Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cuba Diaries: Day 11 - A Havana Farmers' Market

Here's the thirteenth installment on my trip to Cuba to study their urban & suburban agriculture and agroecology. It's also my last diary about Cuba. There will be two more diaries - one on the transition from Cuba to Cancun, and one on re-entering the U.S. Today's diary is about my trip to one of Havana's "agromercados" (farmers' markets).

Don't forget your cigars!

After 10 days of visiting farms and gardens all over Cuba, our group remarked that we had seen lots of food growing, but very little food selling. How does all of this fantastic produce get into the hands of average Cubans? The next day, we were scheduled to leave for the airport at 9:30am. Our tour guide told us she'd show us a nearby "agromercado" (farmers' market) if we would meet in the lobby at 8am. We'd have just enough time to go and come back before heading off to the airport.

The agromercado we visited was on 19th Street between A and B and it was simply referred to as "19 and B." It was one of the largest and best in Havana, and as a result, it attracted quite a few diplomats and foreigners who lived in Havana. That drove the prices up for Cubans, who thought the prices at this market were very expensive. Some of Cuba's markets (like this one) run entirely on supply and demand, whereas others have a government-imposed price ceiling on the goods sold.

Outside the market, we saw a booth where Cubans could change their "CUCs" (the currency used by foreigners) into "local pesos" to spend at the market. (Cubans who receive money from relatives abroad or tips at restaurants or hotels would have CUCs to exchange.) We also saw the entrance of a shop that sold government rations. And then we entered the market...

Line of people waiting to change money

Government ration store

Market entrance

Check out the size of those green beans!

Garlic paste, stir-fry sauce, bitter orange juice, and lemon juice

Mamey, a tropical fruit

The market also had meat...

Here's a look at the prices...

(All prices are in local pesos. 24 local pesos = 1 CUC. 1 CUC gives you the buying power of about US$1 but the Cuban government takes a cut of every dollar converted to CUCs, and thus, it costs US$1.23 to buy $1 CUC in reality. Therefore, 1 local peso is about US$.05.)

Meat prices: Steak $35/lb, Pallet $25/lb, Fat $15/lb, Leg $25/lb, Loin $25/lb, Rib $20/lb

Mamey $12/ea, Tomatoes $5/lb, White beans $10/lb, Mango $10/lb, Onion $7/lb, Carrot $5/lb

Lettuce $5/lb, Carrots $3/lb, Beets $5/lb, Parsley $3/ea, Celery $3/ea, Chard $3/lb, Cilantro $3/ea, Chives $5/ea, Spinach $3/ea, Culantro $5/ea, Medicinal plants $5/ea, Leek $5/ea, Green beans $5/lb

Cassava $2.50/lb, Taro $3.50/lb, Sweet potato $2/lb

What else do you need? Beer? Condoms? Smokes? Burger buns?

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