In January 2020 I was part of a group tour of Cuban farming organized by the Organic Growers School. In 9 days we visited 9 farms, had several speakers address aspects of life (and particularly farming and environmental issues) in Cuba, had a couple of walking tours, ate many delicious farm-to-table type dinners and still had time for a salsa lesson.
When I got home I planned to follow up with a public slideshow, but instead we got the Covid pandemic. I made a series of blogposts, which you can revisit:
“This 9-day tour of Cuba’s sustainable farms, community gardens, and historical centers provides a rare opportunity to learn about the Cuban food system and learn about alternatives to corporatized agriculture. Participants will have the chance to:
Learn from farmers and food activists about Cuba’s transition to agroecological farming practices and its national policies that prioritize sustainable farming and hunger remediation.
Connect with farmers, consumers, activists, NGOs, policymakers, and experts working to transform the global food system.
Acquire the knowledge and strategies to create just, sustainable, local, and healthy food systems in your own communities.”
Check out the linked presentation for a summary of the January 2022 tour and for a sneak peek of the types of activities involved in the tour. OGS successfully operated a tour group in January 2022. No-one got Covid. OGS brought the first educational trip from the United States to Cuba since the beginning of COVID
On the website you can get your most likely questions answered: legal, financial and health requirements, sample itinerary, reasons to visit Cuba, reasons to go with OGS, reasons to value agroecology, and a one-hour Info session video. The trip includes bus transportation within Cuba, a minimum of 2 meals each day, 9 nights in casas particulares accommodation, a very good ag-knowledgeable tour guide and tour manager, and entry fees to various sight-seeing exhibitions.
This was day 7 of my Agroecology Tour of Cuba with the Organic Growers School (Monday January 13, 2020)
Dinner at the Garden of Miracles (Jardin de los Milagros Paladar) farm-to-table restaurant, with guest speaker, Rafael Betancourt
Overview of the Cuban Economy, Cooperatives and Politics
We rearranged the tables in a square, to better hear the speaker, Rafael Betancourt, talking about the Cuban economy, cooperatives and politics. First I’ll write about the talk, then about the restaurant.
The Cuban economy has changed from the export of plantation products (using enslaved people) to tertiary tourism, remittances from ex-pats in the US and training (medical and other). Sand and Sun tourism is waning, Agritourism could be increased. Farmers can earn more money by catering for tourists than from selling crops. “Cuba doesn’t export any food except apples.”
Rafael Betancourt believes it is geographically inevitable that the US and Cuba will come together. Right now we’re at a juncture. Obama’s executive orders were been rolled back by Trump. Cubans prefer the word “blockade” to “embargo” (which implies bilateral actions.) The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 included that US dollars cannot be banked in Cuba. It’s costly for them to keep moving suitcases of US dollars around.
The US and Cuban economies are entangled but limited. Food imports from the US are allowed but have to be paid in cash as soon as the product arrives. [This is different from what we were told about US chicken not leaving the US until it had been paid for in Euros and cleared the European Bank.]. Exports to the US are almost always prevented, except that tourists export rum, cigars, honey, etc.
“In this history of Cuba, Louis A. Pérez proposes a new Cuban counterpoint: rice, a staple central to the island’s cuisine, and sugar, which dominated an export economy 150 years in the making. In the dynamic between the two, dependency on food imports—a signal feature of the Cuban economy—was set in place.”
U.S. rice producers resisted Cuban efforts to expand rice production, because they relied on the Cuban market for rice. Cuban sugar growers relied on the U.S. market. U.S. growers prepared to cut the sugar quota to control Cuban rice markets. In the 1950s, when revolutionary tensions in Cuba were strengthening, U.S. rice producers and their allies in Congress clashed with Cuban producers supported by the Batista government. U.S. interests won out, contributing to undermining Batista’s ability to govern. Cuba’s inability to be self-sufficient in rice production continues to this day, but U.S. rice growers have lost the Cuban market. In the face of the U.S. embargo, Cuba buys low quality rice from Vietnam, that does not sell well in Vietnam. They are learning Vietnamese water-conserving rice-growing methods.
Cuba does not need to import eggs, but they do import chicken feed.
Food waste from restaurants may be taken home by the workers, or sent to schools and hospitals, or become pig food. There is no State strategy.
Portion size: there is a scarcity mentality in Cuba, leading to a frugal use of resources.
