Solar-Powered Food

Good, clean, fair—and solar. The Cuban experience shows how producing food with renewable energy sources and without possible fuels can be possible.

Food is at the center of the life of people, the only animals who cook their food. In Mark Twain’s words, “Man is the only animal who eats without being hungry, drinks without being thirsty and speaks without having anything to say.” Food is so fundamental for our lives and cultures that we all ought to have enough of it, sustainably produced.

What sort of energy is used to produce food?

We need and demand food every day, but we often don’t think about some of the aspects associated with it, such as the energy with which it is produced. De facto, energy takes a back seat in debates about the agricultural and food system, yet the word “sustainability” is on many policymakers’ lips. Most of our energy needs are met by fossil and nuclear fuels, and we are thus dependent on a system that is anything but sustainable, a system that is one of the main culprits for climate change. The connection between energy and food is evident, as is the connection between these two elements and real power. The people who dominate access to food and energy sources are, in fact, the people with power.

The scenario we have outlined can be changed by democratizing the use of renewable energy sources and subsidizing solar devices and technologies. Food sovereignty inevitably means adopting the principles of permaculture and agroecology (in family and cooperative contexts), while energy independence can be achieved only by recourse to renewable sources of energy in a context of sustainable development.

In this sense, the idea of creating communities whose members pledge to produce good, clean and fair food is helpful, but it’s not enough on its own. We also have to foster the creation of energy self-sufficient communities, starting with renewable sources. After the UN decreed 2014 the International Year of Family Farming, we now have to push for an International Year of Family Energy to promote renewable sources, including thermal solar, photovoltaic solar, wind, hydroelectric and biomass.
The Cuban Farm Experience

In Cuba, the target of good, clean, fair and solar food is now becoming reality: the examples of two farms 20 kilometers outside of Havana, Finca del Medio and Finca Marta, demonstrate how it is possible to produce food using exclusively clean and renewable energy sources. The farms generate most of the energy they need with biogas digesters, windmills, hydraulic jacks, photovoltaic pumping systems and other appropriate technologies. At the same time, they have achieved food self-sufficiency, producing high-quality ecological food for the families that live and work on them, as well as for an increasing number of outside consumers. Finca del Medio has now also become a school of agroecology and is visited by thousands of people every year, while Finca Marta has launched an organic food distribution network in Havana involving all the city’s leading paladares. The two farms are paradigms not only for Cuba but also for the world.

In Patria es humanidad, the Cuban national hero José Martí says that man needs a new culture resting on the following foundations: a change in energy structure, access to education with equal opportunities, food security for everyone based on ecological agriculture, the adoption of a preventive health system including traditional wisdom, the right to a full life in harmony with natural processes, the strengthening of interpersonal relationships and relationships between peoples based on ethics and love guided by solidarity. We can’t claim to have good, clean and fair food until we have changed the energy matrix that produces it. And it will be “solar” food when it is produced by renewable sources.

This article is taken from the Slow Food Almanac 2016, available here.