Cuba! Farm to Table Tour
This is Kensys, our Farm to Table tour guide in Cuba. We traveled about 25 miles east of Havana to a farm called "Vista Hermosa" (Beautiful View). While Farm to Table is common the US, this farm/restaurant relationship in Cuba is the first and one of the few. Although Cuba has liberalized parts of their economy, since Castro's death, food is still controlled by the government. This farm has been in the family for over 3 generations. 66 hectare farm plots are given to families from the government and may be kept in the family for as long as the family wants. In exchange, the farm must meet monthly quotas for each thing they produce (ie gallons of milk, pounds of beef, bunches of bananas). As long as the farm is successful, they can keep the farm and get paid one of the highest wages in the country. The food is sold to a cooperative who rations the food among the citizens of Cuba.
Most of Cuba does not have the money or ability to import fertilizers and chemicals. After the dissolve of the Soviet Union in the late 1980's, Cuba was left on its own and entered into a decade of severe economic depression. It radically changed the Cuban lifestyle, forcing people to live without many comforts they were used to. It also necessitated the introduction of sustainable/organic agriculture. The depression forced Cuba into many positive changes that were appealing to us as visitors; slow food, few cars, cloth napkins, little waste, lack of wifi/social media and virtually no consumerism, but it has not been easy for them. One of the farmers there put it well, "We do all the right things for all the wrong reasons." They are starting to take advantage of this misfortune though and see the benefits of marketing sustainable/local/slow food agriculture to tourists.
Kensys is showing us vegetables growing in a large area completely covered by shade cloth. Summers are brutally hot and humid in Cuba and the cloth allows the farm to grow vegetables, including lettuce, all year long.
The farm is a completely closed loop system. They grow forage which includes mulberry, sugar cane (left) and sorghum (right). It is harvested weekly, ground and fed to all the animals they raise. The animals waste is then used to fertilize the crops.
Rabbits for meat. And, if you look close, you can see guinea pigs below the cages. They have a symbiotic relationship with the rabbits, running free on the ground cleaning up any food or waste the rabbits drop. Unlike in Peru, the guinea pigs are not eaten, just adored.
Their pigs are raised much like ours. They are rotated through pasture, eating fresh grass, vegetable scraps and the ground forage I described above. An important part of their diet is also rooting under the Royal Palm trees for its high vitamin fruit, Palmiche.
Cuba is not a place for cheese lovers. Milk is extremely rare in the country so any little sliver of cheese you may find has been imported. However milk is an important part of their children's diets, so any milk produced is rationed among the children. The country is sensitive to those who have milk allergies and therefore provide goat's milk for them. Vista Hermosa raises the most milk in the country.
I am realizing we did not take very good pictures of the farm!!! This scene was lovey but I did not quite capture it...the chicken hanging out under the herbs which naturally keep flies away from the milk cows on the right and the working cows on the left. I should have taken a better picture of the impressive bulls on the left who are used for plowing the fields. Vista Hermosa is one of the largest producers of beef. Beef is VERY rare in Cuba. Partly because it takes so much energy raise a cow (feed, water, time), verses chicken or seafood which is most common. Cows are sacred in Cuba and are protected fiercely.
The Vista is much different than what we think of as a farm. Most of the farm is fruit trees (banana, coconut, mango, citrus) and pasture.
Mediterraneo Habana--the restaurant where much of the farm's "excess" food is sold. Once the farm meets and sells the monthly quota to the cooperative, they may do whatever they would like with any extra they raise. The restaurant owner is Italian, so he has taught the farm how to make cheese and dried sausage, a lucrative value added product for the farm.
Although the cheese and sausage could use a little refinement still, it was amazing. All the food was hand made from the farm's products and amazing -- spinach croquettes, grilled meat and veggie skewers, squash tortellini with mozzarella. And ice cream for dessert!
Cubans do not have the income to eat at restaurants, they rely on their food rations and any extra money they may have so they can purchase fruits and vegetables.
Groceries were small and had very few choices. It was mostly canned tuna, fruit juice and rum. Seriously. People we talked to loved their country for it's safety, free health care an incredible education. Social protection programs have nearly eradicated hunger and poverty yet they wished they had more liberties so they could make more money.
It's a crazy balance this world we live in.
I came home and was overwhelmed by the inane amount of gum choices in a 2 sqft section of the checkout line. Yet we have people going hungry in our country.
I hope our farm brings you a sense of simple abundance.
Blessings on your meal.