Where’s the Food in Cuba?


This 2018 Centennial College group of Permaculture scholars arrived in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba on April 30, 2018. If you were with us during our trip you wouldn’t know that there is a food shortage in Cuba, unless you paid attention. We were accompanied by Ron Berezan (our program leader), who has a well-established network and history in Cuba. As such, our experience in Cuba was conducted in a privileged manner. Also, we as Canadian students have access to a specific Cuba that is different than that of a typical Cuban. We have money, we have the support of a Canadian institution, and the Canadian dollar to support our needs. The purpose of our time in Cuba was to learn the design, techniques and implementation of permaculture in Cuba to facilitate the need to attain a sustainable domestic food system. It’s important to note that Cuba’s introduction and use of permaculture and urban agriculture were adapted through necessity.

The importance of a sustainable domestic food system can be further understood by the fact that Cuba “imports 70 to 80 percent of its domestic food requirements, with most imports slated for social protection programmes…farming technology is obsolete, making for low productivity and high post-harvest losses” (WFP, 2018). <http://www1.wfp.org/countries/cuba&gt;

Our group in Sancti Spiritus had most of our meals at the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation, which was a museum that we used as our central meeting location, lecture and reflection space and for some of the group had there sleeping corridor located at the foundation. We have welcomed guests in Sancti Spiritus and were lucky to always have access to an excess of food. I was told that the possible reason behind this may be because the people of Cuba suffered from limited access to food for many years and wanted to ensure that we had food and felt full. We were well fed and we ate three meals and had snacks in between. Before our arrival I had the expectation that food would probably be limited and that I may lose some weight – since I had just finished my last assignment the day before arriving in Cuba and gained some weight the past two months from the stresses of being a student, I was looking forward to limiting my food intake and losing a couple of lbs. But that wasn’t the case for us. We were well received and well-fed.

So, what was the point of our trip to Cuba? we were eating a lot, therefore, access to food is no longer an issue in Cuba.

Once you step out of our Centennial bubble, you begin to see that food reserves and resources are limited. You enter grocery stores and you begin to realize that they are nothing like our grocery stores in Canada. There not fully stocked and there aren’t aisles of food. A shop in the main square (Parque Serafin Sanchez) for instance has four horizontal freezers, but it’s strange to think of its purpose because every time I was there, it was either empty or had a couple packages of meat inside of them.  The food shelves were also sparsely stocked. You may think maybe this is something common in Latin America. From what I have seen in Latin America it isn’t. I have had the opportunity to travel to other parts of Latin America and I haven’t had this experience until now.

Another indicator of food insecurity that I noticed was from the bread store near the Antonio Nunez Jimenez foundation. Every morning people would be lined up waiting to purchase freshly baked bread. Why would people line up and wait for bread? Is the bread that good? Maybe? I didn’t get the opportunity to try it since there was always a line-up and when there wasn’t, it was because there wasn’t any more bread to sell. So why doesn’t a bread shop make enough bread to fulfill its customer demand? Customers + sales = money. A simple solution is that they should make more bread and make more money.

I was experiencing so many new things in Cuba that I didn’t reflect and connect the things that I was seeing. After I departed from Cuba I had the opportunity to further reflect on my experiences and the things that I saw. During my time in Cuba, I never connected the idea that the bread store’s lack of bread sales was likely the result of the lack of resources in Cuba. The bread store likely did not produce more bread because they didn’t have enough ingredients to make more bread for the day or had to limit the use of ingredients to allow the supply to last longer.

The answers come from the fact that Cuba to this day has limited resources and relies on food imports. Cuba does not have food security. It has not been able to domestically produce all the resources that it needs to be self-reliant on food production. This is why the shift towards urban agriculture and permaculture continues to grow in Cuba. It’s part of the solution to attaining food security in Cuba. The goal in Cuba is to produce a stronger domestic food production chain, locals producing for themselves and selling excess produce into local markets. This also includes the creation of small scale urban farmers who can sell to their local markets. The production of food in cities will meet the local food demands, creating a sustainable cycle of food production and consumption. With Cuba’s long history of food and resource import reliance, this food model will aid in securing the future of Cuban and will protect them from international instabilities.

