June 5th 2013
This is shamefully a late first entry, but is a first entry nonetheless. The only excuse I can think of for such a belated start to this blog is that my first month back in Havana has flown by. My name is Sarah Cole, and this May has been my second, first month living in Cuba. I was one of 14 Canadian students living and studying in Havana from January to April of 2013, and I am now one of two students participating in a "Students for Development" internship sponsored by CIDA running from April 30th to August 29th 2013. After this summer, I will be entering my fourth year at Dalhousie University studying International Development and Environmental Sustainability.
This is my first attempt at blogging so I apologize for any shortcomings. Myself and my friend/coworker Katherine Newton have been working as summer interns at the "Organopónico Vivero Alamar" in Alamar Cuba which is a 30-minute bus ride from Centro Habana. Organopónicos were created out of necessity early in the 1990s during the "Special Period". The Special Period was a severe economic crisis that resulted from both the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the tightening of the US embargo, which decimated the agricultural sector causing widespread food shortages. In response to this crisis, an organic revolution was born. The Organopónico Vivero Alamar is one of the great success stories that emerged with the organic revolution. This cooperative is composed of 179 employees who share both in the financial and nutritional benefits of their work. From start to finish, every step of cultivation is kept organic and efficient ensuring a high quality of produce, and a healthier environment.
Katherine and I are following a four-month itinerary that will take us through the various departments on the Organopónico starting with the creation of organic compost, and ending with the cultivation and sale of the produce.
Producción y uso de Abonos Orgánicos y Biofertilizantes – Production and use of organic soils and biofertilizers.
Our first days on the farm started out in the department of "Abonos Orgánicos" (Organic Fertilizers). Here, nutrient rich soil is cultivated ensuring that artificial fertilizers remain unnecessary. Manure is collected from local farms and is "washed" upon arrival at the Organopónico. I was confused at first when I was told we'd be washing manure, but I think a better terminology is "rinsing". When delivered, the manure contains high levels of ammonia and as a result is too acidic and needs "washed" or "rinsed" with water. When the easily identifiable manure smell is gone, so is the ammonia. If acidic manure was used it would kill the "lombriz de tierra" or earthworms which are essential to the cultivation of organic soil. The earthworms are contained in long raised garden beds where the manure, once washed is deposited. The worms are rotated between beds starting at the base of the bed beneath ten centimeters of manure. Nets are placed over the manure, and covered in another thin layer of manure. The worms move upwards through the soil to reach the food on top of the net, fertilizing the soil as they move. Once the worms have reached the top layer of the manure and are entangled in the nets, they are moved to another bed. Moving the worms from one bed to another was much easier than I had expected. Simply all it takes is picking up all four corners of a net, heaving it over to a new empty bed and shaking it out. I don't know quite how to express just how many worms there are in these nets. A section of net measures roughly two meters by a meter and a half and in that area there were thousands of the little guys. Manure is not the only source of organic soil however. Organic wastes such as sugar cane husks are combined in heaps that decompose into lovely organic soil that is then cycled back into the farm.
Casa de Posturas
After our somewhat fragrant, worm filled experience in the department of Abonos Orgánicos we moved on to the "Casa de Posturas" where, in the organically cultivated soil, all the plants grown on the Organopónico are sewn. Efficiency is the name and necessity of this department. Due to a lack of machinery, all the seeds are sewn by hand. Styrofoam flats containing small wells are filled with soil, after a single seed is dropped into each well, the flats are placed in the greenhouse. The seeds remain in the greenhouse for a month to germinate and grow before they are transferred to the fields. During our time in the Cada de Posturas Katherine and I shadowed Mabel Reynaldo Padilla, Elsa Barroso Ramos and Telma Reyes planting lechuga (Lettuce), acelga (Chard) and tocita (a different type of lettuce). When we weren't seeding, we were preparing seedlings to be transferred to the field. All this entailed was loosening the soil and seedling from its well by poking a dowel a couple centimeters into the hole at the bottom of the well. Royney Cruz Carballo, Reinier Torrez and Ernam Bernaldo also worked with us in the Casa de Posturas filling the flats with soil, moving them from filling station to table, from table to greenhouse and from greenhouse to field. Together Mabel, Elsa, Royney, Reinier, Ernam and Telma are responsible for the initial stage of cultivation. They sew thousands of seeds daily without the aid of advanced machinery to ensure that the fields are full.
Cuban internet permitting, I'm going to upload my personal photos and videos of the Organopónico. However if I can't, these will be uploaded in September.
If you want to learn more about the history of Organopónicos, or more about the Organopónico Vivero Alamar follow the links below: