One more thing I absolutely have to do this year – it’s a report from April 2014, from my visit to a Cuban permacultural farm Finca la Coincidencia.
Farm owners Hector and Olivia are very talented, educated and hard working people. There is a lot to learn from them!
The first thing that strikes is combination of functionality, rationality and art. Everything is functional, organized, clean and beautiful. Hector’s wife Olivia met me and showed the path to fields. The first thing she showed me was a Tamarind tree. It’s really a multifunctional plant – a leguminous tree, undemanding, provides shade, windbreak, nitrogen, water retention and natural “sour patch” treats for humans.
Then Hector came and took me on a tour around the farm. Mango, guava, bananas are inter-planted with leguminous trees. Under-story is cassava-like bushes, then tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes.
One bush of a particular proud for Hector is perennial beans called gandul (pigeon pea).
Soils are fertile. Mostly clay-loam on porous limestone. So in most fields they lose water fast. Hector doesn’t have an irrigation system. Only a small mobile cistern. He rather sticks to drought-resistant crops. Hector uses conventional tillage methods to start a new field. His tractor was made in 1959. He complains that it’s hard to find tools for the tractor, but no problem to fix. Cubans are good in this. Hector’s sons help him a lot. The family plus three workers do all the work on the farm. Hector doesn’t think he is doing Permaculture. “Permaculture requires too many people and can’t produce enough crop to feed the country”, he says. It looks like his definitions are different.
Then we went to banana plantation to collect some bananas. On the way we passed by cow paddock, dry river bed and tourist area.”We receive tourists twice a week. They get a lunch, mujita, dance entertainment and a free piece of pottery. I don’t like tourists. Money is not all in my life. The life should be balanced and money should have their place. Now many people in Cuba think just about easy money, disregarding the fact that you have to work to make your money worth something.” said Hector. “It seems to me that I like plants more than tourists and even than animals. They don’t ask for much attention, get sick or die silently.” Finally we arrived to bananas.
“Let’s take these” said Hector and pulled a bunch of bananas. This made the palm crack in half. “Don’t worry, bananas bring only one harvest”.
Hector’s bananas are of Cuban type – short, with thin skin and very flavorful. They ripen from top to bottom. When upper bananas are overripe – lower ones are green yet. Hector keeps his chickens and turkeys in the banana plantation. Actually, they always run free. Only their nests made from old postal boxes are in the bananas. Chickens adore bananas thus clearing up all that falls and enjoying reach palm liter. When you collect bananas you can simply drop bad ones on place, chickens are ready to scavenge even skins.
“So, you like fruits? I’ll show you what I have. Let’s try some fruits and have lunch after.” There is a variety of tropical fruits at the farm. I tasted guanabana – natural ice cream, chirimoya – similar to guanabana, sapodilla medlar – soft fruit, Hector’s favorite. After the trying all this l absolutely couldn’t eat any lunch.
So I was given a free time to get hungry. I decided to collect some gandula. It was extremely curious to try edible perennial beans. Also I was wandering how much time will it take to collect a pound our two from bushes for an inexperienced person. I collected 2 lb from 3 bushes in around 30 minutes.
The lunch was a traditional Cuban meal rice with beans and chicken all home grown. “I grow all my food here. Even rice and sugar. No chemicals. I grow what goes well. Our children and us have less problems with health. If we get sick, we use medical plants and other natural medicines from the farm. For example, we have stingless bees that produce medical honey.
I feel the difference when I have to eat somewhere outside. Kids also always say that our home food is the best.” After the lunch I asked to show me ceramic workshop. The presence of ceramic art is everywhere on the farm and in home. It is harmoniously intertwined in many places with a great taste. “I always dreamed to make my own ceramics. I never get a course how to work with clay our how to build a kiln. I learned all from observations and experiments. My first kiln cracked and fell apart, and second one too. Then my first wife left me. But I did not give up. I understood that it’s important to have ceramics for the future, to balance uncertainties of agriculture. We became the first ceramic manufacturer in Matanzas.” Now ceramics production is passed to kids. Ceramics as everything else at Hector’s place is done with excellent quality and good artistic taste. They hardly can stand in orders.
Hector tries also to be as much energy independent as possible. He has a biogas digester and a wind powered pump near his home. He makes biogas from cow manure. The biogas is used for cooking and powering a refrigerator.
The home and other structures design also follows ecological principals. Walls are covered with vines, passive ventilation is well used. In Cuba it is allowed to change your home structure and Hector is building several guest rooms to accept woofers and foreign students.
“I prefer to have here like-minded people better than tourists.”
I left the farm highly inspired with a big pack of bananas.
After listening to my stories my wife and my daughter, who are not big fans of farming, but are big fans of arts, music and organic fruits decided to visit the farm. So we asked for permission and came again.
This time it was a visit of reflection and philosophy.
After drinking some honey directly from the sting-less bees hive and some mujita we spoke on the matters of life.
“You know, what is a really good and healthy food?” said Hector. “It’s the food the grows naturally. Each plant and animal has its time to grow and its natural environment. If this is artificially changed – food value decreases. I have a friend in Costa Rica who grows organic vegetables for Canada. All is organic at his place. But plants grow in artificial conditions with a lot of organic fertilizer. The taste is not much better than ones that got chemicals. I never speed up my plants, the only thing I need to do is to plant, and they all have taste.” From food we switched to other things.
I asked whether Cubans feel frustrated by not having new cars or machinery. Hector answered :”If you have healthy food and nature, live in a safe environment and warm friendly community, like your work, have access to all information you need and have good medical care, Isn’t it a good quality of life?”
“There are economical difficulties, but I think they rather come from a mentality of a ‘tropical man’. There is always something to eat in tropics. Today it’s mango, tomorrow avocado, then papaya. They don’t plan so far. They say let’s plan tomorrow, when the problem will come. But one day ‘tomorrow’ is today…”
“surely it’s impossible to plan everything. I need a religion. My religion is simple. I know god exists. My God is everywhere, in this tree in that river in that rock. It helps me. That’s it. I don’t need priests, papa, or others to tell me what is right. My religion is my own.”
Phone 45-81-3923 call Hector Perera or his wife Olivia. Only Hector speaks English. You can ask in hotel to make a call for you and arrange a visit.
directions from varadero : take route to Gardenas, in Gardenas take route 101 to Coliseo, in Coliseo turn left on Carrera uno and drive 6km until you see a large ceramic pot at the left side – it’s Finca la Coincidencia.