Family Farm Defenders (Kansas Chapter)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Falling in Love with Agroecology: Apprenticeship at Havana, Cuba Organiponic Cooperative

Falling in Love with Agroecology: Apprenticeship at Havana, Cuba Organiponico Cooperative



 Falling in Love with Agroecology: Apprenticeship at Havana, Cuba Organiponic Cooperative

reposted from the University of Michigan SNRE Compostable Times Fall 2008
My summer in Havana Cuba 2008 was a blast, and I learned a lot too.  I apprenticed on an urban and
organic cooperative  in the periphery of Havana city where about 150 people work 11 hectares to
produce a variety of fruits, vegetable, herbs for medicinal, spiritual and culinary
purposes--think mint for tourists' mohitos and rompa saraguey for Santa Ria rituals that
date back 500 years from the Yoruba people of West Africa. The cooperative, Vivero Allamar
Organiponico UBPC (essentially unit of basic production cooperation in Spanish) was also
beginning to grow rice and raise rabbits, chickens and goats for protein, primarily for
the 150 members of the cooperative themselves.

I also attended the 7th Annual Organic Agriculture Conference in Havana which included a
five day tour of numerous urban agriculture sites in several different cities. The conference itself was four days and after the conference, I attended a five day intensive school on intensive urban and organic agriculture given by INIFAT or essentially The Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Cuba.
The tour of intensive urban and organic farms and gardens, meeting everyday citizens and families who had become community and neighborhood farmers to feed themselves when Cuba lost 83% of its trade when the Soviet Union collapsed, was the best part of my trip.  Down to earth, humble, rightfully proud of their accomplishments and passionate  to talk about their work, as their children played between rows of corn, many of these citizen farmers were dedicated to the philosophy of permaculture and agroecology. 

Australian permaculturalists had visited and trained many in Cuba when the crisis first struck.  Now they are gone but many Cubans are dedicated permaculturalists, almost evangelical, as a result!
It is from these farmers and gardeners that I learned the true meaning of agroecology.  Not only was agroecology about growing food in concert with ecology, but it was a way of life. It was about living in concert with ecology: revolving our lives around ecological principles and working with, not against, ecology in order to use it to feed ourselves and  reduce the use of costly synthetic fertilizers and plagicides.
As I listened and visited people, their homes, families, children, pets, and communities, people
who had no choice but to grow their food agroecologically and who were doing it successfully, I was deeply moved and somehow transformed.  What I had only talked about before, a massive transformation to organic or sustainable agriculture, I saw as a reality, a reality that was necessary, that was taking place and that was working.  It was gratifying and reaffirming.
Consequently,  my interest in Cuba’s urban and organic agriculture movement , to  my surprise,  turned  into love and then into  passion which I shared with the most dedicated permaculturalists and agroecologist citizens of Cuba and which I hope to share with others here and around the world.  As well, my passion turned into a vision-- a vision drawing me forward-- of socially just, peaceful and humanity living ecologically, including growing their food agroecologically.

The transformation of Cuba’s food production is not complete; nor is it easy.  (They have a saying in  Cuba, "No es facil." (It isn't easy which Cubans say just about everything but especially about the everyday hardships of life.)) It was and is very difficult, frustrating and heartbreaking.  There has been a constant struggle for resources-- water, metal, seeds-- labor and know how.  Dealing successfully with weather and now global warming is as well a constant challenge and threat. There is constant competition with the lifestyle of over consumption whose glamorization  has failed to reveal its costs.  And vested interests in and outside the country are in a constant battle to undermine that nation's transformation to socialism and bottom-up, inclusive, community centered democracy.

 What amazes and pleases, delights me, is that despite all this, the people of Cuba have succeeded in feeding themselves and in finding or creating a way of life that strives toward beautiful , new ideals of ecology, including agroecology which offer an alternative that might enable us all to simply live.  

For picture, Interviews and more information see:

This is a facebook group I started when I returned to share what I learned with others and to support others in visiting and learning about Cuba's agroecologial work. As well this fb group seeks to support the Cuban people in their work and to end the US led embargo against Cuba. 

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