Alia Karim

Research and reflections on Cuban agriculture

February 7th: Santa Clara to Sancti Spiritus

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Lost in a sea of kids at the Che monument

We started off the day by visiting the Ernesto Che Guevara monument and tomb. It was a great site—huge sculptures of Che, the rebel army, and one monument of a letter from Che to Fidel. I think the reason why his tomb is in Santa Clara is, in part, because of the events in December 1958 that led to the capture of the city by revolutionaries under the command of Che. Che planned the dismantling of a train with soldiers from Batista’s army, which was key to securing the successful overthrow of the old government.

Monument dedicated to the rebel column that traveled through the Sierra Maestra

Monument dedicated to the rebel column that traveled through the Sierra Maestra

Fernando informed me that people from Argentina and Cuba come to pay their respects—it can be very emotional for them. It was fascinating to learn of Che’s commitment to Cuban people and close relationship to Fidel. There was a great photo of Fidel, Raul and Che in the museum. I was happy to learn that amongst people in revolutionary army was a female too, Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider (Tania). We often overlook the participation of women in the revolutionary movement. Outside, I met a huge group of schoolchildren who had “Che” inscribed on their school uniforms—that is how important this history is to the Cuban people, even today.

Next I saw my first organopónico
—“Patria” in Santa Clara. Organopónicos are intensive gardens, some even consider them to be farms, that used raised beds of soil to grow their vegetation. It was quite the sight to see these lovely gardens and backdrop of apartment buildings—such a nice contrast to urban life.

IMG_1096Organopónico “Patria”
– Created in 1995 and has over 23 plant types
– 6 members
– The lead gardener is 82 years old!
– Patria sells their produce to neighbourhood, including subsidized food to local schools
– Produce: lettuce, spinach, bok choy, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, herbs like rosemary and different kinds of basil
– They also use microjet irrigation and had screen canopy above the garden beds (when rain comes down it breaks down the water droplets so it’ll be easier on the plants, also makes the sunshine easier on the plants so they don’t dry out—a neat innovation!)
– Use intercropping techniques and mixed varieties
– They have a seed bank—mostly consisting of saved seeds in old rum bottles.

Seed banks using rum bottles

Seed banks using rum bottles–I agree with this logic

From there we briefly visited “Cinco Palmas”—an intensive family urban food garden led by an elderly couple (the Martinez’s) who decided to garden this abandoned land. What I loved about this urban garden is that they explained that they do it for their children—they want to make sure their children have food. It really touched me. They explained the ideals of José Martí and I even found books by Marx and Lenin in their foyer—something I’m not used to seeing.

In the afternoon, we visited “Natuarte”—a really cool botanic garden! It’s like a safe haven for artists and animals. The artists here have built almost everything—concrete and plaster walls for all the buildings, statues, animal fences, and paintings. They have many architecture students come and study there. A woman who was taking us through the tour explained that it was ambitious but now it’s blossomed into a great space, not just for artistry but also for sanctuary. Like Cinco Palmas, the land before it was used as a dumping ground, therefore it’s undergone huge changes led by people of the neighbourhood.

“La Vaillita”
– One of the most respected and advanced fruit farms in the country
– Produce: mango, pineapple, guava, macadamia, berries (even strawberries, and wine grapes which is not common for Cuban farms
– I asked how they obtain they seed and I learned that they receive seeds from all over the world
This farm is an educational centre as well, so people from around the world come to learn and also to exchange seed


This is probably the most biodiverse farm I’ve ever seen—they have over 250 varieties! They also experiment with seedlings and grafting. They’re main goals are seedlings and fruit, technology, agroecology, agricultural extension and training. It was truly impressive, especially considering it’s only owned by one family. Their farm also has vermicomposting (worms to break up compost) and beekeeping to help pollination. These ‘extra’ features on their farm express how capable a farm is of increasing biodiversity—they did not rely on expensive, ‘advanced’ technology. What I considered to be advanced was their level of thinking into these additional projects—I’ve really developed a high level of respect and awe for this level of agroecological intelligence.

Author: aliakarim2013

Master of Environmental Studies candidate at Dalhousie University ('14).

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