Published by: Aaron Eugenio

The Business School

A Brief History on Cuba

History of Cuba

Cuba is a nation of resilience. It has fought for its freedom and has spent a 100-years trying to establish food and energy security. Until 1898 Cuba was a Spanish Colony, bringing over 400 years of Spanish occupation. Cuba fought for independence and would only gain a quasi-independence in 1898 from the United States. The Cuban War of independence was succeeded with American intervention. This was in part with the coinciding Spanish-American War, where hostilities would lead to American intervention in the Cuban War of Independence. The following decades until the 1950s would have American backing and support of the Fulgencio Batista regime. In essence, a shift from Spanish colonization to American colonization occurred. During this period Cuba saw significant economic development. However, economic development was only beneficial to the wealthy Cubans and for Americans. The distribution of wealth did not reach the average Cuban. Therefore, deepening the inequality in Cuba. As a result, Americans cheaply purchased Cuban lands and the American holdings on sugar plantations occurred to support American demand for sugar use.

This led to the Cuban revolution of 1953 and 1959, where Fidel and Raul Castro Ruz led a revolution. The Castro brothers successfully overthrew the Batista dictatorship and the Castro’s would eventually nationalize all land and business’. This included nationalizing American business’ and investments in Cuba. In combination with Fidel’s socialist state and Communist leaning attitude – the United States established an embargo isolating Cuban commerce and travel from the United States.

The political and economic isolation of Cuba from the United States created an economic freeze for Cuba. Batista’s economic development was due to an economic reliance from the United States. Therefore, Cuba lost its biggest partner for petroleum, food, and technology. Without these resources, Cubans did not have petroleum to fuel its agriculture machinery, cars, and in essence its economy.

This led to the partnership between Cuba-Soviet Union. Two countries who contributed to the communist ideology. Once again Cuba was able to resume economic development with the support of the Soviet Union. Cuba received petroleum, business, and loans. This continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. This once again brought the Cuban economy in a standstill as its major partner could no longer maintain its established relations.

This ceases of imports from the Soviet Union led to the ‘special period’ in Cuba where Cuba exhibited an economic depression. The collapse of Cuba’s heavily industrialized and import-dependent food system collapsed and an economic crisis ensued in 1989. Cuba’s society was paralyzed from the loss of resources for its transportation, industrial and agricultural systems.

-Aaron Eugenio

An Once in a Life Time Experience

If I could describe my GCELE experience in one word it would be unforgettable. Prior to my departure to Cuba, I had anxiety of about if I would fit in with the group or if I would be able to adapt to a new culture. Even though I had anxiety, I’m extremely grateful that I was apart of this GCELE. I had such an amazing time learning about Cuba’s history, culture and the concept of permaculture. Permaculture is focused on design elements of agriculture ecosystems that support each other and a sustainable human habitat.

During this GCELE, we learned about different design layouts that were used in the permaculture sites. The two designs that I was able to contribute to was the mandala and the spiral.

While I was working on these design elements, I was amazed at how the local Cubans who helped us were extremely fit and hard working. It was nice to see the community support and help one another. This also made me realize how hard some individuals have to work in order to be food secure.

This experience taught me how to be humble, resourceful and insightful.  I am thankful that I was able to be a part of this once in a life time experience. I was able to meet amazing new people and learn how I could apply permaculture elements in my own garden. If you’re thinking about applying to any GCELE, I say go for it! You get the chance to learn something new in another country and the opportunity to experience a different culture.

Elizabeth H.
Social Service Worker Student

Permaculture in Cuba- My GCELE Experience

The night before our flight, I wasn’t sure what to expect on this GCELE. Sure, I knew we’d be working closely with the growing permaculture community in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. So like plants and stuff, right? And as I discovered, yes there were definitely plants and stuff, but also so much more.

Cuba can be described as a closed system due to heavy restrictions on importing/exporting. As a result, resources can be quite limited. These limits on trade are one reason why developing and maintaining food security in Cuba is especially essential. It also means that labour intensive field work is not as convenient as it would be here in Canada (unfortunately you can’t visit your local Home Depot when your shovel breaks).

