A New Way Of Responding To Crisis

By Andrew Plisner

Michigan Citizen, March 1-8, 2009

"This is a breath of fresh air. It's a new way of looking at a crisis," Frank Hammer explained as he introduced the film, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil at the February 21st. Swords into Plowshares' "Living with Scarcity, Visions of Hope" meeting.

The film depicts how Cuba's adapted to a lack of oil following the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990 by replacing large scale industrialized farming with small urban farms that empower the community.

"In a way," Hammer continued, "this [response] by the Cuban people is an advanced example of what people all over the world will have to do."

When Cuba was no longer able to count on an unending supply of oil, Cuban agronomists recognized that large scale farming, involving the chemical treatment of crops, the use of air-conditioned and media-equipped tractors, and the transportation of nationally-produced crops domestically and/or internationally, was no longer a viable option. As a result, subsistence urban agriculture supplanted industrial government farms, transforming the farmers' relation to the land and with each other.

In the last few decades industrialized agriculture created in the global south by corporations from the global north has dominated food production, single-handedly destroying not only the subsistence of local communities but the earth's fertility. This was also taking place in Cuba until it was no longer able to depend upon oil from the Soviet Union and found it necessary to create another model in which local, private farms are primarily responsible for agricultural production. Now, "in small cities and towns, urban agriculture provides 80-100% of food needed."

An agricultural revolution of such magnitude in Detroit would not only provide the stimulus our city needs. It would also resolve a slew of problems from obesity to interconnectivity.

After watching the film, panelist Malik Yakini, director of Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, opened his presentation with a similar conclusion. "It is my hope," he said, "that we can use the urban agricultural movement to empower people. We are not just victims; we can begin to reshape our society."

Malik explained the goals of his organization: farming, policy work, and food co-operatives designed to strengthen communities through re-building our relationship to the land. For more on Malik's views and activities, I recommend the interview with him on "A Breath of Hope, " the current issue of FLYP which can be found at

Lisa Richter, a panelist representing the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and Earthworks Urban Farm, emphasized the power of cooperative relationships, especially in urban agriculture. She pointed out the need to create interactive learning environments in Detroit in order to strengthen and further build the urban agricultural movement. " We need to learn from and teach others in our communities so that the evolution of cooperation in urban gardening can be maximized. There is more than enough opportunity for everyone to contribute. If communal and individual transformation is to occur, everyone must contribute in some capacity." "A Breath of Hope" also includes an interview with Lisa.

Before the floor was opened up for discussion, Malik pointed how "Cooperation gives us a mirror, a way of looking at ourselves."

The opportunities for reflection provided by urban agriculture cannot be over-emphasized. A few months before his assassination in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a little book "Where do we go from here?" whose title reminds us of the urgent need for reflection in this period.

It resonates in the indefatigable dedication to pursuing communal and individual transformation at the Boggs Center in Detroit. It is echoed in organizations such as Friends of Detroit in the Hope District, Detroit City of Hope, and the Catherine Ferguson Academy. Each in its own way demonstrates our growing need to develop our relationships with each other and the Earth.

Let us reflect on where we have been and move towards a healthier, more communal, more sustainable way of life.

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