In the United States, we have taken for granted that we’ll always have plentiful food at affordable prices. For many years, food has only cost us around 10% of our income. However, according to a National Geographic article, Inside the Looming Food Crisis, we learn that we should wake up and pay attention to what’s going on with food production in our country.
As the population grows, so do the demands on the food system. However, severe weather patterns, such as storms, floods, heat waves and droughts, are on the rise – and that has reduced the yields that some farmers are seeing around the world. A growing population paired with a shrinking food supply is a formula for disaster.
In a report released last May, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recommended that the U.S. make food security a long-term top priority. How that will play out is yet to be seen, but we can take some lessons from Havana, Cuba.
Supply and demand
In 1989, Cuba imported more than 57% of its caloric intake from the Soviet Union. Nearly overnight, Cuba was put in a situation where it had to figure out how to feed its population when the Soviet Union collapsed. There were 2.2 million people in the city of Havana alone, so they needed to figure out a solution fast.
Instead of reaching out for help, Cuba looked inwards and the people took matters into their own hands. People started planting food anywhere they possibly could. Within a mere two years, food was growing everywhere you looked all over Havana – in backyards, front yards and empty lots, on balconies and anywhere else there was enough space.
In the US, it’s illegal to grow food in your front yard in some states. That needs to change if we’re to meet the coming challenges of a growing food crisis. Our government should support local, grassroots farming like Cuba’s government did.
In 1994, Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department took a few steps to encourage the urban gardening movement. First, they made it completely legal and free to plant food on unused public land. Second, they put a program in place to help educate and encourage neighborhood gardeners. Resources and information was available at local agricultural stores known as Seed Houses. Lastly, they set up direct-sale Farmers’ Markets so gardeners had an outlet for produce sales.
A history lesson
The government’s support of the urban gardens helped them truly succeed. In 1998 – less than a decade after the crisis began – Havana was home to more than 8,000 officially recognized gardens that produced around half of Cuba’s vegetables.
Citizens of the US should take some lessons from the success of Havana and start planning for the coming food crisis now. If every community starts setting up gardens today, we can minimize the impact a food crisis will have on our lives.
So start your own backyard (or front yard) garden. If you live in an apartment, grow some food in containers. Get involved with your local community garden, and if there isn’t one already running, help start one.
We can all take small steps to take control of our food supply. What steps will you take? Share your comments below.
Feature image courtesy of M. Dolly