Agroecology in Cuba, Taking Organic Farming to the Next Level
Written by Jim for the NOFA VT newsletter
My partner Katie and I, along with a vanload of Vermont farmers, had the good fortune of spending Thanksgiving week in Cuba. We attended an international farmer-to-farmer agroecology conference in Guira, a tiny agricultural community about a 45 minute drive from Havana.
We, and about 250 other delegates representing 27 nations, attended the National Association for Small Farmers (acronym ANAP in Spanish) and Campesino-a-Campesino International Agroecology Event. Our farm is a NOFA VT member, which is in turn a member of Campesino-a-Campesino organization. To be called a campesino (peasant farmer) in Cuba is considered a compliment.
Vermont was well represented, accounting for approximately one-third of the U.S. delegation total. The Vermont delegation included three of Vermont’s largest organic vegetable producers, several smaller vegetable producers, and Vern Grubinger, UVM Extension’s Vegetable and Berry specialist. The event was attended by farmers and sustainable agricultural organizations and advocates from around the world. The format of the event included farm visits, classroom presentations and discussions, and international delegate networking.
Agroecology takes organic farming to the next level, blending principles such as permaculture, bionutrient density, and biodynamic farming. Agroecology practices include: botanical pest controls, raised beds, over story-understory growing, intercropping, animal traction power (using draft animals), addressing soil erosion and capturing available nutrients, application of micronutrient teas, making and applying manure-based and vermiculture compost, and repurposing materials from the farm whenever possible. The mission of ANAP and Compasino-a-Campasino is to convey these practices, and skills from farmer to farmer, and the success of this initiative is astounding!
We visited 7-8 farms each day, spending lots of time on the bus getting to and from farms. Each farm we visited included a gathering of the entire farm family and ANAP and local cooperative representatives. After introductions, the farmer presented information such as amount of land in production, crops grown and where they were grown, described the history of obtaining the farm, map of the farm, and delved deeply into the principles and practices of agroecology. Each farmer radiated a deep sense of pride of how they were growing quality, organic food for their local community. Much of the fresh fruits and vegetables produced were destined for nursing homes, daycare centers, schools, and hospitals. We were treated to fresh local fruits and coffee at each farm visit.
Our Cuban hosts liked to let their hair down at the end of the day. After the business part of the day when formalities concluded, our hosts treated the group to lively evening social events. We partook in pig roasts, bottles of light and dark Cuban rum, local beer, and festive Cuban music. We had many impromptu dance parties with local farmers, cooperative members, and international conference attendees all swinging their collective hips on the dance floor. The vitality of the Cuban culture was infectious.
We had a trip of a lifetime to Cuba and are already planning our next one.
I’ve written a longer account of our trip that you can read here. —Jim