A Rush of Americans, Seeking Gold in Cuban Soil

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photo credit:. agroecologynetwork.org

Author: Kim Severson

HAVANA — Being an agricultural official in Cuba these days is like living in a resort town all your friends want to visit. You rarely get a moment to yourself.

For months, Havana’s government offices and its prettiest urban farms have been filled with American bureaucrats, seed sellers, food company executives and farmers who spend their evenings eating meals made with ingredients often imported or smuggled into restaurants that most Cubans can’t afford.

They seek the prizes that are likely to come if the United States ends its trade restrictions against Cuba: a new supply of sugar, coffee and tropical produce, and a new market for American exports that could reap more than $1.2 billion a year in sales, according to the United States Chamber of Commerce.

But for some, the quest is less about the money than about what they say is the soul of Cuban agriculture and how people eat.

“The Cubans are not enthusiastic about a Burger King on every corner or Monsanto being here,” said Representative Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine and an organic farmer.

In May, Ms. Pingree led a coalition of organic industry leaders, chefs and investors on a five-day trip here. Their mission, in part, was to encourage Cuban officials to resist the enticements of larger, more conventional American food and farming interests and persuade Cubans to protect and extend the small-scale organic practices that are already a part of their daily life.

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