Cuba’s Finca Marta: A Model Organic Farm: Part II

by Aysha Griffin on December 16, 2016

Continued from previous post on Finca Marta, Part I
finca marta, organic farm, havana cuba


Finca marta havana cuba

We’re introduced to Juan Machado, an 80-year-old local farmer who has been part of the project since its inception in 2011. Known as “Pozo,” which means “spring” in Spanish, Juan is also a dowser and responsible for locating the sites of wells for the farm, which were then dug by hand the extremely rocky soil, as no well-drilling machinery is available. The rocks are utilized in the terraced walls. All water is moved in canals that connect rainwater to wells and held in cisterns with a capacity of 200,000 liters. Solar panels provide electricity and worms thrive in cow manure creating rich hummus for fertilizing the soil.


Finca Marta, Armesia, havana, Cuba, organic farm

Cows are herded into this barn at night, their dung hosed out each morning into a tank from which methane is extracted and provides all the gas (biogas) for cooking in the farm’s kitchens.

Fernando’s vision is broad, sincere and actually working: “I want to demonstrate that’s it’s possible to improve rural life and expand opportunities for the workers. There are lots of farms; many led by professionals – academic agricology projects, organic farms on a bigger scale – but we need the involvement of many more people in the process and the social commitment to invest and put in place new models and systems that have an impact in the market to activate rural economy. We cannot count on governments, institutions and philanthropy… we must build systems on logic of the systems and markets.”

While his ideas of capacity building among farmers as stakeholders, job creation and well-paid workers, diversification and wise land use are modeled at Finca Marta, he acknowledges that all this requires money. And therein lies the rub… or, in this case, the honey.

finca marta

In the first years, 100 beehives (of this particular type of stingless bee with more than one queen per hive) produced 700-800 liter bottles of honey a year and at $2 each, yielded $1,500 in profit. This may sound like a paltry sum but you must keep in mind that a doctor or engineer’s annual salary is about $360. Honey continues to provide some steady income.


finca marta, havana organic farm cuba

And then there is the honey of tourism. Crops like white arugula, cherry tomatoes, radish, endive, cilantro and some 50 others have found demand and top dollar in Havana’s swank privatized restaurants (Paladars) where foreigners think nothing of New York prices and probably not ever considering that the vast majority of Cuban people have never seen – nor likely imagined – the quality, diversity and fresh flavor of such consciously tended and organically grown vegetables. Hosting visitors to Finca Marta for a snack, an informative talk, tour and lunch provides additional income.


finca marta

The workers at Finca Marta are treated like family, paid far above average and fed a nutritious farm-fresh meal daily. Fernando skirts the subject of his sales to high-end exclusive restaurants, acknowledging his is a small-scale operation and is only effective to a certain point of growth. Without this market, Finca Marta could not do what it’s doing so far, like sustainable, integrated practices, profit-sharing with staff, financial aid and training to young Cubans, a school program, and the vision Fernando holds for it in the fields of production, education, research and tourism. He has plans for modernizing the nursery with a restaurant above it and building an educational facility for educating and inspiring other Cuban farmers.

When asked how sales of Finca Marta’s products jive with socialist ones, Fernando replied thar the difference between Finca Marta’s philosophies and capitalism is “social awareness, more consciousness about nature and a balance of imports and exports that supports local enterprises and their workers.” He summed up with, “I adhere to spiritual and capitalist values, with a socialist heart.”

finca marta, anitas feast

Portugal-based travel food writer, Anita Breland (, with Claudia and Fernando Funes Monzote at Finca Marta.
Few groups except academics, foundations and agricultural interests get to visit Finca Marta, so it was a great honor and pleasure for my group to spend four hours with Fernando, learning about Finca Marta and being treated to a fabulous farm-to-table lunch prepared by his partner and wonderful chef, Claudia.




Organic Farming in Cuba: It’s Not What You Think

by Aysha Griffin on December 16, 2016

Cuba’s Finca Marta: A Model Organic Farm:
Part I
finca marta, organic farm, havana cuba

West of Havana, 45-minutes’ drive, past the billboard announcing the province of Artemisa, an unmarked dirt road leads to Finca Marta, an impressive model of organic practices, integrated systems and respectful human relationships.

