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 (AnitasFeast.com), 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.

 

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Wright December 18, 2016 at 5:49 pm

Thank you for this. In the 70s and 80s I visited and donated to some self-sustaining farms in the US. My impression was that their sustainability was dependent on reduced consumerism, which is difficult in the land of iPhones.

I enjoyed your article, and I’m glad I wasn’t there with you, because I’m sure I would have given Juan money, and I just can’t afford to reduce my consumption. In the pictures he looks younger than 80, and very fit!

Maria December 22, 2016 at 2:15 pm

Loved reading about this – thank you for bringing it to us!

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