Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Santiago & Plagas

Kat and I are still working in the Plagas department, and there seems to be no end to the new information that Norma is passionately teaching us. Among many things, we've learned how the micorrizas (fungi which aid plant growth) are cultivated on the farm, and how Norma ferments and disperses different plant extracts at different times of the day to increase their efficiency. However, one of the things which has interested me most over the past few days was talking to Norma and learning about her first few years at the organopónico. The organopónico was founded in January 1997 and two years later in 1999 Norma joined the small work force. Then, the farm was much smaller and only occupied the space of the medicinal plants department (pictured below). 

With only five workers employed the first year, outputs were obviously lower than they are now but residents from the surrounding area would still flock to the organopónico to see what was for sale. For a while, seeds were sewn in old beer cans collected from the community and without a car to move any equipment everything was done from the seat of a bicycle. Bit by bit the organopónico grew to what it is today. There was considerable aid from a German agricultural program named German Agro Action (Welthungerhilfe:, which helped add to the infrastructure of the farm. Norma has an old photo of the organopónico which hopefully we'll be able to see and compare to our version of the organopónico. Everything seems so established now in a unique rhythm making it difficult to imagine that is was ever anything different. 

In other news, Kat and I were in Santiago last weekend to check out the east coast of the country, see the carnaval, the moncada barracks, and visit two other Canadian students working on SFD internships. Matt and Elaine are engineering students (Elaine just graduated) from the University of New Brunswick who have been living in Santiago for two months working at the university focusing on medical imaging technology. I know very little about both engineering and medicine so I can't explain in any detail what they are doing, but it was fantastic to meet up with some other Canadian interns and to talk about everything that's been happening over the past few months. Pictured below the four of us are in a tiny book/photo/record store in Santiago, which conveniently had a Canadian flag on the wall. 

Kat, Matt, Elaine and I in Santiago

We didn't see too much of the carnaval, but what we did see was a giant street party. There were trucks stationed at various spots along the carnaval route which were really just giant kegs filled with beer. Vendors walked around selling hats, and cups for beer from the truck-kegs while small amusement park rides were located just up side streets entertaining the kids. The four of us also walked around the Moncada barracks where 60 years ago Fidel Castro and 138 others staged their first revolutionary attack. However, while the revolutionaries were outnumbered and quickly defeated, the attack did give Fidel his pedestal to deliver his famous speech "History Will Absolve Me" and is seen as the beginning of the revolution.

While in Santiago Katherine and I had to frantically look for a place to stay when our reservations at a casa fell through. We ended up wandering around Santiago knocking on doors that had the casa particular sign (Casa particulars are a bit like B&B's). However, due to the carnaval and celebrations for the 26th of July everywhere seemed to be full and it was getting late. Luckily for us however, we were rescued by the kindness of a woman who would not let us leave her casa (which was already full with tourists) until she had called all of her friends and had found us a place to stay. We then stayed with Tatica (pictured below) one night, and Marbelis (pictured below) the second night. These two women were some of the sweetest women I have met yet in Cuba. Marbelis even called our Cuban Madre, Lily, back in Havana to tell her when we were on our bus, and when we were expected in Havana. If you're ever going to be staying in Santiago send me a message and I'll send you the contact info. 

Kat and Tatica
Tatica and I
Marbelis and Kat
Marbelis and I
In the end it was a fantastic adventure and it has left me looking forward to this Sunday when Elaine comes to visit us in Havana!

More Photos:

Ladybug containers which specify the amount of larvae and adults in each. (Larger storage containers in background) 
One of the many painted wooden blocks that decorate the department showing the various types of ladybugs, and other beneficial insects. 
Pure plant extracts (Nim tree, Tobacco etc) that are diluted and used as pesticides.
From left to right: Roxana, Kat, Norma, and I
Norma showing us how she samples Nematode levels in the fields.  
One sample from a field. (Small samples are taken at 5m intervals diagonally across a field then mixed and analyzed. The fields are tested once a year.)

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