On many farms in the Cuban countryside, yellow flowers bookend certain crops, placed in such a way to concentrate insects there rather than on the produce growing in the rows between. Equipment-toting oxen and tractors are equally common sights, and combined with a self-sustaining water system, minimize the need to transport fuel across great distances.
In parts of Havana, the country’s capital, crops take up spaces that would otherwise be occupied by typical city blocks, 10 to 12 farms on a five-mile stretch signifying the tandem evolution of urbanization and nature and food systems.
These preliminary observations come from researchers, led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Shana Starobin, who are studying Cuba’s unique agricultural system. Their goal is to understand how farmers there adapted to a sudden disconnect from the global economy after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, an event that forced a rapid shift away from energy-intensive, industrial production heavily reliant on imported machinery, fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.