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Sowing Change

The Making of Havana's Urban Agriculture

Adriana Premat

Publication Year: 2012

Following the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, Cuba found itself struggling to find its place in a new geopolitical context, while dealing with an unprecedented agricultural and food crisis that experts feel foreshadows the future of many countries across the globe. Sowing Change traces the evolution of the officially endorsed urban agriculture movement in the capital city of Havana, considering its political significance for the Cuban government and its import for transnational actors in the field of sustainable development. But the analysis does not stop at official understandings and representations of this movement. Rather, it brings into focus the perspectives of small-scale urban farmers--real men and women who live at the conceptual margins of the Cuban economy and struggle to balance personal needs and dreams with political ideals and government expectations, in a context where those very ideals and expectations continually shift. Sowing Change is a timely reflection on the changing agricultural, urban, and power landscapes of post-Soviet Cuba that, finally, queries common presumptions about this socialist nation and its now famous urban agriculture experience.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v

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pp. vii-xii

I first visited Cuba in 1994, at the peak of the economic crisis that followed the breakup of the Soviet bloc. Then, I was a curious traveler interested in seeing firsthand the socialist nation I had heard so much about as I was growing up in Argentina. As it turned out, particularly in the early 1990s, Cuba was not the place I had imagined. The capital, Havana, was a city in ruins: buildings were falling apart, public transportation...

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pp. xv-xvii

As with all research projects that span over a decade, this one has benefited from the support of many individuals and institutions. Among the latter, I want to mention the financial support received from the Social Sciences Research Council of Canada, the Agropolis Program at the International Development Research Centre, and the University of Western Ontario. I also want to thank everyone at Vanderbilt University...

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Introduction: A New Global Sense of Place and Rooted Landscapes

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pp. 1-10

After the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, beginning in 1989, Cuba had to shift, as Susan Eckstein (1994) aptly put it, from a position of “communist solidarity” to one of “communist solitary,” being “forced” by the sudden deterritorialization of its strongest world allies to re-create its links with nonsocialist countries and international investors. As Cuba refashioned itself out of new global connections and disconnections, life on the island was considerably transformed.1 Recent academic...

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1. Shifting Socialist Spatial Dreams: Institutional Visions and Revisions

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pp. 11-29

At the corner of Forty-Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue—one of the widest avenues in the city—in the municipality of Playa, in the district of Miramar, amid embassies and old mansions inhabited by diplomats, Cuban celebrities, and high government functionaries, one finds an organopónico: a large lot of approximately one hectare with rows of raised container beds used for growing a wide array of vegetables and herbs...

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2. Urban Agriculture, Politics, and Unwanted Deviations

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pp. 30-50

In 1997, I was invited by an employee of the FANJNH to join a group of foreign garden activists on a tour of Havana gardens. One of our first stops was the Santovenia home for the elderly, run by a group of Spanish nuns, in the humble municipality of El Cerro. Pastorita Núñez, a recent resident of the retirement home and a well-known revolutionary figure, greeted us at the gate, welcoming us to a small organopónico she...

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3. Place-Bound: Becoming an Urban Farmer in Havana

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pp. 51-69

I was first introduced to Manolo, a rabbit breeder from the humble municipality of El Cerro, in early 2001, when Havana was changing so rapidly I never knew what to expect on each visit. Every time I returned someone I knew had left Cuba in search of a better life overseas; new hotels, restaurants, and hard-currency stores had appeared in places where none had existed before; and the old American cars that once dominated the roads seemed increasingly outnumbered by new...

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4. Claiming Space, Questioning the Order of Things

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pp. 70-87

In early 2001, I attended an official meeting that was called to discuss the integration of urban agriculture into the master plan of Havana. Many institutional actors involved in urban planning were in attendance. Also at the meeting were a few parceleros invited to give their opinion as practitioners. Among the latter was Benancio, an affable retired army man who, along with other ex-FAR members, had been cultivating a parcela...

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5. State Land, Green Agendas, Old Ideas, and Community Work

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pp. 88-110

In September 2001, as part of a sustainable agriculture course offered by the FANJNH, I joined a group of Cubans on a tour of city gardens. The tour was meant to provide participants with inspiration for a final course assignment: the design of a permaculture-inspired garden that, following the teachings of Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, would create a closed production system that would mimic “nature” in form...

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6. Private Plots, Needed Dollars, State Power, and Sustainability Models

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pp. 111-132

Prior to his involvement in Jorge’s garden and at the day clinic mentioned in Chapter 3, Rafael had gotten the attention of many in the city for having transformed the cement patio of his home in the municipality of El Cerro into an idyllic edible garden. Placing old truck tires of different sizes one atop the other, he had created terrace-like areas where he cultivated a variety of crops including taro, yams, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach...

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7. Global Networks and Cuban Urban Agriculture

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pp. 133-147

In November 2008, the FANJNH organized the Third Latin American Permaculture Convention at a camping resort a distance from Havana. In attendance were over forty permaculture enthusiasts from countries like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, Spain, and the United States. Also present at the convention were ninety-four Cubans, including fifty small-scale urban farmers from various parts of...

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pp. 149-154

In 1994, when I first visited Cuba, I could not have imagined that the figure of a screaming pig on the ninth floor of a fancy apartment building in Havana would one day lead me to write this book. Nor could I have thought that this emblematic image would act as a catalyst for an exploration into the social production of urban agriculture sites in Havana, which in turn would propel me to questions of power. ...


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pp. 155-165


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pp. 167-173


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pp. 175-181

E-ISBN-13: 9780826518606
E-ISBN-10: 0826518605
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826518583

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2012