The words of a Cuban permaculturalist stuck with me; she said that necessity forces people to learn and adapt. The hard times that Cubans have experienced has generated a wealth of creativity and ingenuity; particularly in the areas of food security and sustainability. Having the opportunity to take part in this project was nothing short of incredible. I’d like to share a few of the cool things I saw with you.

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A permaculture site, Sancti Spiritus

i) Banana Circle (upper left corner)

A large hole is dug and banana trees are planted in a circular formation around it. In the hole, compostable materials such as dead leaves and branches are thrown. This allows organic waste to be reincorporated into the permaculture system and at the same time gives added nutrition to the soil. In addition, trees planted like this are more likely to survive storms and hurricanes as opposed to conventionally grown banana trees.

ii) An example of vertical growing

In order to make the most efficient use of space, some crops are grown vertically. Here in this picture you can see this concept applied in the stacking of the tires which contain different vegetation. 

iii) Resourcefulness  

As mentioned earlier, Cuba is a closed system with limited resources. Accordingly, waste is kept to a minimum as new uses are found for items that would otherwise be thrown out. Discarded tires and bottles were used in the physical framework of many of the permaculture sites we visited. In this picture old bottles are used to create borders.

This GCELE has been humbling and insightful. I had the opportunity to observe and experience a very different way of life, one that contrasted with the fast pace of the city most of us are used to. More significantly, it has made Global Citizenship realer to me. There is a strong connection between local and global issues, and by learning from each other regardless of borders, solutions can be developed collaboratively.

GCELE – Cuba Sancti Spiritus

Cuba is a wonderful country filled with music, art, and culture like many other Latin American countries. However, Cuba, due to its trade embargo has made its citizens remarkably resourceful. They have been recycling and reusing materials and resources, and keeping machinery running for decades. Food scarcity is an ongoing problem for Cuba, but the permaculture movement shows promising return on the energy expenditure and labour intensive process that is required to get one of these sites up and running.

The Urban Farmer, a Canadian organization teams up with the Antonio Nunez Foundation, a local Cuban organization, to educate Cubans on how start their own  permaculture farms or gardens. These spaces allow people to supply their families with food, and make a small living by selling some of what they grow. This new way of farming looks at integrating people, animals, the elements, and plants to build a sustainable food source that allows a symbiotic relationship to form amongst all of the participants in this eco system, the way nature intended. Thus reducing or nearly eliminating garbage and waste, and finding new ways to use items such as tires and glass bottles that are difficult to recycle and breakdown into raw materials for other uses.

As members of the GCELE Cuba team, we were able to experience Cuba from a perspective that is very different from one that a typical tourist would be exposed to.  We met a number of local volunteers, who were very knowledgable, and passionate about their work, had pride in their country and wanted to share it with us. They were compassionate, kind and welcoming hosts to all of the student travellers. As a part of the Cuba Gazelle, we were able to see Cuba for the country it is, learn about its history, see the impact of climate change, and politics, and a very different way of life than the ones we lead here in Canada. The streets of Sancti Spiritus had children riding bikes, playing with each other in the city square, and we were able to eat authentic cuban cuisine, and experienced Cuban hospitality with open arms.

The Cuba Gazelle has been running smoothly for many years, and this year was no exception, it was both enjoyable and educational for all of the students. This was largely due to our in-country expert Ron, the volunteers, and our amazing Centennial College faculty, who came together and made this an unforgettable experience.  Ron has a truly inquisitive nature.  Even though he’s been to the country on several occasions and had taken groups just like ours a number of times previous to this trip, he was still a sponge for knowledge and information, as well as a permaculture encyclopedia, and most importantly an invaluable resource to the team.

This GCELE to Cuba’s Sancti Spiritus has empowered us with the education required to make real differences, and made us more conscious about our actions and the impacts they have on our planet and everyone thing else that lives here with us.  We were shown ways we could make small changes here in Canada that would help reduce waste, and better utilize our resources. We can start the healing process to help battle climate change, soil erosion, and decrease dependency on our current food supply systems by making these small changes such as growing some of our own foods, using reusable containers, bringing our own reusable grocery bags, and being responsible consumers.

