By: Michael O’Toole
VINALES, Cuba – Ulfredo Garcia’s farm in north-central Cuba attracts foodies and food experts on a daily basis, who come to taste his delicious produce and learn his organic farming techniques.
His is just one of 10,000 organic urban farms in Cuba.
But, unlike America, Cuba’s booming organic farm movement didn’t grow out of environmental or healthy eating concerns. It grew out of necessity.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, Cuba lost its largest supplier of food, fuel and fertilizer. Consequently, the Cuban government offered state-owned farmland to those who agreed to grow food. But there was a catch: they had to do it naturally, since chemicals weren’t available for agriculture.
Garcia said he accepted the challenge and founded “the first organic farm of its kind” in Viñales, a small town in the Pinar del Río province of Cuba.
It’s been quite a success. Although Garcia has only about 22 acres, he produces food for thousands of residents in the nearby town.
“The majority of it is devoted to cultivating vegetables and fruit,” he said through a translator. “We have plants that serve as repellent against plagues, insects. We have a system on the farm that assigns utility to everything. From the food, to the compost, the pigs, rabbits – everything goes back to the land.”
In addition to being a farmer, Garcia also serves as an educator.
“On this farm we teach how to grow to local schoolchildren [and] other farmers that want to learn how to go organic, which is what we see in the future,” he said.
On a January day, the farm’s visitors included multiple groups of Americans, including a class from Adelphi University in Long Island.
“Everyone, all over the world, should turn to organic farming,” Garcia told the students. “Because that is health[y] … for human beings. And the earth takes everything and puts it where it needs to go.”