Cubans going overseas bring back empty Tropicana juice jugs in their luggage.
Recycling varies from place to place. The State purchases cans, metal, plastic and paper. They sell the products back to the manufacturing company.
Climate change and resiliency: In the US, food waste accounts for more than 20% of greenhouse gases. Cuba has a strategy for reducing greenhouse gases. Cuba didn’t make many of the greenhouse gases, but will be strongly impacted by climate change. The coastal resorts are vulnerable to sea level rise, and suffer badly from hurricanes. They have a big Reforestation Project, adding more trees every year. Cuba is committed to 20% renewable energy sourcesby 2020. Cuba became the first country in the world to completely phase out incandescent light bulbs.
The top five Cuban products Rafael Betancourt would like to see exported to the US: Cancer vaccine, other pharmaceuticals, high technology software, beer, services. Currently the label “Remittance” covers business transactions.
Academic Exchanges: A US institution would need to partner with a Cuban academic institution. Cuba could help with rice post-harvest equipment and know-how; Milk production (they have a very cheap method of producing 1 liter/day); Cattle feed; Biofuels using sugar bagasse; They could use help with setting up a certifying board and certifying and exporting organic food; They would like to provide their own organic seeds (many Cuban vegetable seeds are imported, but row crop seeds are grown there).
The story of the CUC: The US embargo was designed to push Cuba towards the USSR. Most imports came from the USSR. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba experienced an 80% reduction in imports and exports. Remittances from Cubans overseas helped island survival. Tourism grew, and hard currency started coming in, but the banks didn’t touch it. Cubans became allowed to possess hard currency, and a chain of stores opened, selling goods in US$.
The CUC was invented in 1994 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to substitute for US$, which people were then not allowed to spend. People converted their dollars into CUCs. Domestic tourism increased, and the CUC stimulated imports and suppressed exports. The exchange rate was about 24 Cuban pesos to 1 CUC. The State promises to honor the value of the peso. The CUC was phased out on January 1, 2021, after that plan being a kind of a secret. The duty-free shop at Havana airport sells goods for US$ or pesos, but not CUCs. We were warned not to take CUCs out of the country, hoping to use them in the future. (US banks and currency exchange bureau don’t deal with Cuban money at all.) The Peso is now officially set at 24 Cuban pesos to 1 US dollar
Garden of Miracles (Jardin de los Milagros Paladar) farm-to-table restaurant
We visited the restaurant roof garden, which supplies the restaurant. There were table-top beds of greens, and beehives. We saw it in the dark, so my photos and impressions are murky! I believe they must buy a lot of their ingredients from elsewhere.
This was Day 7 of my January 2020 Agroecology trip with Organic Growers School. This day we studied ecology, climate change, the effects of extractive agriculture, deforestation, reforestation and responses including Bioreserves and urban permaculture gardens.
To read other posts in this series, click the Cuban Agriculture category. Click this link to see a short video about the OGS Cuba Agroecology Tour. It goes live on April 14.
FANJ (Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity) Havana
After breakfast at our casa, we rode our tour bus to FANJ (Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity), a non-governmental cultural and scientific institution, dedicated to the research and promotion of environmental protection in relation to culture and society. We were given a tour of the museum and library. Roberto Pérez Rivero, the PNS-FANJ Director, gave us a talk “Cuban Environment, the challenge of climate change and development: an environmental education approach.” It covered science, urban agriculture and food security in Cuba.
We sat in the library around the glass topped tables of artifacts. National treasures and plastic lawn chairs!
There are 11 million Cubans, the population is not growing. The island of Cuba is only 30 miles wide at the thinnest point, and so the country is heavily influenced by the ocean. There are three or four ecosystems: sand beaches, mangrove swamps, bush (shrubs) and trees, seagrasses [maybe seaweeds?].
Biologically speaking, Roberto Pérez Rivero says the Caribbean is a province of the Amazonian Rainforest. A big project associated with FANJ was a journey in a large hollowed tree canoe, from the Amazon to Cuba. I didn’t understand everything. We saw the canoe and some photos and various artifacts from that trip.
In the eighteenth century, ship-building was important in Cuba. There was a “Forbidden Forest” reserved for shipbuilding. In 1769, the Santisima Trinidad was built in Havana, and was possibly the largest warship in the world at that time. It fought on the Spanish and French side against Britain in the US War of Independence.