Goldie Açai

Lost (and Found) in Translation: A (Kinda-Sorta) Spanish Speaker’s Cuban Experience

“this blue blob of rusted ancient metal (well, it’s about 60 years old) clunk-clunk-clunks through centuries of resource and decades of revolution. it’s careening over rocky roads and stumbling through the sunshine, searing like scrambling eggs on summer pavement (well, it’s the middle of spring).

we doze off on top of suitcase armrests – I’m the last to fall asleep because I’m distracted by the wind behind me. I try to stay conscious through this travel through time and time again.

the speedbumps aren’t just for show here; they’re our unwarranted alarms, but we’re never in harm’s way despite this steel juggernaut’s jerking over years of winding and unwinding history interlaced with intersections and precarious infrastructure. we’re Davids within this goliath, but in this edition of the story we’re not here to conquer – we’re collaborating with compassion with newfound companions.”

These were the first words I jotted down to remember this experience as we drove through the Cuban countryside from Varadero to Sancti Spiritus on May 16th, 2017, the day our unforgettable journey began. When I look back, my stream of consciousness seems just as shaky as my writing was, just as the bus ride was: I don’t think I’ll be able to translate perfectly through either words or pictures, but I can always try. After all, these GCELE opportunities encourage us as students and global citizens to work towards dismantling barriers – and we do that through communicating with each other on our trip, with our new Cuban friends, and with you, the person on the other side of the screen reading this and wondering, “what do you even do on a GCELE?”

As someone who spoke Spanish really well in high school, but graduated high school five years ago, I’ll admit that I overestimated how fluent I was. “I speak Spanish at a conversational level” is easy to say in Canada, when you’re introducing yourself at the GCELE pre-departure orientation to your new Canadian friends, some of whom do speak Spanish but most of whom know “hola”, “adiós”, and “despacito”. It’s even easy to live up to that statement at the airport when you’re going through customs or asking your bus drivers their names. But in a country where Spanish is the official language, especially in a city like Sancti Spiritus that isn’t overrun with tourists, the locals don’t sound like the slow, articulated, over-pronounced audios from your classroom. They grew up with this language, of course, and so you feel like a child relearning how to speak – but you’re also translating for others at the same time that you’re trying to keep up. Challenge accepted, but maybe I dove in too quickly?

But nine days in Sancti Spiritus taught me much, much more than some of the words and phrases I’d forgotten. Sure, I felt anxious about not being a perfect translator: one event comes to mind in which I forgot the Spanish word for “box” when some of my friends wanted to take some pizza they’d ordered back to the casa particular where we were staying, and I internally panicked. But what I quickly learned from so many new friends is that it’s okay not to be perfect: it’s better to make the effort to communicate and get to know the people around you than to be completely grammatically correct. Enthusiasm, positivity, and curiosity about new environments go a long, long way.

I became inspired by my fellow Centennial students to stop letting my fear of being perfect get in the way of communicating. When I stopped overthinking about the exact words or grammatically correct phrases to say, I actually felt so much more comfortable speaking with volunteers, families, and permaculture enthusiasts in Sancti Spiritus. Whether it was finding a common love for YouTube makeup tutorials with Lorrettys, listening to entertaining stories about motorcycle mishaps from Sandy, or comparing tattoos with Felix, I found that there was so much that unified us Canadians and Cubans that the language barrier wasn’t an obstacle, but a springboard. And as we all laughed and chattered with excitement in basic English, basic Spanish, and wild hand gestures, I realized that this is what makes new experiences so rewarding: you don’t need to be fluent to build friendships.

That said, I would highly recommend all of you to learn how to say “the toilet’s broken” in the language of the country where you happen to be travelling next because it’s best to be prepared too.


Written by: Amy Yvorchuk

Food Security in Cuba – An Introduction

GCELE: Pathways to Community Food Security in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba

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My name is Gun, but you can call me Chino because that was my nickname during my time on this Global Citizenship and Equity Learning Experience. Along with 14 other students and staff members of Centennial College, I was given the amazing opportunity to travel to the humble city of Sancti Spíritus, tucked away in the heart of the island country of Cuba, to learn about food security and permaculture.

Food security can be defined as having access to affordable, nutritious, and sustainable foods or food resources. Food insecurity, as one could probably imagine, is the opposite of that. When we think of food insecurity, we tend to conjure up images of impoverished children living in war-torn countries and poor, undeveloped nations. On this trip, however, we were taught to re-imagine and reflect on those images not from a political & economic perspective, but through a socio-cultural lens.

