by Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, July 5 (Xinhua) -- Angel Hernandez, a resident of Havana's central Playa district, never imagined he would be cultivating crops again after retiring, but the COVID-19 pandemic presented a good excuse.
Like many Cubans, he has been supportive of the country's efforts to increase food production amid economic restrictions, the tightening of the six-decade U.S. trade embargo against the island and now the health emergency.
The 74-year-old spends more than three hours a day tending to his urban garden, a 150-square-meter plot of land where he grows herbs, vegetables and fruit, from beans, tomatoes and cucumbers to mangoes and spearmint, an indispensable ingredient of Cuba's signature cocktail, the mojito.
"We did not need to go outside for vegetables and herbs during the lockdown," Hernandez said.
"I cannot totally feed a family of seven with this small-scale production, but it helps a lot," he said, adding "this is my passion."
His passion has also contributed to building community through a seed-sharing network that has enhanced connections among urban gardening enthusiasts, community leaders and food security activists.
Thousands of people like him across the country are part of Cuba's urban agriculture movement, which emerged as an alternative solution to help the sanctioned country stabilize the supply of fresh produce to Cuba's cities.
Amid the pandemic, Cuba's government is again encouraging farmers and urban gardeners to increase output locally to substitute food imports.
More than 70 percent of the country's population lives in urban areas, according to figures provided by Cuba's National Office of Statistics.
The largest Cuban social organization, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), has been distributing flyers among its eight million members as part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about the necessity to grow food at home during the coronavirus crisis.
Hernandez's daughter, Tamara Hernandez, 50, works as a CDR grassroots coordinator and cultivates the land along with her father in her free time. "We want to draw more people to urban gardening because it is a family-friendly hobby," she said.
"It also contributes to combat social stress and instil healthy eating habits in children from an early age," she added.
As Havana eases COVID-19 restrictions as part of a first phase of Cuba's post-pandemic recovery plan, a growing number of people continue to make room on their balconies, rooftops, backyards or patios for a wide variety of herbs and vegetables.
Hernandez's wife Laudelina Palacios, 77, enjoys bringing the family together around the dinner table and serving a refreshing and colorful summer salad made with home-grown produce.
That moment, she said, confirms that the daily effort made by her family to bring fresh food from the garden to the table has not been fruitless.
"This is a home gardening revolution against the COVID-19 pandemic," she said. "Plants grow anywhere."