You say “to-may-to”, I say “humanitarian crisis.” Let’s call the whole thing off…

In good Bolivarian fashion, my mom tried her hand at asymmetrical urban agriculture of the sixth generation. Not a bad hobby. As economic policy?! Please.


CaGLSSgWIAImrFc-2Peppers are everywhere in Venezuelan cuisine. With crazy shortages and rampant inflation, Frente Francisco de Miranda recommends we start growing our own peppers instead of buying them. According to
these folks, with “proper care” one plant can produce 8 kilos of peppers in 60 or 70 days.

As soon as I read the flyer, I thought: it’s time for some old-fashion myth busting! Only this time I wouldn’t set up my own experiment, because someone else was already on it… my mother.

My mom had been talking for a while about setting up a small huerto in our apartment. She even bought green rectangular plastic pots, but since they clash with the rest of the dècor, I figured it wouldn’t happen. Some might say I was a mujer de poca fé.

But one good day my mom placed pots in an outdoor terrace and became an “urban farmer,” planting cherry tomatoes, peppers, sweet peppers, and basil.

The huerto became a part of her daily routine. She would check on the pots and water them everyday. If she had a business trip, my dad would water the plants.

My mom’s face showed joy mixed with kind of sad puppy eyes because, as she said, “I know they’re small”.

I honestly didn’t give much thought to the whole process, but those pots were now part of the family. Everytime I saw my mom crouching near the huerto, I would take a picture and send it to my sister in Australia: “Ma visitando sus matas”.

Two pots became four, and four became six. Mom was pretty committed. And she will deny it and might try to kill me for saying this, but I heard her talk to her plants (and even sing a song or two).

She gave way more than proper care to her plants. She even panicked when she forgot to water them once or twice.

One day, my mom couldn’t control her excitement: she could see a small sprout in one of her pots. After that, she would always tell us how much they were growing. 

About five months into the experiment, we made homemade pizza and added the basil my mom had grown. Pretty good pizza, I might add.

TomatoesAnd six months in, I came into the kitchen and found a plate with a small pepper and six cherry tomatoes. They were gorgeous. My dad and I were pretty excited.

But my mom’s face showed joy mixed with kind of sad puppy eyes because, as she said, “I know they’re small”. Lets not forget it took six whole months to grow something one person might eat in one sitting.

A farmer recently told me “para cosechar pimentón sólo tienes que cultivarlo” and then laughed. So I asked myself: could my mom have done something differently?

Maybe, but I’m not sure what. My mom not only planted the pepper, but she really cared for it. Maybe it was the size of the pots, but in an apartment there is a huge limitation as to the size of the pots you can have.

Some -like Maduro and his combo, who recently created a Ministry for Urban Agriculture- actually think that if we can’t find produce in the supermarket, we can simply grow it at home. Apparently, the division of labour is just another crazy idea that must be proven wrong.

But let’s be honest: this is just a symptom of an even bigger problem: the economic model has destroyed Venezuela’s economic productivity and the Central Government simply continues to blame others. Los empresarios, los capitalistas, el imperio, la guerra económica, iguanas, etc… etc… etc…

This is a Never Ending story, in which Maduro ducks into the socialist bookstore to avoid bullies, sneaks away with a book called “Socialismo del Siglo XXI” and begins reading it in the attic of Miraflores… and when Maduro reads a description of himself in the book, he begins to wonder if the economic model is actually real and needs him to survive. One major difference with the original movie: no Atreyu, no Falkor.

It’s time to leave Fantasia and come back to reality. The Government must come to grips with how much damage its model is doing to our economy and must let private enterprises do their job.

In the meantime, we’ll have a small pepper and six cherry tomatoes to remind us how difficult it is to grow our own food. As for my mom, she’s over her disappointment. She’ll keep buying the fruits and vegetables we need, as long as she can find and afford them.

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  1. Un muy buen ejemplo de surrealismo venezolano… Yo en cuanto puedo le cuento a la gente lo que significa vivir en Venezuela ahora mismo y les hago imaginarse a miembros del ejército español desplegándose alrededor de un carrefour porque van a empezar a vender leche, coches con la batería encadenada para que no la roben, Mariano Rajoy hablando cinco horas seguidas en la televisión, el kilo de cebollas a cincuenta euros, la necesidad de importar vino y aceite de oliva porque dejamos de producirlo… pero al final no le interesa realmente a nadie. Se dan cuenta que en Venezuela la gente lo está pasando mal pero esto ocurre en decenas de países en todo el mundo y no ven por qué deberían fijarse en este en particular… Me temo que ellos y yo tenemos gustos literarios diferentes.

