By Emma Castleberry
The 2015 restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba has lifted a decades-long shroud of mystery from the island country. Americans are quickly realizing there is much more to Cuba than just antique cars and high-quality cigars. In fact, many might be surprised to learn that Cuba is an impressively developed country when it comes to agroecology. “Cuba has a lot to offer in terms of organic farming education, as they’ve spent the last 30 years with little to no access to agrichemicals and conventional agriculture infrastructure,” says Sara Deva, conference coordinator and farmer programs associate at the Organic Growers School (OGS). The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 ended Cuba’s access to agricultural chemicals overnight, propelling them into a crisis of reduced resources and increased hunger. In an attempt to boost food production and transition from an export-dependent economy, the country embarked on a massive and rapid conversion to agroecological methods of food production.
This rich and complex history has made Cuba’s farming community a premier example in the organic and sustainable agriculture movement. As a result, OGS is partnering with Food First and Altruvistas to offer Organic Revolution—A 9-Day Trip to Cuba at the end of March. The tour, open to all community members who are passionate about food and farming, will serve in part as a fundraiser for OGS. “Here at OGS, we are dedicated to providing practical organic education and building a vibrant food and farming community,” Deva says. “Part of that work is facilitating farmer-to-farmer exchange. We believe our community of growers can learn a lot from the Cuban experience.”
Food First is an organization dedicated to ending the injustices that cause hunger and helping communities to take back control of their food systems. The organization has been offering tours to Cuba for more than 20 years with the assistance of Altruvistas, a socially responsible and philanthropic travel company. Deva has participated in one such tour. “Through my experience on the Food Sovereignty Tour, it was clear that Food First has spent a long time building up relationships and solidarity with farmers in the local communities,” she says. “They really made an effort to respect their time and energy while encouraging them to celebrate their achievements with the global community.”
Engagement with local farmers will be a major part of the Organic Revolution tour with OGS. Participants will have the opportunity to learn from local hosts about the country’s transition into agroecological farming practices and the national policies that prioritize organic farming, as well as general information about Cuban history, culture, politics, agriculture and ecology. The tour will feature meetings with the country’s National Association for Small Farmers (ANAP), the Ministry of Agriculture and a variety of local farms and farmer cooperatives.
Nancy Prior, a community gardener, participated in the Food First Cuban Organic Revolution and Evolution tour in November of 2017. For Prior, the trip was “part vacation, part farm research, part interest in the Cuban society,” she says. “I was moved by how the Cuban people developed farms and co-ops to overcome a food crisis and how they continue to respond to ongoing challenges. The farms I toured were operated by educated people combining old-world practices with modern research. It gives me hope for the world to see what they have accomplished given what they started with.”