November 27, 2013

Farming in Cuba

Wandering through the country and jumping fences
After having spent the past six months around farms in Vermont, Meghan and I were really interested to see what the farming was like in Cuba.  We spent most of our trip looking for farms and talking about what we saw. Meghan’s Spanish allowed us to navigate the sometimes complicated paths to the outskirts of town and to chat with farmers.

Farming was in action all over the country; from the Organiponicos in Havana, to the Finca la Chiquitica in rural Vinales, and alongway oxen plowing fields, tobacco farms, greenhouses, and wild vegetables growing in the streets. But this was a vacation after all and so despite seeing lots I haven’t done the research to really understand and explain what’s going on in Cuba. I thought it would be fun to share some observations.  

Trekking through the backroads of Vinales
Some of the surprising and eye-opening included:
-Even in another country and climate the organic vegetable farms look the same and even in Spanish the farmers we met spoke the same language as us.

Cuban Urban Farming: Vivero Alamar Organiponico (Havana)

I had heard about Havana’s urban farms in the Power of Community.  The film left me with the impression that after the 1990’s Special Period, Havana was covered in gardens. Well, it’s not quite what we saw but the Organiponicos that we found were really big and really cool!

Finding Havana’s Organoponicos was a good little adventure. When we asked our intelligent Casa hosts about Organiponicos in Havana they looked puzzled and told us that there weren’t any urban farms in Havana. With enough prying we heard of one Boyeros. Although this area was off our small map we set out anyway. Meghan expertly hunted down the correct city bus and we squeezed on with standing room only. It must have perplexed the other bus passengers but they were still eager to help us find our stop. One young man with excellent English eventually chimed in and assured us that they would tell us where to get off. He learned his English, he said “from videogames”. And when I asked him what he did for a living his eyes lowered and he said he didn’t have a job.   

Traveling in Cuba

Havana's decaying downtown

Street scene in Trinidad
Tabacco plantations in Vinales
Cuba's mountainous countryside

Meghan and I just got back from two weeks in Cuba. Like so many Canadians we flew into Varadaro but didn't dally there. We spent time in Havana, Vinales, and Trinidad, with a brief stopover in Santa Clara. It was an eye opening and fascinating place to visit. And also a perplexing place. We came away with so many questions about how the country functions.

I still don't know where I sit in regards to my views on Cuba. Before visiting I probably had a rosy image of the country. There are after all many lovers of Cuba; Canadians embrace it’s beaches, rum, and cigars. Permaculturalists and Peak Oil observers upheld Cuba as a leader and living example of a sustainable low-carbon future. And yet human rights violations are systematic. To complicate matters there is a humourous cultural mash-up of the gunslinging-freedom fighting Che Geuvara with bikinis and rum All-Inclusive Resorts. Confusing? Yes.

It would be impossible and useless for me to provide any real analysis of what’s happening in Cuba. I haven’t done my homework and I know that such a complicated country can’t be summed up after a two week vacation. But I can express some of what we did see firsthand – surprising, beautiful, and humourous.