    (aparte de esto, gracias una vez más a las personas que hacen posible esta página)

  2. Been there, still there. Fun yes, healthy even, but productive? No!
    However, I’ve been reading up on Urban Animal Husbandry (2 Hogs On the Patio) and may give it a try. Also taking an interest in Urban Aquaculture and reading Your Aquarium Is A Protein Goldmine. So we will see.

  3. Great article Anabella! The government wants Venezuelans to become subsistence-level farmers, PLUS maintain an industrial and post-industrial level culture. Ridiculous! There are not enough hours in a day.

    I also got curious about how much land per person is actually required to grow enough food to survive. The resulting Google search was enlightening. The minimum figure I found was 1,000 sq. meters, but that was under very ideal circumstances. The various estimates and calculations went as high as 40,000 sq. meters per person. Needless to say, in a normal urban home, our balcony or even our back yard does not have enough acreage to provide any where near enough food to sustain us and our families.

    • There are smart greenhouses for indoor use being developed everywhere, we won’t have to take care closely of the plants with one of those, see:

      Imagine in 5, 10 years, when this kind of thing becomes cheaper, more efficient and more readily available…

      Of course, what the Venezuelan government expects is absurd, but the whole concept of producing food, energy, and even clean water at home is actually what a lot of people will be doing in the first world in a couple years.

      • Marc,

        This will never be more than something for a few hobbyists. Modern agricultural techniques make it absurd to grow our own food. In the U.S., less than 2% of the population are currently employed in the production, processing and distribution of food. The historical trend of human history and development is toward greater specialization and division of labor, not less.

        • If it’s cheap and easy enough, people will come, I believe. For instance, I know people who produce solar energy on their rooftops and yet they couldn’t care less about the “hobby of energy production”. They do it because it’s economically wise.

          In addition, if someone could prove to me that I could have fresh vegetables any time I wanted, and paying even less than what I would pay at the supermarket with one of those, I would become a “hobbyst” too immediately.

          But, yeah, until now it’s been like you’ve said. Let’s see how it goes.

          • Marc,

            There are a lot of things that I COULD do for myself, but don’t. I DO cook for myself. It has been proven to me over and over again, that for a single person, it is actually cheaper to eat out or order take-out food, then to cook for one person. I do it because I enjoy it, not because it is cheaper. But, a lot of people consider it a tedious chore and opt for the easier and cheaper way.

            I COULD fix my own car. I could buy the parts, and find instructions on line to fix it. But, it would take me a long time, and I don’t know that I would do a very good job of it. Plus, I hate busting my knuckles and getting grease embedded permanently in my hands. My time is better spent on other things. In the time it would take me to fix my car, I can make more than enough money in my specialty to pay some one else to do it.

            You may well enjoy growing your own vegetables. It’s not my idea of fun, but I can understand the satisfaction. But, you will never achieve the levels of production that a modern farmer can achieve. A single individual can never compete head-to-head with an organized group of specialists. Whatever technological advancements you utilize can be used by the specialists too… to better effect. If this were not so, we would never have evolved societies and civilization.

  4. From the New World Encyclopedia:

    “Subsistence farming is a mode of agriculture in which a plot of land produces only enough food to feed those who work it—little or nothing is produced for sale or trade. Depending on climate, soil conditions, agricultural practices and the crops grown, it generally requires between 1,000 and 40,000 square meters (0.25 to 10 acres) per person.”

    Your balcony is not going to produce anywhere close to enough calories to sustain your family. Besides, we already have another nearly full time job being hunter-gatherers and standing in lines to find medicines, spare parts, etc…

    The bottom line is that the whole idea is absurd. We cannot be subsistence-level farmers AND maintain a modern industrial level culture.

  5. Growing plants needs watering ,constant watering , in Venezuela water is rationed, sometimes water supply is so scarce that its not enough to cover personal sanitation , water rationing is getting worse as the drough deepens , if everyone starts growing plants then there will be even less water for basic life needs …… the regime nuts in promoting home grown food……arent they the ones telling us to save on the use of water !! Surrealism is the right word to describe this fanciful government measure……!!

  6. As an avid urban gardener for many years, I realized long ago that I could buy the veggies cheaper than what I spend on my spring and fall garden endeavors. Economies of scale come into play.