But please, do not get too excited that this is the future of Cuba agriculture. Despite the impression given by several documentaries and permaculture enthusiasts, organic farming in Cuba is very limited, uncommon and its produce not available to the general population.

I will let Fernando R. Funes Monzote, Ph.D. agroecologist explain, as he did to a group of a dozen of us one recent and glorious afternoon spent at the paradisical Finca Marta.

Fernando R. Funes Monzote, Ph.D. agroecologist, shares his organic farming methods and philosophies at Finca Marta, his model organic farm west of Havana, Cuba

Fernando R. Funes Monzote is a man who whose credentials, international experience, vision, dedication and genuine warmth of spirit are extraordinary. Here, he explains the terracing of types of lettuce, arugula and other greens mostly unknown in Cuba. A drip system will soon replace hand watering.

This is Fernando and Finca Marta is his brainchild and labor of love. His father was a scientist and his mother, Marta – for whom the Finca (farm) is named – was a biologist. Fernando and Marta worked together for 15 years, and between 1996 and 2000 they visited 93 farms and documented the work of the Cuban organic farming organization to help develop in Cuba sustainable systems in what was – and largely still is – a monoculture model for industrial production: deforestation, sugar cane, coffee and tobacco.

But before that and after, Fernando spent years abroad; a rather unique situation for any Cuban. How did Fernando leave Cuba and learn from farmers around the world? As president of the student’s league at the University of Havana, he was invited to Italy in 1984-1992 and visited more than 20 countries. In 1996 he received a master in science in agrocology in Spain and returned to Cuba. After repeatedly being denied permission to go to the Netherlands, despite valid invitations, Fernando finally was able to leave Cuba again in 2000 and spent much of the next decade traveling and collaborating with agronomist colleagues in Europe, Africa and Latin America, while earning his Ph.D in 2008.

In 2011, he started Finca Marta, 8 hectres (16 acres) of land owned by a 97-year-old-man who granted Funes-Monzote the right to farm. (Remarkably, given their limited diet and the stresses of daily life in sourcing basic goods, Cuban’s lifespans are among the longest in the world, but that’s another story). But these rights are, like most things in Cuba, complicado, and Fernando may have to fight for succession and user rights. He hopes they will be granted, given all the work he and his workers have done to create this innovative operation. But he knows nothing in Cuba is certain.

Some history of Agriculture in Cuba


Finca Marta Cuba,

Fernando generously shares his philosophy and vision of organic farming in Cuba with a group of creative journeyers to Havana.

Fernando explained that from the end of the19th century (when the U.S. helped Cuba win independence from Spain and was then able to claim commercial rights) until the revolution in 1959, U.S. companies used pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Part of the reason for the revolution was “agrarian reform.” Lots of money was in the hands of a few and the issues of inequity were obvious – social, economic, environmental, and oppressed rural populations. The revolution promised reorganization and redistribution of lands into the hands of the farmers.

After 1963, and the U.S. embargo, Cuba had to look for new allies and reorient to Eastern European imports and exports. The 80/20 population distribution flipped from rural to urban. Cuba became a laboratory for modern Soviet-funded technologies, built on productivity and competition.

This was embodied in “Fidel’s Cow” recorded in the Guinness World Book of Records as producing 27,000 liters of milk in its productive life, up to 11 liters in one day. This was evidence of Cuban prowess. There were also developments of new water systems – lakes, ponds and reservoirs, and scientists assigned to these projects. But, the industrial agricultural production of the 1970s and 80s came to an abrupt and devastating halt after the fall of Cuba’s main trading partner.

Everything fell apart. Tractors, trucks and other machinery without parts and fuel for operation and distribution of goods rusted in the fields, no more fertilizers and pesticides meant common crops no long grew or were harvested. Oxen were used as in centuries past and a dystopian period descended on the island.

Although Fernando did not go into detail, if you’ve not read about what Fidel Castro optimistically called “the Special Period in the time of peace,” I suggest you do so. Because the U.S. had no ostensible relationship with Cuba, the fact that the average Cuban lost 20% of their weight in a prolonged period of austerity, scarcity and fear – from which, questionably, it has never recovered – did not register in American media nor most of its allies.

To be Continued in Part II


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