Cuban Pesos: A Farmer’s Market Experience

CLF’s Sr. Research Program Coordinators Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl and Sarah Rodman are visiting Cuba as part of a Natural Environmental Ecological Management delegation. Members of the group will see first hand large-scale Cuban infrastructure developed to support its 18-year-old, world-renowned sustainable agricultural system in both the rural and urban sectors.

One highly anticipated activity on our trip to Cuba was a trip to the 19 and B farmers’ market in Habana.  We had read that the farmers’ markets were a great example of the “opening” of the Cuban economic system, a true market of supply and demand where the economic incentives of profit drive increased efficiencies and productivity of the newly privatized agricultural cooperatives in Cuba.  The large state farms of the last 50 years were decentralized during the 1990’s and 2000’s and now, while many farms still have production quotas that they must fulfill for the state, any surplus production can be sold in these farmers’ markets.  For the last country in the world with a ration card, “la libreta,” these markets may offer a glimpse into the future of how food will be distributed in Cuba.

cubagraphicWe met the manager of the market, Miguel Angel, who explained how his market worked.  Whereas, at a local farmers’ market in the United States, a consumer is often meeting the farmer themselves at the market who can explain their growing techniques and establish that important relationship that attracts so many to the experience; in the Cuban market, the sellers are in fact middle-men who purchase produce directly from the farmers a few times a week in large quantities and then sell to the consumer everyday.

fm-cuba1In this market, the sellers set a contract price with the market before the opening every single day.  The price is not controlled by the state or the market, the individual sellers set the price.  Obviously, there is some sort of profit margin set into place between the purchase from the farmers and the selling to the consumers.  In addition, the sellers pay a 10% tax on their total sales at the end of the day.  The market accepts produce from all kinds of farms imaginable, from urban organiponicos to various cooperatives to individual private farmers from the countryside.  Anyone can bring produce to market and there seems to be no fee for acquiring space at the market. Read More >

10 in 10: Create Consumer Demand for Local, Organic Foods

10in10A new decade brings new opportunities and challenges. The interaction between diet and health received significant attention during “The Aughts.” What will we do during this next decade to respond to the call for action for a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle? This is the second in a continuing series highlighting 10 ways you can help this year.

After visiting our Saturday Baltimore, MD farmer’s market teeming with local produce, I know that seasonal supply is not a problem. America is still very much an agrarian country; I can measure my degrees of urbanity in “minutes-traveled-before-seeing-a-cow.” How then can we create demand for fresh, local foods in the most pedestrian food venues like grocery stores, food carts, and chain restaurants? On an individual level, this year I resolve to do something different… and ASK where my food comes from. As a borderline introvert, I often have trouble asking. I am irrationally worried about the shrugs, stares, or bland responses.

I’ll gather my courage and ask my grocer, fishmonger, baker, street vendor, or restaurateur about where their food comes from. If the answer doesn’t sit well, I’ll ask if the well-traveled food can be replaced or exchanged with local, seasonal ingredients. I’ll be as specific as possible—if I have a hankering for local, seasonal arugula, I’ll let the world know!

I’ll ask the waiter or cook about the region and country of origin of seafood. There is a big difference in terms of sustainability if your salmon is farmed or wild-caught, domestic or imported, and you can’t tell by tasting it. The more one learns about sustainable foods, the more informed ones questions can be. Read More >