Cuba has gone through an incredible amount of social, political, economic, and cultural growth and transformation within the last 30 years. This is the result of an economic crisis, known as the “Special Period”, that began in the late 1980s due to a halt to the import of oil, food, and other goods from the Soviet Union. With their economy already damaged by the trade embargo set by the United States in the 1960s, the effects of this crisis were felt all over the country.

During the Special Period, Cubans all around the country had to ration their food supplies and limit the use of any fossil fuel-dependent machinery due to their lack of oil. Many farmers suffered greatly because they could not use their large tractors or harvesters and could not easily transport the goods that they produced any more. This also meant that urban communities began to see a decrease in accessibility to foods as well. People were becoming hungry and increasingly reliant on the government for support. Cuba was in need of a solution that would provide food security to its citizens during this vulnerable time.

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Luckily, a few teams of Australian volunteers came and shared with the Cubans a new method of sustainable farming that could be easily integrated into the lives of citizens, both urban and rural, and was seen by the Cuban government as a method to combat the increasing amounts of hunger and poverty that were beginning to spread throughout the country. This new agriculture vision was known as “permaculture”.

Permaculture is the combination of 3 words; permanent, agriculture, and culture. It is a system of beliefs that revolves around the development of sustainable agricultural systems that closely resemble natural ecosystems.

Natural ecosystems, like the earth, are considered to be self-sufficient. This means that they require little to no maintenance in order to proliferate on their own. There exists cycle in nature that all organic material can enter to be broken down into the basic building blocks of life; carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. New plants can use the products of that breakdown, combined with the seemingly limitless amount of energy from the sun, to supplement their own growth. This happens on a large scale all over the planet and seems to have worked so far in creating massive, self-sufficient ecosystems (think large rainforests!), so therefore by integrating these biochemical laws of nature in their own farms, permaculture farmers have been able to produce a large quantity of healthy and sustainable vegetation.

A lot of the food that we eat comes from monoculture farms; farms that only produce a specific crop (e.g. orange farms). Monoculture farming definitely has its benefits, but it is not a sustainable method of farming. They reduce biodiversity, make it harder to recycle nutrients, and often rely heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Permaculture is a different take on the typical monoculture farming that we see today. One of its concepts involves incorporating a wide variety of plants and using them in a way to maximize each plant’s individual development. This is almost identical to the First Nations’ “Three Sisters” concept, where corn, beans, and squash are grown together because each crop has a unique characteristic that provides a benefit to the other two, maximizing their growth potential.

On  the third day of our trip, we planted banana circles at a farm named “Lo Real Maravillosa”. Banana circles are another type of system of crops like the ones described earlier. By planting banana & papaya trees and sweet potato roots in a circular mound with a pile of compost in the center, the circles act as great natural composters, abundant sources of food, and storage sites for greywater or rain.


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Another concept that is a part of permaculture is the idea of producing no waste. Many of the foods and waste products that we simply throw away today have huge amounts of energy and nutrients left over that can be re-purposed. The whole idea of composting is to break waste down into dirt that is enriched by the nutrients that were trapped in the waste before. By composting kitchen scraps and food wastes and turning them into dirt, farmers can save money on fertilizer and produce better yields of healthier and tastier crop.

I remember visiting a man named Edison’s farm and noticing that the ground we were walking on was covered in something that wasn’t dirt. He told us that they were rice husks; waste products from a local rice mill. Edison made a deal where he would take all their waste and use it on his farm. The rice husks would naturally degrade and the nutrients trapped in them would return to the soil, thereby enriching and protecting his soil.

Even human waste can be re-used. For this reason, almost all of the farms that we visited had composting toilets, or dry toilets that collected our waste products, which were added to compost to help make nutrient-rich fertilizer through the bacterial breakdown process. Human waste also contains a lot of bacteria that, during the composting process, produces methane gas, which was used to power some of their stoves.

The final permaculture concept that I will talk about is setting limits and sharing the surplus. Many of the farms that we visited did not only produce food for themselves, but made an excess that helped to feed the rest of their communities. They also sold some of their crops in the local markets. By taking only as much as they need for themselves and ensuring that there is enough for others as well, then there will continue to be enough for all in the future.

