I have to commence this post on an experience of a lifetime with humble gratitude and appreciation. If it wasn’t for Centennial College and their Global Citizenship and Equity Learning Experience initiatives, I wouldn’t have had the exposure to the local, rich and diverse culture of Cuba. It lead me to become deepened with knowledge, exposure and progress towards my self development.
Destination: Varadero, Cuba
Topic: Permaculture for Food Security
While in Cuba, I learned about the resilience and felt the collective energy of the Cuban people. Due to Cuba’s history, there was a strong sense of an “us against the world” atmosphere resulting from the Embargo placed on them by the United States (which essentially meant if any business had opened, traded or had relations with Cuba, they would not be allowed or welcome to conduct their business in the United States). This part of history also deepened the connection and collective nature of the Cuban people. Cuba had close relations with the Soviet Union a couple of decades ago including importation of food and food supplies. In the early 90’s the ‘special period’ arose in Cuba which was when the Soviet Union fell and so did import and export dependency on them. Cuba no longer had their strong importing partners and had to seek local measures on how they could sustain the country in many ways including food security. The leaders of Cuba moved to agricultural measures including permaculture which appeared to be the most sustainable option to keep people fed. Many co-op and farming initiatives began in the country to enable and encourage people to cultivate and farm Cuban land for free, as long as they provided a portion of their crops to the public for consumption. Cuba has continued to develop and enhance their knowledge, understanding and practice on permaculture while positively impacting the world.
Before this experience, I had very little knowledge on the subject but thanks to our guide, translator and walking encyclopedia-Ron Berezan: founder and creator of theurbanfarmer.ca, we learned an extensive amount about this type of agriculture. Ron stayed with and accompanied us everywhere during our time in Cuba, and was an important part of our experience. Essentially, permaculture follows three ethical principles: Care of the Earth, Care of People and Return of Surplus to Earth and People. Nothing in permaculture goes to waste, even human and animal waste which also get used and recycled back into the Earth to work as an organic compost for plants. Another strong principle of permaculture is crop diversification. It’s important to rotate crops and plant different crops in a certain area. This rotation prevents the soil from being diminished of its vitamins and nutrients by that one specific crop. As Ron would say (regarding plants and people):
“diversity is the spice of life”
On this trip much of our time was spend on a farm in Cuba. We visited a total of three farms but worked at one. The first two farms we visited we were given detailed tours and were privileged enough to learn from knowledgeable and experienced organic farmers who showed us their habits and techniques for organic farming. This was also where I was able to crack open a fresh coconut and drink organic coconut water for the first time. The most delicious, flavourful and healthy meals I’ve consumed in my life were also on these farms. We worked at Jardines Bellamar in Matanzas, Cuba. The operators of the farm were Roberto and Cusa who also became members of our extended family. We were fed lunch everyday on the farm. I am not a fan of eating vegetables but I couldn’t resist filling my plate everyday with the colourful and organic veggies we had served to us! On the farm we were paired up with a local Cuban student from grades 7-9. My partner, Querielys, became very close to my heart in such a short period of time, as all of the Cuban students did. I was mesmerized watching them interact with each other. There were no cliques, barriers or divisions amongst the group of Cuban students. They interacted and embraced each other with such love and openness which they also passed onto us. We were privileged enough to get to tour and visit their school, an experience that will also resonate with me forever.
In my next post, I will focus on the accommodation and living arrangement provided to us in Cuba as well as what I learned about co habituating with my fellow Centennial students… that I had only gotten to meet on a couple of occasions prior to the trip.