fighting for the right to farm

You might think that turning a deserted and trash-filled empty lot into an urban farm would please city officials, but not in Oakland CA.

Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle has a sobering article on the efforts of Novella Carpenter, author of the terrific Farm City (a book I use in my classes), to make her working farm legal.

To continue running her farm, Novella needed a conditional use permit which would cost about $2,500.  She got the money by raising it through her Ghost Farm blog.

The good news is that city officials are listening.

Oakland planning officials said they are about to embark on an ambitious plan  to revamp the zoning code to incorporate the increasing presence of agriculture  in the city.

The plan is to develop rules and conditions allowing anyone to grow  vegetables and sell produce from their property without a permit. The Oakland  plan would go beyond that of other cities, including San Francisco, because it  would also set up conditions for raising farm animals without a permit….Oakland’s rules have always allowed the growing of vegetables and raising  animals for personal use on residential property. But selling, bartering or  giving away what you grow is not legal without a permit. The new rules will  establish limits on distributing food, including food byproducts like jam,  without a permit.

Animals are likely to be the most contentious issue because neighbors tend to  be more bothered by bleating, honking, clucking and crowing. Complaints about  vegetables are rare.

I”m guessing other cities will have to start dealing with these issues if they haven’t done so already, not least because so many people want backyard chickens.

I’m growing salad and blueberries on my Manhattan terrace, but not enough to sell, alas.  Maybe next year!