This trip taught me extremely valuable knowledge on food security, the country of Cuba, and permaculture. I will definitely apply this knowledge in my future career as a nursing student and I am very grateful for the new perspective I’ve been given on agriculture and food. Thank you, Centennial College, for this amazing opportunity. Sancti Spíritus, I’ll be back!

By: Gun Chong Yang, Nursing Student

My Learning Journey in Sancti Spiritus

Feeling anxious about what my next 10 days were going to be like, I hopped on the plane with 14 strangers and off we went to Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. For the next 3 hours, my imagination was free to run and wonder what exciting things were just a few short hours away from me. We stepped off the plane and as I inhaled with much excitement we started our journey!

We all gathered on the back of a bus with benches for seats and windows as air conditioner and our suitcases packed between our legs! An experience you might ask – absolutely! The next five hours were full of an experience like no other gaining friendships and seeing the world beyond my typical norm. We arrived at the foundation we would be staying at for the duration of our stay and the greeting, although a language barrier, was very special and inviting. One thing about the foundation was whenever we walked through the doors the table was set every single time with delicious meals prepped for us like clockwork. Beautiful dinners of fresh local fruits and veggies, freshly squeezed fruit juice from local farms – it was wonderful.

As we began our adventures, day by day the experience got greater and connections became stronger. The team work was phenomenal. I have never been part of a team who worked so collaboratively in my life. We laughed we cried but most important we worked together. We saw tarantulas and encountered scorpions, slightly shocked by the shower head (it pays to know the language and read the signs 😂😂). It was used to heat the water but clearly had written do not touch shower heads.

Those are just a few of my wonderful experience but let me touch on the amazement of the utilization of material and waste matter that was so efficiently reused to build garden beds and dead leaves and grass used as mulch to turn into amazing soil. This way they reused human and animal waste to create soil from mother nature. It was so amazing to see the beautiful gardens flourishing with fresh tasty fruit and not to mention the all natural medicinal plants they had for many different illnesses. I was truly inspired by the hard but not too challenging work the Cubans had put together. They have done the gardens in a way that is so amazing and eases the work load daily.

I was truly inspired when I returned home I had reused 2 old BBQs I had and cleaned them lined them and created beautiful garden beds that have now started to grow carrots, tomatoes, green onions, squash and more. To touch on modes of transportation a tad, the coolest experience we had was riding a horse and buggy. Though our horse took a little hissy fit and decided which paths he wanted to take and when, it was quite the experience. The truck we took was an open back and that is something I’ve always wanted to try. Every morning we woke, ate breakfast and on the back of that truck we went.

The Cuban friends we made were so amazing and accommodating. They taught us to dance salsa and took us to a wonderful beach (I might add we were stung by jelly fish, just another experience to add to the list 😁) but the friendships gained were friendships kept. We swapped emails and keep in touch on a a weekly basis. It’s amazing how the experience continues to flourish even after the project is over. One last piece I would like to add is they have taught me so much in such a brief time. My eyes have been opened to a world of amazing new opportunities that I continue to carry with me.

By: Alysha Morris

Sancti Spiritus, Cuba – GCELE Experience

Sancti Spiritus, Cuba… Where do I even begin? This GCELE was literally a trip of a lifetime for me. I learned things I never thought I could learn, went through experiences I never would have imagined, met Cuban friends that I never thought I would have met and travelled with an amazing group of people from Centennial!

While in Sancti Spiritus, I really got a taste of what it’s like to live in Cuba. I went on this trip with the mindset that I would be helping the people there, but in reality, the people of Cuba taught me and helped me more than anything. I learned a lot about the permaculture movement happening in Cuba and what that meant in regards to their food security. It was moving and inspiring to get to know how the Cubans we met lived a life that revolved around nature and taking care of the land, while living off of it as well.

Many of the farmers were teachers, engineers and ordinary people with other jobs. They had farms and gardens as a side activity. I thought this alone was moving because taking care of these farms and gardens is a big and task requiring a lot of hard work! Since I know how to speak a bit of Spanish, I was able to speak with some of the farmers and I honestly learned so much from them. They are so wise, knowledgeable and humble in all that they do – it was amazing to meet people like them.

