Before its collapse, the USSR had been providing Cuba with much of its oil, farm equipment, pesticides, fertilizer and food. Cuba, in return, provided them with sugar. All of this ended with the break-up of the Soviet Union. This was a crisis for the small island nation who grew little of its own food (sugar and tobacco were its main crops). Cuba was starving and the average person lost 20 pounds during this time. By necessity, Cubans began growing their own food. And they did it in every corner of land that they could find. Without pesticides and petroleum based fertilizers, they had no choice but to grow their food organically. Cubans, up to this point, were not big vegetable eaters and the meat they ate was from factory farms. Diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer were relatively common. In addition, with major shortages of gasoline, they began riding bikes instead of taking their cars. Many farmers were forced to farm with oxen. By necessity, their diets changed, and the country is now growing up to 80% of its fruits and vegetables. Produce stands are numerous, and much of the fruits and vegetables available at the stands were grown within walking distance. During the time of transition, many people, especially children and pregnant women, suffered from malnourishment related illnesses. But now, with the drastic change in diet and the increase in exercise from walking and bike riding, cases of diabetes, heart disease and cancer have been significantly reduced.
Although this story can clearly not be separated from politics, that is not the point of my article. (If you comment, and choose to make your comment political, please excuse me from engaging in the conversation.) I clearly do not wish to see my country, the United States, have to suffer what these people have suffered. But my country is suffering from a crisis of health that has less to do with insurance and politics, than with the choices we make every time we eat. We need to take responsibility for our own health, and one way that many of us can begin is by gardening. Yes, urban gardening is growing in our cities and I’m thankful. I live in small town America. I walk my streets and something is missing. Gardens are few and far between. But I am encouraged. As a Master Gardener, rarely a week goes by that someone does not ask me how to start a garden, or how to improve the one they have. I hope we can learn a little from the people of Cuba without having to suffer what they have suffered.
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