Cuba lures local farmers
Trade mission attempts to bridge gaps
By Danny Bernardini/Staff Writer
Article Launched: 02/18/2008 07:09:48 AM PST
Mariani employees, Santa Rodriguez (left) and Maricela del Toro do a
final inspection of English walnuts on a conveyer belt Tuesday. (Rick
Thanks to the efforts of two Winters farmers, and a little help from the
Government, folks in Cuba now can snack on Northern California's treats.
As part of a agriculture trade mission last month, representatives from
Sierra Orchards and Mariani Nut Co. went to Cuba to deliver goods and
take notes on how the country maintains sustainable agriculture.
Craig McNamara, who owns Sierra Orchards, said he was intrigued to see
how the Cubans have regrouped since the early '90s when their
relationship with the
Soviet Union was severed.
"One of my main interests is in sustainable agriculture. The Cubans are
doing a tremendous amount of work with that," McNamara said. "Once the
Soviet Union collapsed, they no longer had access to fertilizers and
He said the biggest surprise was to see gardens in the middle of urban
areas that fed thousands of people.
"These aren't just little backyard gardens; some are up to 22 acres," he
A.G. Kawamura, California's food and agriculture secretary, set up the
trip with the help of U.S. Department of Treasury. He said it was
painfully obvious that California agriculture was just a fraction of the
goods being sent to Cuba. Around $600 million worth of goods were sent
to Cuba last year, and only $735,000 of it came from the Golden State,
"The many products they are importing are California-type products like
dairy, wine and dried fruits," Kawamura said. "We were finally able to
put together this mission. We wanted to go a lot earlier."
Kawamura said he, too, was surprised to see how the Cubans had rebounded
since the fall of the Soviet Union. Some of the locals remembered
California products from before a trade embargo was put in place, he said.
"They have a very dynamic system evolving," he said. "It was pretty
interesting to see how far they've come in that short time. They had to
start all over again and build themselves into something different than
The hopes are to create some communication in case the relationships
with Cuba evolve and trading resumes, Kawamura said.
"It's a very competitive market and we definitely have the quality," he
said. "The hope would be that in the coming months and years that
companies will help them facilitate trade."
Also on the trip was Jack Mariani. He said the Cuban people are fond of
American products, but not so much with the trading practices.
"They love American people, but they aren't very happy with the
administration," Mariani said. "We're doing next to nothing, but here we
are one of the biggest agriculture areas in the country."
Mariani said if Fidel Castro no longer is in charge, things may be
different for Cubans in the future.
"The quality of life is so-so. You make 600 bucks a month, whether you
are a doctor or a street sweeper," he said. "It's tough to fathom.
Changes are coming."
According to McNamara, the Cubans would welcome the variety of goods
with open arms.
"The Cubans are extremely generous, hospitable and curious and very much
want a relationship with the U.S.," he said. "Cuba is a strong existing
market that we can strengthen. The shelves are quite bare and the
diversity of fruits and vegetables does not exist. We have such a wealth
Danny Bernardini can be reached at email@example.com.