By: Sherma Bernard School of Community and Health Studies
Recently I had the privilege of traveling to Cuba to participate in the GCELE 2016 program. This was a trip which allowed my 12 fellow students and 3 staff members to learn first hand about Permaculture and Agriculture in Cuba.
Our travel to Cuba was filled with a mixture of emotions because no one knew what to expect, but our perceptions were changed once we got there. On day 2 we visited 2 farms to learn about agriculture, we were warmly welcome by both farmers. Omar is the owner of the first farm we visited, it’s a small farm that has potential to grow. Omar showed us how to graft two different trees together, he did so with eggplant and another tree. This farm has a lot of fruit trees some of which we sampled.
Our next farmer was Tony he is sincerely interested in agro-ecology. His farm is bigger and he is integrating plants and animals on the farm as a way of learning how agriculture and animals go together. Omar uses pig faeces to create biodegradable gas which he uses for cooking, to me this was unique because I had never seen anything like that before. During the course of our trip and daily work on the farm I realized that Cuban farmers have a surprisingly efficient system of farming. In spite of their limited resources they still found a user friendly method for growing organic foods and creating natural resources from simple things, nothing is wasted and everything, fruit or vegetable, that is planted on the farm where we worked would be reaped an shared amongst members of the community. This is the true meaning of permaculture.
Besides learning about permaculture I learned about others. My perceptions of Cubans were from what I read in books or heard on the news but I saw firsthand how one’s perceptions can be misguided. Every interaction I had with a Cuban, whether on the farms, on the street, or at the casa where we stayed, was very friendly and respectful. Cuba is a socialist country but it’s people are proud, friendly and self-sufficient.
I also saw myself through new lenses. I learned so many interesting things like how to graft two trees and the hard work farmers do to provide organic food for us to consume. I discovered that I can use a machete without hurting myself or someone else and I can walk through tall bushes, help to build a wash stand and cut down small trees and grass in areas so farmers can plant fruits and vegetables. I am so inspired from this trip because it was very insightful and educational, I would definitely love to continue learning about permaculture.
In conclusion, GCELE Cuba 2016 for me was an opportunity of a lifetime, one which I will never forget. I realized how hard it is to be a farmer and farming is very important for communities. I intend to support my local farmers now and in the future. I also made great friends, ate delicious food including fresh fruit that was grown on the farms daily and got to meet an amazing person by the name of Ron Berezan. Ron is an urban farmer who has taken many people to Cuba to learn about permaculture. He was our facilitator, tour guide, interpreter and he was always ready and willing to answer any question or clarify anything about agriculture that wasn’t clear for us. He wore many hats and he did so with pride.
CUBA 2016 WAS PHENOMENAL.