No gold was found in Cuba, so the colonizers made plantations of several crops. Two species of tobacco, Rustica and Virginia were hybridized. Haiti had been the main coffee producer in the region, up to that point. Sugar cane came later on, from New Guinea, in the time of Columbus.
The Toxic Acids of Cuba: Rum, Tobacco, Coffee and Sugar.
There used to be three enslaved people (they say “slaves”) per white person. The plantation system shaped the environment. 90% of the land had been forests of all kinds. There were edible rats (vegetarian) living in the tree canopy, but no monkeys. By 1816 there was deforestation around the cities, but still 87% coverage overall. In 1909 there was only 54% tree cover left; in 1959 it was down to only 14%. The Cuban people (not the IMF!) worked on reforestation. In 2018 there was 32% tree cover (going up!)
There are 26 types of forest in Cuba, a “miniature continent”, including 4 areas of pines. This is the southern limit (20°N) for pines, which don’t grow in tropical areas [such as Jamaica, as I’d noticed on my trip there.] There are 40 million arable acres. Article 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, 1996 revision, lists environmental problems:
Land degradation (heavy Soviet tractors, mono cropping).
Bauxite versus forest.
Contamination (pollution). During the Special Period businesses collapsed and pollution decreased; waste was converted into resources.
Loss of biodiversity, although this was less bad in Cuba than in other Caribbean countries; there are 240 protected areas.
Lack of water: in the dry season, water is needed for agriculture; more CO2 means more humidity (more water is trapped in the air).
Impacts of climate change; amphibians are being strongly affected. It’s better to protect ecosystems than individual species.
Bioreserves of the Biosphere: There are six Natural Areas designated as Reserves. Fishing is illegal if from a Styrofoam raft. [? I cannot explain this part of my notes!] Another speaker told us there is no fishing industry in Cuba – fish is imported.
Cuba reduces the threat of climate change by making preparations. They have 72 hours to prepare before each hurricane, thanks to Russian radar. The mangroves act as a “Live Task Force”and block storm surges.
“Dinosaurs did not go extinct, they evolved into birds” Birds can fly away. Roberto Pérez Rivero is an Informed Optimist. The Apocalyptic Vision doesn’t serve us.
2000: The Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation and Urban Agriculture Urban Agriculture Notes, Published by City Farmer, Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture
2006: The World Wildlife Fund, In its 2006 Sustainability Index Report, using a combination of the United Nations Human Development Index (a measure of how well a nation is meeting its nutrition, water, health care, and education needs, etc.) and the Ecological Footprint (natural resource use per capita), determined that there is only one nation in the world that is currently living sustainably — and that nation is Cuba. The Report states, “No [other] region, nor the world as a whole, met both criteria for sustainable development.”
2007: View the 53 minute Cuban Permaculture documentary, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil...Cubans share how they transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens after they lost global support in the early 1990’s. Roberto Pérez, a well-known exponent of this Cuban approach to ecology, can be seen in this documentary.
2008:Click HERE for a three-part talk by Cuban permaculturist Roberto Pérez that delves deeper into Cuba’s green revolution, and a half-hour video Peak Moment: Learning from Cuba’s Response to Peak Oil
Lunch on our own: I don’t remember what or where I ate. Or what I did in the afternoon. I probably ate my leftover pizza at the casa. I might have done some emailing. I’m surprised I didn’t write anything down. It’s hard to imagine I frittered away a whole afternoon of this special time! But I do remember dinner at the Garden of Miracles (Jardin de los Milagros Paladar) farm-to-table restaurant, with a guest speaker, Rafael Betancourt. I’ll tell you about that and their rooftop garden, another time.
Cuban Agriculture, Tour of a restored historic early 19th century French coffee plantation (Cafetal) Buenavista, worked by 100 enslaved Africans, Las Terrazas Ecovillage, Artemisa.
This is an episode in the tales of my Agroecology Tour of Cubain January 2020 with the Organic Growers School. Click the category Cuban Agriculture to see more posts in the series. In particular, refer to my most recent post on Las Terrazas. The Cafetal Buenavista is on the land of that ecovillage and bioreserve.
Buenavista is Cuba’s oldest coffee plantation, built in 1801 by French refugees from Haiti. The attic of the master’s house (which is now a restaurant) was used to store the beans until they could be carried down to the port of Mariel by mule.
