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.