  7. Sunlight, that’s the secret. My family has a huerto too, but we live in an aparment and the amount of sunlight is very limited, even for peppers to grow. If you live in a house the result is different but even so you can’t grow enough food for your own consumption. Even Google X is killing its project of Vertical Farming.

  8. I fully agree with Ms Abadi’s view here.

    At the same time, let me mention a couple of related topics that are seldom discussed in the Venezuelasphere:

    1) most very fertile lands that are not extremely steep and are located between 400 and 1400 metres above sea level in the coastal range have been lost to unplanned urban growth – very unlike what has happened in densely populated Western Europe for comparable land. We cannot replace that land with what we have in the Llanos.

    2) people with gardens – and enough sun – few in Caracas proper but more elsewhere- could grow at least a bit of their consumption. I see more middle class people growing stuff in wealthy Flanders or Germany than what I saw in Venezuela now or 30 years back. But this had to do more with appreciation of growing local and growing something healthy. The most important thing: there is a lot of awareness about how important it is to try to depends more on local – regional – production.
    In many parts of Europe you can actually choose in your local market to buy milk or tomatoes or carrots guaranteed to have been produced within a certain range of your city.
    It is not possible to guarantee this with many things, but there is a general awareness.

  9. Once my dad showed up with a bunch of really small tomatos. He had been growing them in his office for months. They were all gone in one meal

  10. I once had plastic pots on my balcony in Venezuela, where I was growing tomatoes, red and green pepper, and hot peppers. I took meticulous care watering and fertilizing. One day, just short of harvest, I returned from my day job and I found all had been decimated by birds. Later on I found a couple of my decorative plants completely deleafed by cutter ants in less than 1 hour. I never bothered again. The governments recycled plan, previously suggested Chabez, is just another absurdity on the road to disaster. And el pueblo will be blamed for not doing as told.

  11. One thing we’re all missing is the claim in the flyer that states that in you can grow” 7 or 8 Peppers” from a single plant that yields 8 Kilograms of Peppers.

    Those are some monster peppers if the each weigh a kilo!

    • That’s right, who are those targeted to? Young chavistas who has never been to a farm or a supermarket? If that’s the audience i would underline the lie of how many pepperd and not say a word about the long ass time it would take to grow them.

      Come on chavistas, after all these years you should know better…

  12. Also, don’t forget about the little “imma against transgenics ’cause is hip” thing, where people claim that “organic, fertilizer-free grown food” is healthier, claims done on baseless bullshit, sure, it’s the same troll logic chavizmo used to destroy Agroisleña, they claimed that “fertilizers and pesticides are useless inventions of capitalism to steal money from poor farmers”

    It’s like a comedian once said “Hey, we are against Monsanto and their giant greens, because, let’s NOT do anything against the world hunger, okay?”

    Also, pretty stone-face the flyer, it tells you to care of the plant during two months before you see anything edible from it (But it was actually SIX months in the article’s example)

    So, now, what the flying f**c are you gonna eat during that time?

  13. Modern agriculture is based on economies of scale. A farmer growing grain or vegetable on 1000 acres will produce a product whose unit value is several orders of magnitude less than the unit price that it would cost me to grow the same product in my living room-porch-backyard-conuco. Same thing for any other product.
    That is because by buying the components at a large scale to unit cost of fertilizer, labor, seed, insecticide etc. is less per unit cost than in smaller quantities.
    I would be curious how much the unit cost of each cherry tomato and pepper above cost?
    Pots, potting-soil fertilizer, your time, etc.

  14. Yea, more bullshit from the government, film at 11.

    My parents do supplement their pension with food they grow themselves. The main differences (apart from they doing it in Spain) is that:

    – Their plot is actually a plot. In fact, like 2 or 3 plots. I mean, they actually have land, not just a balcony with 2 pots.
    – They can work at it, as they dont have anything else to do. Not much, they are very old right now, but when it comes to handling the rows of beans, lettuce, etc they have (again, not a pot or two) they can do it without it interfering with their jobs.

    And after all that they do produce quite a bit and even sell a bit… and still buy food in the supermarket, of course, but push come to shove they could “survive” with what they farm.

    On a farm. Not on some apartment.

  15. […] See? When the economy, or — who are we kidding — oil prices are doing well, then the government expropriates countless acres of land, Agroisleña (the big agro-inputs company), and every sort of agri-food enterprises, while at the same time importing a whole lot of food. Then, when prices tank, the supply side goes into a tailspin, local production starts dropping by the hour –including all of the expropriated lands and factories- and there are not enough dollars to fill the gap with imports, the government tells us we have to grow our own produce at home. […]


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