The coffee beans were sun-dried on huge drying beds during the day (top photo), then piled up every night in the center of the drying bed, and covered. If it rained, the beans were bagged up and stored in small low sheds, shown above.
The huge tajona (grindstone) that cracked the coffee beans is well restored and does move!
Ruins of the quarters of some of the enslaved people held there can be seen alongside the drying beds. They were chained up at night in tiny 8-12 person stone cells built onto the walls of the coffee drying beds.
We had a talk about slavery with our Cuban tour guide Josetti. A study of the DNA of 2000 Cubans showed widespread genes from indigenous people, Africans, Chinese, Spanish and other Europeans. It’s impossible to tell ancestry from skin color. General guide: “Our mothers were Africans, our fathers European.” There is still individual racism, but it is not institutionalized as it is in the US, Josetti thinks. Slavery was abolished in Cuba in 1865, earlier than in Brazil, for example.
The view from the top of the plantation is breathtaking!
I got a tick bite (was it one of the sterile ones Cuba has introduced to defeat tick-borne diseases? I didn’t get sick, so I don’t know that it wasn’t)
We got back on the bus to return to Havana for our last 3 days. Everyone wanted to stay in beautiful Viñales. We have a farm work project on Monday and a free day Wednesday (we might go to the beach). We returned to Havana, registered at our casas. I went with four others of the group to a small corner café, and spent 3 CUC on pizza and 2 CUC on a beer. The pizza was so big I still had leftovers to take home after I gave one piece away.1 CUC=$1 US.
This is the continuing journal of my Agroecology Tour of Cuba with Organic Growers School in January 2020. For other posts in the series, click the category “Cuban Agriculture” Our visit to Las Terrazas was on day 6 of our trip.
Las Terrazas is located in Pinar del Rio, in the Sierra del Rosario mountain range, Artemisa, Cuba.
We sat in their outdoor classroom for a presentation before the tour.
Las Terrazas, an Ecovillage and Intentional Community, covers 5000 hectares in the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve. They started with 100 people living there in 1971, and now there are 1400 people (about 273 families), a vegetarian restaurant, a hotel, a hospital, a university, schools and jobs for everyone there. Membership is “frozen” and very few people leave. The housing is government-owned and can be passed down in the family but not sold.
The life expectancy of the residents is 79 years and infant mortality has been zero for at least ten years. Las Terrazas has a young population, with an economically active population of 629 people, of whom 62% work in tourism, 30% in community services and 8% in forestry.
The land was once coffee plantations and charcoal production sites worked by enslaved people. The soil was not right for coffee, and reforestation was started in 1968. There are now 6 million hardwood trees of 22 species, including native ones as well as mahogany, tea, eucalyptus.
There is an additional 25,000-hectare park (Biosphere Reserve and Eco Station).
1793-1804 saw the immigration of French landowners who started coffee plantations in the area of Artemisa. They left archeological treasures, including 6 coffee plantations which have been “rescued”. (We visit the restored one next. It will be my next Cuban Agriculture post.) Up until 1968, the land was eroded. The slopes were treeless because they had been logged for export, for charcoal production and for ship-building. In 1968 a special comprehensive plan was made and reforestation started all across Cuba. In the Biosphere Park 1500 km of terraces were built to prevent erosion, enable transportation through the mountains, and grow a good forest. The reforestation project took 20 years.
In 1985 the 250,000 km2 site (Sierra del Rosario) became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (Reserva del Biosfera). It is a protected area of managed resources. It has three parts: El Salón for research and public use; a natural reserve with shrubs; and an evergreen pine forest. It receives 2000 mm (79”) of rain each year. It is driest in December, wettest in May and June, with an average temperature of 24.4C (75F). A drainage system was installed. There are 889 plant species, 608 land species [flowering species?] and 281 fungi, mosses and lichens, and 126 bird species, currently. The ecology of bird species is evolving, as shown by official counts. They measure water and soil pollution. Invasive trees (locust) are converted to charcoal for export to the US, by private businesses. They are working to control invasive aliens, such as The Giant African Snail. The government employs people to eliminate the snail and volunteers help, there are Public Service Announcements on TV (their TV has no ads).
In 1990, tourists were introduced, and are now a major source of income.