All of my new Cuban friends are always in my heart and without a doubt, I will be returning to Sancti Spiritus to see them again!  I also got the chance to plant banana trees, papaya, sweet potatoes and coffee. I was actually in the dirt and planting! It was such an awesome feeling, mainly because, before this trip I would have never ever thought I would be working in a farm and getting dirty – or even planting anything at all!

Learning about permaculture in Cuba opened my eyes to our own food security in Toronto and what that really means for us. I also stayed at the foundation’s museum, and something that I had to get used to was the water shortage. Mostly during the days, the water would run out and return in the evening. I never had to deal with anything like this in Toronto, so it was something that made me realize just how grateful I should be for something as simple as having unlimited access to water in my home. From the drives in cars from the 50’s, to the delicious food, to the vibrant energy of the Cuban people, to the endless laughs and memories, I can honestly say that I enjoyed every second of it.

All in all, this trip was unreal. When I was back in Toronto and it came time to tell all my friends and family about it, I found myself having difficulties putting it all into words. It’s one of those experiences that you just had to be there to really get it! I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity by Centennial. I think that GCELE’s are such an amazing part of this College. Because of this trip, I have memories that will last a lifetime, lived through experiences that have changed me as a person and made amazing new friends. Without a doubt, this GCELE was absolutely and unforgettably INCREDIBLE.

By: Inez Tarditti-Falconer

Permaculture and Composting!

GCELE – Pathways to Community Food Security – Sancti Spiritus, Cuba (May 2017)
Bridging to University Nursing – Flex

Permaculture, to be put simply, is magic. Permaculture is not a job, it is a lifestyle. There are three basic rules that Permaculture follows:

  1. Care for the Earth
  2. Care for the people
  3. Share the surplus

Rule #1 is self-explanatory; care for the planet, reduce, reuse, recycle, care for nature, and care for animals. Rule #2 is again self-explanatory; care for yourself, and care for each other. Rule #3, on the other hand, is something that will stick with me – share the surplus. Sharing in Cuba isn’t just a rule; it is intuitive within the Cuban culture. Cuban people do not have much, but that does not stop them from giving, whether it is back to the Earth, to each other, to nature, to animals, even to those who have more than them. This is something that I will forever cherish and implicate into my life at home – hopefully gravitating this energy towards others.

More about Permaculture theoretically: it is a chemical-free, self-efficient food forest. All aspects of nature are needed and are also nurtured. For example, one female farmer explained to us that she uses to pay for horse manure. She eventually bought a horse, who now gets to live on a farm and eat fresh crops. In return, the farm receives fertilization from the manure. This manure adds to the composting aspect of Permaculture.

Composting is a massive part of permaculture. It requires four basic elements:

  1. Nitrogen
  2. Carbon
  3. Water
  4. Oxygen

Compost helps to sustain life on the farm and allows the cycle of permaculture to move along smoothly. For example, one farm that we visited was unable to find a way to control weed growth without the use of chemicals. Eventually, after months of trying different tactics, a truck broke down right outside the farm. The truck was carrying rice husks and was on the way to the dump to be disposed of. Rojer, the owner of the farm, came up with the thought that maybe they could use the rice husks for the weed control. Rojer asked the truck driver to dump the rice husks in their farm, more specifically in between beds and in the walkways. It has been incredibly productive, and this farm now receives rice husk deliveries to maintain weed production. More “waste” products that are used to help manage permaculture are tires, empty wine and beer bottles, and many more. The composting aspect of permaculture has changed my life thus far in regards to not wasting food, water, clothing, toilet paper, etc. Everything has more than one purpose, and Cuban farmers taught us how to find these purposes.

These stories that I have shared do not remotely commence our experience or our knowledge. We also learned about the Cuban culture, and were able to analyze Cuba in regards to social justice, and compare it to life in Canada. We also learned about different fruits and vegetables, climate changes, economical standings in Cuba, and so much more. The amount that we learned cannot be put into a blog. The amount that we learned cannot be put into words. A GCELE must be experienced to understand it. I could not recommend anything more than this trip for fellow Centennial College Students. My life has changed because of this 10-day experience, and I will be forever grateful!

– April Mandaliti