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  • Shelley Lowther

The Cuban Food Revolution: Organoponicos

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

Paladars, Illegal Pesticides and Pineapples


Cuba leads the world in urban organic farming. Lemme say that again. CUBA is at the forefront of urban organic farming. While this is a delightful surprise, though it was born out of struggle. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Photo by Elie Dahdouh @heartofcuba


Lemme explain. The US has enforced an embargo against Cuba for generations. This was not always a problem for Cuba, but when the USSR collapsed in 1990/91, food scarcity became a real problem. The average Cuban lost TWENTY pounds as their calorie intake was cut in half. Food was scarce.


Cuba had to come up with a way to feed itself-- and fast. Because Canada and the US controlled most of the world's fertilizers and pesticides, Fidel Castro was unable to get these products in order to start an agricultural system.


So he made pesticides illegal. Cuba needed a unique answer to the serious problem of how to feed its people. And the organoponico was born.


Cubans are some of the most educated people in the world per capita. They have become experts in integrated pest management, crop rotation, soil conservation, biopesticides and composting. Worm composting and worm farms are actually considered a Cuban intellectual export. Local farms meet local needs. You eat what is in season. Avocado season is a GOOD time to visit Cuba.


Before I landed in Havana, I heard a lot of reviews about how bad the food in Cuba was. This was NOT my experience. If you eat in government restaurant or hotels (which as Americans, is technically not allowed) you will be getting the food that unfairly gives Cuba a bad food reputation. If you eat, however, in paladares –– private restaurants, homes and farms –– you'll get fresh, beautiful, seasonal food, often straight from the land under your feet.


Photo by Sapna Dalal @vegtourist


On a trip to Viñales, we feasted on a tobacco and coffee farm with vegetables grown on site. Root vegetables such as sweet potato (it's white here in Cuba), malanga and yuca are plentiful, and congri, a rice and beans mixture that reminded this Southern girl of Hoppin' John, are common and delicious fare. Add some fresh pineapple juice, squeezed to order, and you have an idea of what a typical meal was like on my visit to Cuba.


And pineapples? I have never tasted a pineapple like this. As a juice bar owner and juicing fanatic, I could be an ex-pat in Cuba just for the pineapples. We woke one morning at 5am and hiked to an organic pineapple farm to watch the sunrise. This pineapple is now famous.

Photo by Elie Dahdouh @heartofcuba


I don't want to give the impression that every Cuban eats like a priviliged millennial on an avocado toast binge. Food is rationed. Each individual receives an allotted amount of rice, beans and other staples per month, and must go to their designated bodega to collect it. While this may seem very foreign to us, the result is no Cuban goes hungry.


Farmers are obligated to sell a certain percentage of what they grow to the government, and they can consume or sell the overage, which encourages production. Though entreprenuialship is new to Cuba, it has been embraced with fervor. Paladares and Casas Particulares (the unique Cuban equivalent of a bed and breakfast) are becoming plentiful, and Cuba is entering a new age. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the urban organic farm survives and that Cuba remains a leader in sustainable, urban organic farming.

Photo by Elie Dahdouh @heartofcuba



I visited Mhai Yoga in February 2018 as a guest during press week. Thank you to the generosity of Coco Dahdouh, Eduardo Pimentel, and the Mhai Yoga team for gifting me this life-changing and amazing experience! I am filled with gratitude and can't wait to return to Cuba with my tribe. Our next retreat is January 12-19, 2019. Email me for info.