Lunch in Las Terrazas at the vegetarian Restaurant El Romero and visit to artist, Ariel.
Our lunch included lots of vegetables, with delicious good sized portions. It was nice not to have big piles of meat. There were quilts on display in the restaurant, including the one above, showing leaves of various tree species.
Later we visited the workshop of an artist in recycled paper, Ariel. I bought 5 small cards and 1 big one. They have beautiful paintings of flowers and birds.
Visit to Pelegrin Courtyard (Patio Pelegrin) artist family Community Agricultural Project (organoponico) in Pinar del Rio, close to Viñales, Cuba
Day 6 –Sunday January 12 (journey back to Havana)
This is the continuing story of my Agroecology Tour of Cuba with Organic Growers School in January 2020. Search the Cuban Agriculture Category for more posts about other farms we visited.
Our air-conditioned bus left at 8.30 am to visit Pelegrin Courtyard (Patio Pelegrin) artist family Community Agricultural Project (organoponico).
We were greeted by a group of children singing and performing a short sketch. Then we were given a tour, including a caged crocodile, guinea pigs (food?) a catfish pond (catfish are invasive aliens, which Cubans are trying to eliminate by eating them. [I wonder why they don’t feed them to tourists?]
We saw their vegetables in beds edged with roof tiles. We saw field crops including sweet potatoes and coffee.
Again I saw cilantro and creole spinach. I’m still seeking other names for creole spinach.
Creole Spinach is different from Egyptian spinach (Corchorus olitorius), Lalo, Molokheya, Saluyot, Ewedu, West African Sorrel, Krin Krin, Etinyung, Jute leaves. Also see more about Jute Leaves at this link. Note pointed leaves.
Nor water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica), Kangkong). Watch out, that can be invasive.
Maybe Suriname spinach (Talinum fruticosum, (Talinum triangulare) Talinum Spinach, Philippine spinach, Waterleaf, Ceylon spinach, Surinam purslane, Florida spinach)? Florida is geographically very close to Cuba. Similar pink flowers.
Learning about these hot weather greens may be useful as our summers get hotter.
I have a bit more information about the Cuban oregano,Plectranthus amboinicus, I saw at several farms, including AlamarUrban Organic Farm . Cuban oregano is a member of the mint or deadnettle family. It has characteristic thick, fuzzy leaves with a strong pleasant odor. The flavor of Cuban oregano is said to be much stronger than Greek oregano.
I also saw meprobromato, a herb drunk as a tea or cold drink to treat anxiety. Meprobromatewas manufactured and marketed in the US as Miltown and Equanil. They were best-selling sedatives/minor tranquilizers for a time, until replaced by benzodiazepines. Nowadays, meprobromate is known to be addictive at doses not much higher than the medication dosages.
We saw many outdoor mosaics, including walkways, steps and pieces embedded in the walls.
Inside the galleries we saw pottery, dolls and paintings. I bought a painting of an old man for $25.
There was a big porch with a mural and greetings from groups who had visited from all over the world.
They have received international support for some of their farming (irrigation) and their farm buildings.
Cuban Agroecology Tour: Finca Agroecológica El Paraiso, Viñales
Here’s another post from my January 2020 group agroecology trip with Organic Growers’ School to Cuba. I’m posting about this sporadically as I organize my photos and journal.
Day 5 – Saturday January 11 lunch and afternoon
After visiting La Palma, a farm in Pinar del Rio province primarily growing tobacco, and Manolo Tobacco Farm to see cigars made, we went to a farm restaurant called La Finca Agroecologica el Paraiso. Wilfredo is the main farmer and his daughters are the main chefs.
The farm has 8.9 hectares, with 200 vegetable beds and 80% of the produce is sold through their restaurant, and 20% to hospitals etc (I think that is a legal requirement in Cuba). The restaurant is at the top of the hill, affording beautiful views of the farm.
We had an exceptionally delicious lunch starting with an anti-stress herbal cocktail. Following that we had squash soup, sweet potatoes, taro, squash, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, pickled beans, pickled cucumbers, pork, beef, fish, rice and beans. The most vegetables I ate all week! (Food for tourists tend to be meat focused, although the places we visited could cater for vegetarians and vegans.) We enjoyed flan for dessert.
After lunch we were given a guided tour of Finca Agroecológica El Paraiso. The boxed beds were very tidy, and they are all hand watered with water pumped from the river.
