I Dreamed of [Painting Permaculture] in Cuba

A blank canvas in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba

A blank canvas in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba

What do you see? An old white-painted shack with the rust seething through? A storage unit? A fence? If you mentioned any of the above, you’re clearly, rationally, correct. But if you, instead, engage the irrational you may open your mind to invite in other solutions to the question of reality – and see something far more beautiful and far more functional and far less boring than seeing and stating the obvious.

To me, last May 2012, the empty wall that formed the fence-line of an urban food-production site in a barrio of Sancti Spíritus, Cuba, represented everything creative. It was a blank canvas. It was a playground. It was an opportunity to paint, create transformation – physical, individual and community transformation. My eyes had been trained to see the blank wall’s real, hidden potential.

My Canadian, Cuban and Mexican intern counterparts.

My Canadian, Cuban and Mexican intern counterparts.

So I pulled the muralist brushes from my backpack, called on my Cuban artist friends, rallied my Canadian intern-counterparts and we began to design an artistic representation of the entire reason we had landed on the island of Cuba in the first place. Site-transformation of urban spaces for growing local food. Permaculture.

So mural painting and permaculture. Not so different in theory. 

They’re both about challenging the function of public and private spaces. They both integrate participation from community. They both require careful design and consideration before the brush/spade hits the canvas/soil. They both provide food. Rooted food and food for the eyes. And they both change those who change their surfaces. Trust me, after you’ve participated in a mural or permaculture-transformation project, there’s no way you can walk by the creative community result (a garbage-dump turned garden) without feeling like you planted, or painted a part of yourself in the, suddenly, beautiful landscape.

The transformation begins...

The transformation begins…

It’s been a year now since I’ve set foot on Cuban soil, and in a funny way, I miss that place more than I miss my home country (geographically and politically, anyways) whilst living and working inUganda. Maybe that’s because Cuba’s history and present-story inspires. Maybe that’s because I miss the sweetness of those bigger-than-life mangoes.

But probably it’s because I’ve painted a part of myself onto a couple of the walls that Cubans stroll past today, and sweat (a lot) to help some good people transform plots of land into productive good growing sites. We called it ART! and lo era el arte!

Filling in the blank spots.

Filling in the blank spots.

So just paint. Just plant. Just challenge yourself to see the world a little more creatively, imagine landscapes that aren’t yet there and work towards designing them into practice, nurture the artist / gardener / dreamer within…and, literally, change your world.

You are a child holding a paintbrush – so forget about what you know and invite the irrational to help you move masterpieces. Now. Food for the eyes. And painted dreams from Cuba.








“I Dreamed of Cuba” is a series of blog-posts focusing on my personal encounters working in Cuba from 2011-2012 through a unique partnership with The Urban Farmer, and a number of Cuban organizations, including Fundación Antonio Nuñez Jimenez de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (FANJNH). The goal of this series is share stories about the inspiring small farmers and Cuban policies that are promoting a more food secure society, and additionally – to teach about Cuban technologies of growing food more sustainably. My hope is that some of these ideas can be adapted and “transplanted” into your own gardens…wherever you are in the world!

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