When students from Antioch University New England (AUNE) headed to Cuba this March to study agriculture and food systems, it’s no surprise that they returned to New England inspired. They gained a unique perspective about the before-and-after impact the newly-lifted political and trade sanctions have on the country’s people and culture.
“This was a wonderfully engaged group of students, open to learning with and from our Cuban friends,” said Dr. Elizabeth McCann, faculty member and environmental education director in AUNE’s Environmental Studies Department. “We have so much to learn from Cuba’s strong sense of community and innovative approaches to sustainable food systems for all.”
In March, 15 students departed for Havana for AUNE’s Food Systems of Cuba: Implications for Environment, Livelihood and Food Security field study course to visit farms, urban gardens, farmers markets, research stations and other venues to explore Cuba’s food system and sustainable agriculture model. Antioch’s Department of Environmental Studies offers this experience for students to learn first-hand about Cuban culture, sustainability initiatives, and community-based agricultural practices.
“This has always been an interesting and exciting educational and life experience for AUNE students,” said Jessica Sanford, an AUNE alum who co-led the trip with McCann. “For many years, Cuba has had to develop a sustainable way to feed themselves with little help from the global economy. The people of Cuba have many stories and experiences to share with communities who wish to replicate their successes and build a more self sufficient and sustainable agricultural model. This year’s trip was even more noteworthy due to the historical context. It raised many questions for students as to the true sustainability of their agriculture model and whether it can withstand pressure from global economy.”
Agricultural systems aren’t the only area that AUNE’s students considered in the newly-expanded context that opens Cuba to new opportunities in travel, tourism and manufacturing. Caribbean locales are hotspots for tourists, making Cuba a potential hotspot for economic development in the coming years.
“We hope to build upon the wonderful relationships developed with groups and individuals in Cuba for years to come,” said McCann. “We have so much to learn from their lived experiences, which can inform community-based agricultural practices in the U.S. and beyond.”
The trip, which includes a service learning component, is offered to environmental studies students and other Antioch graduate students. To learn more about this unique program and other innovative sustainability research efforts at AUNE, please visit antiochne.edu.