Travel to Cuba - Organic Farming
Organic Farming in Cuba
By Loly García de León and Yunior Crespo
In 2014 Tripadvisor included Cuba among the first 10 places of major increase as world tourist destination. Moreover, after the announcements made by US President Barack Obama to lift some of the travelling limitations for American citizens to visit the island, Cuba has boomed in 2015 as a cultural and educational destination.
Due to a world trend for good feeding habits and also as part of the concern for the environment, a culture for ecologic agriculture and consumption of organic produce, mainly vegetables and legumes, is growing in Cuba.
An important precedent of organic farming in Cuba has been the coffee plantations located in the mountains of Guantánamo and Baracoa since 1900, where the Altoserra company grows gourmet quality coffee exported mainly to Japan and some European countries.
Among the attractions offered by the major companies especialized in educational and cultural people-to-people trips are the guided visits to the ecological farms “La Yoandra” in Havana and “Paraiso” in Viñales.
A countryside within the city of Havana
Marco Deluca and Yoandra Álvarez form a beautiful family united by love to the soil, to history and culture. In 2000 they applied to the municipal agricultural department for a swampy land to plant fruit trees from all over the country. They embarked in such noble mission in order to perpetuate the exotic and endemic species, many of which are endangered.
They had to work hard to recover the soil, apply topsoil, grow grass, drain the soil and plant the first trees. They received the support of the Tropical Fruitculture Institute and the National Institute of Tropical Agricultural Fundamental Research.
Today the farm has over 120 fruit varieties like Zapote Negro, Rolínea, Carambola, Pomarrosa de Malaca, Caimito, Canistel, among others, as well as vegetable and legume organic gardens, fruit trees nurseries, ornamental plants nurseries and condimental and medical herbs.
This nature supporter and caretaker couple, continues to work every day to improve farming techniques and to develop an ecological and sustainable urban agriculture. Their dream is to show the visitors and the community the advances they have made and to make them aware of the need to care for the environment, making special emphasis on sensitizing children and youngsters with this challenge.
This place that is close to Ernest Hemingway´s house has been acknowledged by the state authorities as Cuarta Corona Excelencia Nacional de la Agricultura Urbana, Agroecological Seal and Provincial Botanical Garden of fruit trees, the only one in the capital of Cuba bearing such category.
The farm, with an area of 7.5 acres approximately, has an organic garden growing vegetales and legumes without chemical fertilizers. They use natural manure including locally-produced worm humus. There is also a nursery of ornamental plants with over 20 species of orchids and a wide variety of tropical flora. As part of the ecological process, La Yoandra also has beehives with Melipona bees (or soil bees) that help in the polinization and flowering of the plants.
Care and preservation of the farm is in the hands of a team of persons headed by Juvenal, Doctor in Agricultural Sciences, retired from his state job and who has found in this place a way to support his family and to share with the visitors his knowledge about agronomy.
In arriving at La Yoandra, Juvenal and Julio guide the visitors to the different areas. Here you may learn about the tropical pests and the types of plants used for their control, the flowering periods of Cuban endemic plants and even about some typical recipes with herbs and seeds.
And as part of the tour, a succulent lunch is served at “El Divino” restaurant in the family house, where you may taste delicious dishes made with locally grown vegetables and legumes.
This beautiful place, just 25 minutes away from the center of Havana, has become a cultural attractions center and community project where this family has created “The Farmer´s House” that welcomes 20 elderly persons every week to provide them with food and recreation free of charge. This is a project which the owners and workers feel very proud of.
A Paradise in Viñales Lands
Viñales Valley is located in Pinar del Río, the westernmost province of Cuba. Declared a Cultural Heritage of Mankind by UNESCO in 1997, the beauty of its mountains in mound forms, agriculture based on tobacco growing, and kind and hospitable people has made of this site a place of extreme interest for travellers from all over the world.
The first time I met Rachel in a restaurant 5 minutes away from the center of Viñales, she sized me up and said, “Come on, bend down and pick up 4 bunches of lettuce for lunch.” Actually, we came to visit this place as part of a guided lunch. And what a lunch! More than 21 different dishes! All were delicious. The vegetables were especially good: sweet tomatoes and juicy eggplants. Later we learned that all were grown in the family house yard, which has now expanded and turned into the Finca Paradiso.
Wilfredo García, the owner of the farm and father of Rachel, is an enthusiast of agriculture. You can always see him with a plant or seeds in hand looking for a better place to plant them. He did not surrender to hurricane Sandy when all the plantations were devastated, but began from scratch with the idea to create an organic garden from which he feeds not only his family but all the visitors who go to his “Paladar.”
The Paradiso farm project is based on respect for the environment and service to the community. About 10% of the production of vegetables and legumes is selflessly donated to day care centers, the municipal hospital and pregnant women health centers.
Along the years, Wilfredo and his collaborators have improved the planting, irrigation and farming techniques. Presently, they receive the support and recognition of international organizations such as UNDP and GREEN PEACE. Likewise, Cuban state institutions have helped them with educational and promotional materials.
Our second visit to the farm was with the purpose of learning more about their techniques, although our stomachs and our minds were fixedly set in those 21 delicious dishes. Adrian and Tony revealed the secrets of flowers, smells and colors that keep away the pests. They took us to the lagoon where they produce fertilizers with food leftovers and we walked through the Viñales Valley admiring one of the most spectacular views of Cuban landscapes.
Then Rachel reappeared to tell me that I seemed stressed. She prepared an anti-stress coctail with different herbs of the region and we all returned to Havana sedated and curious to know the secret recipe of “Rachel Paradiso” cocktail..