By Linda Holliday
When Cuba’s economy collapsed after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Cubans got healthier growing their own food. But first, they suffered, even resorting to eating domestic pets and zoo animals, according to a Forbes news report.
Author Marjory Wildcraft wanted to learn how Cubans transitioned to a gardening lifestyle. To do so meant traveling to the tiny island country that lies just 30 miles from the southern tip of Florida. What happened in Cuba could easily happen here if Americans aren’t prepared.
Wildcraft, a former real estate financial consultant who believes a U.S. economic collapse is likely, wanted to learn from those who already lived through one. Early this year, Wildcraft traveled with Millions Against Monsanto, a subgroup of the Organic Consumers Association, to discover how Cubans transformed their food system
“The big question,” Wildcraft asked, “was how do you feed 11 million people when your entire agriculture system no longer works?”
Wildcraft is best known for her “Grow Your Own Groceries” video (which is also fully endorsed and recommended by the American Preppers Network). Her mission is to put “homegrown food on every table” by teaching others skills necessary to grow food, including small livestock.
When imports end
Before the collapse, Cuba imported 80 percent of its fuel from the petroleum-rich Soviet Union. Nearly all imports were affected, however, such as food, machinery parts, textiles and medicine. At the same time, Cuba’s sugar exports dropped drastically, partly because the Soviets were no longer buying it and high fructose corn syrup disrupted the sugar market.
Wildcraft spoke with common gardeners and farmers about their crops and growing methods. She also sought their advice for Americans preparing for economic collapse. The Cubans’ answers surprised her.
“Every single one of them said something about being ready to share with your neighbors, to help out in your community and do your best to keep your spirits up,” Wildcraft said of her talks with working-class Cubans. “Not a single one said to go out and buy a bunch of stuff.”
Wildcraft said that instead of storing beans in bulk or buying guns, the Cubans did what people naturally do in times of stress – they grew gardens and shared with neighbors. Many of these community relationships were built upon generations.
After the revolution, the government gave Cubans property, but does not allow them to sell it. Unlike Americans who move on average every 5 years, Cubans generally live in one neighborhood for decades. As such, there is a very high level of connectedness with the people and very little violence, Wildcraft said.
“They are all family,” she said.
Now as old-fashioned gardeners who walk or pedal for transportation, Cubans are healthier, according to a British Medical Journal study. Adults lost an average of 12 pounds by eating less calories and protein when meat and dairy foods became scarce.
Parallels with Cuba
Wildcraft noted several parallels between Cuba’s pre-collapse system and the current financial crisis in the United States. For instance, Cuba was highly dependent upon fuel imports. America now imports 60 to 65 percent of its fuel.
“More than any other Latin American culture, Cuba embraced monoculture, which is what America definitely has, and that completely failed,” she said. Cuba relied mainly on sugar exports; when the sugar market dried up, Cuba had no other major cash crop.
Another similarity, she said, is in U.S. reliance on large agricultural machinery and big farming enterprises. When Russian imports to Cuba halted, fuel and tractor parts were unavailable. Most farmers reverted to using horses and oxen – which need only “water and grass and to be caressed.”
The common folks Wildcraft spoke with said the economic collapse “came as a big surprise they didn’t see coming.”
Wildcraft on ‘Beyond Off Grid’
Wildcraft highlighted her experiences with a slide presentation recently on the first of a series of webinars hosted by the producers of “Beyond Off Grid,” a film documentary projected to be released in early 2014. The film, which includes more than a dozen agricultural, economic and homesteading specialists, strives to help people reduce their dependency on the modern control grid.
Film producer Jason Matyas, a lifelong gardener, spoke with Wildcraft on the 1-hour program about the municipal and private food plots she toured during her 10-day trip to Cuba.
Cubans ate a lot of rice, beans and pork before 1991, Wildcraft said. All of their rice was imported. Post-collapse, Cubans began eating more vegetables and fruit they grow themselves. They learned to improve their predominantly clay soil by composting and now raise produce and small livestock wherever possible.
“The Cubans did what people all over the world do when in crisis – they started growing food on windows, in backyards, and on corner lots,” Wildcraft said in a later interview. “They use all the classic techniques from organic gardening such as composting, vermiculture, companion planting and crop rotations. Why? Because it works.”
Dependence on oil
During the program, Matyas explained how an attack on Iran by the United States or Israel could almost immediately double or triple fuel prices as Iran likely would close its main shipping lane, disrupting oil transports.
“Whether that kind of scenario happens or not, the more local you can make your food supply, the better,” Matyas said. “The ultimate is growing your own food.”
The next best thing, Matyas said, is to trade among neighbors, followed by purchasing from a local farmer where you know the production methods. Lastly, purchase organic food in stores.
Wildcraft added that knowing your community also is vital, and skills are much more valuable than goods.
Wildcraft said, besides traveling, she reads history to learn how people survived difficult times. The items usually becoming scarce first are food, seeds, transportation, clothing and medicines. People should also consider how they will do without their addictions (such as chocolate, liquor or coffee).
“These are all patterns that happen fairly predictably,” Wildcraft said, urging people to begin gardening now. “Growing food is not a skill you can learn quickly or easily.”
Besides gaining self-sufficiency skills, your physical health also will be rewarded as much industrial food is not healthful anyway.
Also, instead of growing exotic, non-native vegetables, Wildcraft said, it is better to focus on plants that do well in the local environment. Again, soil fertility is paramount to successful crops.
Wildcraft’s video series is designed to help beginner or advanced gardeners learn more about raising small livestock or producing food in a backyard. Her videos are used by homesteaders, survivalists, universities, and missionary organizations worldwide. Wildcraft’s website includes videos of her interviews with Cuban farmers and gardeners.
The Beyond Off Grid webinar series is set to run weekly. Organizers say their goal is to educate and inspire people to take action for a better future. To learn more, visit the website. In an upcoming webinar, precious metals expert Franklin Sanders will review the state of the global and U.S. economy and discuss preparing for increased hard times that surely lie ahead.
“The question is no longer ‘if.’ The question is ‘how’ and ‘how quickly’” Matyas said of U.S. economic collapse.
Wildcraft on APN webinar
American Preppers Network will feature Marjory Wildcraft in a webinar as she speaks about her “Grow Your Own Groceries” videos from 8-9 p.m. CDT on Thursday, Oct. 17. For more information and to register, click here.
About the Author: Mrs. WaterBuck
Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid, and invented the WaterBuck Pump. A former newspaper editor and reporter, Holliday blogs for Mother Earth News, sharing her skills in modern homesteading, organic gardening and human-powered devices. To read more, visit her blog.