Creole spinach – see photo above. I do not know the Latin name for this vegetable, and in my research of hot weather cooking greens, particularly alternatives to spinach, I had not come across this crop before. Leave a comment if you know what it is.
Their “summer lettuce” is Tokyo bekana or maruba santoh. This use of the fast-growing chartreuse tender-leaved Asian green for a salad leaf was one I saw several times in Cuba. I thought I’d invented it! Haha! One summer when our lettuce did not grow according to plan, we served some Tokyo bekana as lettuce, and many people did not notice a difference! (Enough salad dressing will mask any vegetable flavor!) Some farms and restaurants simply call it “lettuce” or “summer lettuce”, some say it is a kind of pak choy, and a few can provide the actual name.
The farm grows aromatic herbs to deter bugs. They use tobacco stem solution to kill pests. Nicotine is a strong generalist poison, which used to be part of the toolkit of organic growers here in the US and in the UK. It has the advantage of being short-lived, so produce can be eaten the day after spraying.
See this video from Franny’s Farmacy. Made by two of my fellow travelers on the OGS Tour.
Day 5 – Saturday January 11 (Viñales) late afternoon
After lunch at Finca Paraiso restaurant and a tour of their beautiful farm, we visited
Finca L’Armonia (Ecological Permaculture Farm)
Our 27-year-old host farmer Yoani arrived on horseback. He is farming 1 hectare (2.2 acres) of his family of origin’s 13 hectares. It is a lovely farm. The farmer had twice been to France for permaculture training. His mother, sister, and grandfather farm the other 12 hectares as a coop that sells to the government (we saw part of this in a fenced area of shaded annual crops). He does permaculture on his portion.
He grows two varieties of coffee (trees his grandfather planted) and had coffee for sale in plastic water bottles. Because tourists are urged to drink only bottled water, empty water bottles are a convenient container for any kinds of seeds, as we saw at the bean seed conservation center, Finca Hoyo Bonito (see March 17 2020 post). He also grows passionfruit, avocado, pineapples, mangoes, and other fruit trees including Cuban pears.
He maintains worm bins and a composting toilet (top quality!) – the first composting toilet we saw on our tour. I am surprised there are not more composting toilets in the rural areas. Some tourist spots have horrible restrooms!
My room-mate Julia and I had dinner at our casa, cooked by our hosts. We had soup, salad, rice, red snapper fish, ice cream with honey. All delicious.
In the evening I did some shopping at a souvenir street market in Viñales.
Here is a video about this farm, from Franny’s Farmacy. Made by two of my fellow travelers on the OGS Tour.
To read more about the Organic Growers School organized trips and Cuban agriculture, see this article written by our fantastic tour guide Yoseti Herrera Guitián, who started working as a tour guide in 2013 with Amistur Cuba, a specialized tourism travel agency that is part of ICAP (Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples). She has worked with diverse groups focused on topics such as health, education, culture and mostly agriculture. Open as a new page here: https://organicgrowersschool.org/cuba-through-the-seasons
Cuban AgroEcology Tour: La Palma farm, Pinar del Rio Province
Here’s another post about the Organic Growers School Agroecolgy Tour I participated in back when we could travel! I feel so fortunate to have made this trip this January. You can read about other parts of this Tour under the Cuban Agriculture category or at these links:
After our initial stay in Havana, we traveled west for three hours to stay a few days in the Viñales Valley in the province of Pinar del Rio.
Day 5 – Saturday January 11, morning
Our day started with an 8 am breakfast at our casa particulare in Viñales. We enjoyed fruit, tea, coffee, juice, cookies, bread, pancakes, cheese sandwiches, and ham. No eggs today.
We took our tour bus to visit the ANAP (National Association of Small Farmers) cooperative agricultural project La Palma. ANAP farmers have less than 67 hectares each. According to Wikipedia, currently ANAP members produce 52% of the vegetables, 67% of the corn, and 85% of the tobacco grown in Cuba.
We met tobacco producers Roberto and Eduardo, who are brothers. Each farm is allowed a certain tobacco quota by the Cuban government. They are growing 40,000 tobacco plants as their quota and another 40,000 using a neighbor’s irrigated land in trade for their use of some dry land. Tobacco needs irrigated land, and their neighbor did not have the other resources to grow a tobacco crop this year. The government agreed to this swap because of the poor state of the national economy.
