I have the great privilege of writing this first post on food justice in the great, revolutionary Island Nation of Cuba. My second time in Cuba, I am more inspired than ever by the ingenuity, political sophistication and human rights lessons from this island, supplying free housing, food, education, and medical care to all of its people with very limited resources due to the US imposed economic blockade against Cuba.
There is so much to learn from this island. How do you feed, house and care for all of your people, despite a huge economic embargo attempting to choke your economy? How can people learn to be resilient, self-sufficient, defy the odds and feed everyone with very limited resources?
We in the U.S. and in many communities in New York, particularly in Brooklyn, can relate to the Cuban people, as there is so much to learn and do— What can we do to feed, house and care for all Brooklynites with the plentiful (or very limited, in some cases) resources we have?
The food here in Cuba is far from perfect, unfortunately. A diet full of starchy food, including white rice stripped of its nutrients, a surprising amount of meat and a stark lack of green leafy vegetables and fruit offered with their meals, in addition to the difficulties of finding food from local farmers, particularly in urban areas, all speak to the work needed around food and sustainability in Cuba.
But all of those issues should sound very familiar to those of us living in areas lacking an abundance of healthful options and strong, resilient food systems.
Interestingly enough, I am writing this at an international conference on permaculture (sustainable agriculture) right after working with activists to coordinate a dynamic (third annual) national gathering of Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGS) Conference at Boys and Girls High in Bed-Stuy.
I am here representing the Black Permaculture Network on a delegation with Global Exchange and Eco Cuba Network at an international conference, bringing permaculturalists from all over the world together to focus on environmental, food, resource and social sustainability.
This permaculture conference, being in Cuba, studying sustainable food systems, directly after the BUGS conference in Brooklyn is so very timely.As an activist in food justice and liberation movement work and the director of the NYC Food and Fitness Partnership at Restoration focusing on healthful food access and sustainable food systems for Brooklyn, I am very excited by this moment in time- a time of intersections and creative imaginations with praxis that I am able to witness and participate.
At the BUGS conference, hundreds of Black (and ally) food justice, health, farmers, gardeners, activists, organizers, justice-driven participants came to BGHS to focus on building power and sovereignty- the ability to have agency and determination over the fate of our communities (including our lives, our voices, our ability to feed our communities and provide for our families).
The conference featured brilliant activists and scholars, such as Dr. Monica White, sociology professor and president of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, calling on African American historical legacy of farming as resistance, as a part of the civil rights struggle, and African American legacies of cooperative economics (via co-ops) and institution building.
The conference also featured Ben Burkett of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and many more from all over the country with a heavy New York base. Nearly 40 workshops were presented including workshops on food hubs by Reverend Devanie Jackson and Reverend Robert Jackson, Tanya Fields, Brother Sister Sol, Corbin Hill Farm and many, many more.
Mentoring, apprenticeships, networks, sharing resources and much more around building power and sustaining African American farming and growing legacies were some of the desired outcomes expressed for the conference.
The BUGS Conference made it clear that while there is a growing movement of activists actively working towards building power, including more sustainable living options, African Americans have long roots in this struggle. Alternative, cooperative economics, communal sustainability, a deep history in sustainable agriculture and a dedication to growing food and feeding community, were all themes that scholars, activists, and speaker after speaker reiterated.
I left the BUGS conference filled with excitement, renewed energy and a deep connection to many others who love and care about sustained farming and growing legacies.
Directly following, I have the great privilege of learning and temporarily living with permaculturalists from around the world interested in building skills for sustainable living for all communities in the powerful tiny island nation of Cuba.
There is much work to be done, but from BUGS to Black Permaculture Network to Cuba—I am beyond inspired. There is a small, beautiful revolutionary island, leading by example to feed, house, educate and care for all of its people. I plan to bring back every lesson, inspiration and example from this experience when I return to Brooklyn.
There is such a tremendous amount of work happening in Brooklyn, and these series of convenings lead me to believe that the movement for justice and health will progress and ultimately prevail.