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The 'good food' revolution

In November I did something I wasn't supposed to do. It was legal, but hard to get clearance. I had so much fun, many great experiences, and learned how a people have not only survived but improved their health, educational, and social conditions...

Jennifer Cummings
Jennifer Cummings

In November I did something I wasn't supposed to do. It was legal, but hard to get clearance. I had so much fun, many great experiences, and learned how a people have not only survived but improved their health, educational, and social conditions after their supply of oil ran out.

It was the year of 1959 when the Cuban people ousted a dictator and began to regain control of their land and resources after more than five hundred years of foreign control. Habana Libre, formerly named the Hilton, is a national hotel downtown near the waterfront that stands as a symbol of the triumph of their revolution.

Land, oil, machines, food, commodities, and businesses in Cuba used to be controlled almost entirely by subsidiaries of foreign companies (mostly from the U.S. and the former Soviet Union). Practically no edible food was being grown in Cuba at the time.

Bananas, sugar cane, and tobacco were produced for export and for trade for food and supplies. Fields were mono-cropped for thousands of acres, heavily fertilized, eroded, and left barren of natural nutrients.

When the Soviet Union stopped supplying oil, the tractors could not run. When the U.S. ceased all trade, there was no food. The average weight loss was about 20 pounds from food shortages in the years to come. Reformation was not easy; fear, anger, discrimination, and violence swept in.

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Communities organized themselves in every providence to assess their own needs, skills, and resources. These communities were then connected and supported by state-funded organizations.

United by pride in the independence of their country and the common goal of a good life for all, Cubans got to work, made sacrifices, and adapted their way of life using what they had. Everyone was given a place to live.

Schools were opened and are free to all Cubans, primary through five years of university. One school is no better than another; children of farmers, doctors, and government officials are in the same classes. Cuba is the first and only country in the world to have achieved 100 percent literacy.

Millions of doctors have been trained and are now Cuba's leading export. A system of medical care, accessible in every neighborhood, was created to prevent diseases and provide all kinds of care for everyone, for free.

With knowledge from the elders, the land was rejuvenated by hand and with oxen. Now, food is growing everywhere, organically, and no Cuban goes a day without food.

Cuba is by no measure doing great, but their achievements are astonishing and progressing. Everyone is poor, the city is dangerously polluted, and life is hard, but no one is struggling alone. Even better, no one is profiting from anyone's loss.

I went to Cuba to study sustainable urban agriculture with an organization called Witness For Peace. In ten days, I saw dozens of gardens of all sizes, methods, and products, but what I learned about most was culture, love, resilience, and history.

At Lake Superior Interfaith Community Church on March 11, my friend Carol and I will be sharing some of our experiences at the 11 a.m. service and at the meal afterward. My article next month will explain what I learned. To feel Cuba yourself, join Witness For Peace in February of 2013; contact Kristin Stuchis at (218)340-8079 or kstuchis@gmail.com

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Jennifer Cummings moved to a little cabin near Lake Superior after finishing her studies of Sustainable Community Development at Northland College and Industrial Design at Rochester Institute of Technology.

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