La Palma also grows vegetables (tomatoes, beans with some interplanted corn plants to protect the beans from pests), and cassava. They use oxen for cultivating the fields. We had some juice, a taste of red mamey fruit (Pouteria sapota), and the chance to buy cigars for $2 each.
Next we paid a visit to a farm with a small cigar manufacturing business, Manolo Tobacco Farm, for a demonstration of cigar-making, and a chance to buy different kinds of cigars. All the cigars are rolled by hand and the men demonstrating the technique are also professional in engaging the audience. After rolling a cigar for us, the demonstrator lit it, showed how to smoke cigars and passed it round.
See this video of cigar making at Manolo Tobacco Farm, made by Franny’s Farmacy, two of the other people on my Organic Growers School Tour:
At this place I was dismayed to find a nasty toilet (not the first of this trip): no seat, no paper, no flush. The toilet tank was not connected to a water supply. The water at the sink was very slow, and even though a bucket was provided, filling it to flush the toilet seemed very challenging. How can a tourist attraction have such terrible toilets? Why are there not more composting toilets?
Cuba, at least in the northwest, suffers from a shortage of water, and ancient mainline plumbing that leaks a lot. When we arrived at the José Martí International Airport in Havana, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that the water supply had been temporarily shut off to the restrooms. Havana has a natural port, but no river drains into it. See Rivers in Cuba map to appreciate the unfortunate geography!
The Albear Aqueduct was constructed in Havana in 1858, in a neoclassical style and still supplies 20% of Havana’s water. A marvel of mid-19th century engineering, the water comes from the de Vento springs by gravity. This fresh water helped the city reduce the terrible cholera epidemics and earned a gold medal at the 1878 Paris Exposition
In early January 2020, I was part of the Organic Growers School Agroecology Tour of Cuba. I have already posted about a couple of the places we visited. Click the category Cuban Agriculture. Here I will tell you about Finca Marta in Artemisa.
After breakfast at the casa particulare where we stayed, we gathered at 9 am to ride our bus to Finca Marta, a wonderful agroecological farm.
Fernandito Funes Monzote provided a talk on agroecology in Cuba and a tour of the farm. Finca Marta is a very tidy, productive, well-organized, sustainable, beautiful farm. The terraced stone-edged vegetable beds grew many kinds of lettuce, kale, mustards, arugula, mizuna. [I wonder why callaloo isn’t grown in Cuba, as it is in Jamaica].
Finca Marta has 720 hives of Italian/Spanish honeybees, which produce 10 tons of honey each year. Because there is no cold weather, bees fly all year, and they are not troubled by Colony Collapse Disorder. Also no Varroa mites, or tracheal mites. Their hives spend several months at the coast, gathering mangrove nectar. They spend several months in the mountains, gathering nectar from a kind of morning glory, then the winter on the home farm. We were encouraged to gear up and look in the hives they were inspecting, and observe the honey house and the van they use [as a mobile workshop?]
Finca Marta has a stone barn for two mares, 4 cows and geese. The livestock are closed in every evening. In the morning, the barn is washed down, and the manure goes out a drain into a temporary holding pond. After stirring the manure, a gate is opened, letting it into a closed tank. The resulting methane is piped into the kitchen as a cooking fuel, and the slurry continues to settling tanks, later becoming fertilizer for the gardens.
They have greenhouses and hoophouses covered with shadecloth or insect netting, not clear plastic. One is for seedlings in 13 x 20 Speedling-type plug flats. Others were growing tomatoes and cucumbers.
Mostly greens are being grown in the outdoor beds (it was winter when we were there). They sell to restaurants. They have some drip irrigation, but also spend 2.5 hours each day hand-watering. They also grow cassava and taro.
We had lunch at the farm, at our own expense. 20 CUC. 1 CUC=$1 US.
The centerpiece was a leg of pork which had been roasting in an earth oven since 8 pm the day before. There were many vegetables grown on the farm, fruit juice, wine and beer. This was a particularly good meal.
After lunch we worked for a short time on a service project. We harvested hibiscus flowers (aka Roselle, Jamaica, Sorrel) from pruned off branches. These get dried and sold for tea (think Red Zinger).
A question by a reader prompted me to look on the web, where I found a slideshow in English. If you can read Spanish, there is more info online.