Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Rep. Stevens surveys farming in Cuba

Posted on March 7, 2013 |

By John Flowers

MONTPELIER — Organic vegetable farmer and independent state Rep. Will

Stevens of Shoreham has always sought to widen his horizons when it

comes to agriculture.

He did that in a big way this past month during a 10-day trip to Cuba,

where he got a first-hand glimpse of how farming is conducted on an

island nation with scant resources and without a profit motive.

Stevens was one of six participants in the "Vermont-Cuba Sustainable and

Organic Agricultural Exchange Program." It was a research tour organized

by the Vermont Caribbean Institute, aimed at promoting and developing

relationships and sustainable projects in organic agriculture, food

security, community health and resilience, appropriate technology and

land stewardship to "improve human well-being and the health of the


It was a travel opportunity that intrigued Stevens, who with his wife,

Judy, owns and operates Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham. Cuba has been

off-limits for American tourism since Fidel Castro came to power more

than 50 years ago. Stevens had heard about organic farming in Cuba and

how agriculture had to be done on a shoestring due to the directives of

the communist regime and as a consequence of the longstanding U.S. trade


"It's a highly regulated economy and society," Stevens, a member of the

Vermont House Agriculture Committee, said.

Stevens — who paid his own way — and five other Vermonters headed to

Cuba on Feb. 3 for an educational experience that would include seven

days in Havana and a few days in the communities of Santa Clara and

Trinidad. They visited a half-dozen farms, mostly urban organic gardens

known as "organoponicos." These urban gardens — very small, basic and

labor intensive — came to the fore out of necessity around 20 years ago,

after the fall of the Soviet Union, noted Stevens. The Soviet Union had

been heavily subsidizing Cuba's agricultural industry through low-cost

gasoline and pesticides. But that assistance largely evaporated with the

fall of the Iron Curtain, forcing Cubans to reinvent their farming

industry with few resources.

"They had to adapt, or die," he said.

Stevens saw farmers tend to crops with implements that were jerry-rigged

or welded together. Since necessity is the mother of invention, the

Spartan conditions have forced the Cuban farmers to be more resourceful.

Stevens took photos of a farmer who had forced methane from his on-site

manure into an air-tight bag, using it to fuel his gas stove. Farmers

are breeding livestock that can provide them with milk as well as meat.

He noted that many of the organoponicos engage in vermicomposting. The

farmers place their food waste into a trough and add red wiggler worms,

which feast on the waste and generate fertile compost for the crops. The

primary crops grown on the organoponicos, according to Stevens, were

sweet potatoes, green cabbage, beans, beets, tomatoes, lettuce and bok choi.

A U.S. farmer would take that produce to the market in hopes of getting

top dollar. Not in Cuba, Stevens said, where there is a different

economic paradigm prescribed by the ruling regime.

"Economics for them is the socialist model of 'Everyone should have

something to eat,'" Stevens said.

The Cuban government owns all the land and is trying to get more of it

into agricultural production, including areas that are still idle after

being abandoned by people who fled the nation during the revolution. The

government also regulates and parses out seeds, Stevens said. There are

few free enterprise opportunities for farmers, who can count on a wage

of around $20 per month, he said. Citizens survive by living frugally in

a marketplace with low prices and because the government provides basic

necessities such as health care and education, he noted.


While Western society preaches one can always be better or do better,

the Cuban culture is more about being grateful for what you have,

according to Stevens.

"Their mission was to feed people in a way that was environmentally

beneficial and in a way that allows prosperity for everyone," Stevens said.

The visiting group wasn't regulated or barred from speaking with anyone

during the trip, according to Stevens. And while Cuba has a different

culture, climate and political system than Vermont, Stevens said he

could see some similarities between the two lands. Both have had to

adapt to a scarcity of resources and both have people imbued with a

spirit of helping one another.

Stevens said he greatly enjoyed the trip to Cuba and would definitely go

back. He hopes that at some point, Cuban farmers can come to Vermont and

see how agriculture works in the Green Mountain State. The trip has

prompted Stevens to think more about his farming priorities, especially

as they relate to workers.

"My take-home message is, 'It's about the people,'" Stevens said.

And while governmental relations between the U.S. and Cuba remain

frosty, Stevens said most Cubans are looking forward to the day when

they will see more Americans coming over to visit.

"They said, 'Let Americans know we want a normal relationship with them.

Let them know we are just people, too,'" Steven said of a common refrain

from Cubans he spoke with.

Reporter John Flowers is at

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