When visiting Cuba, expect the unexpected, embrace the adventure and be open to new experiences. Understanding Cuba is a matter of the heart and not of the mind. You are on your way to a third-world country in terms of its economy, yet with a social system with indicators only comparable to those of first-world nations. The history of Cuba is all about a constant struggle to be sovereign and independent in every sense of the word, which also includes food production. Due to the collapse of the socialist block in the 1990’s and the increasing restrictions of the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the US, Cubans had to find a way to survive during the “Special Period” of the 90’s. Organic farming was the solution and the only path to take. Circumstances led the people and the government to work together in order to right the wrongs done so far.
Every piece of soil became a garden, a source of food or medicine. Enriching or healing the soil deteriorated after many years of excessive chemicals and monoculture is still an ongoing task. When visiting Cuba you will be witness to several ways to organize and manage agricultural systems. From farm cooperatives, small family farms, to urban gardens and permaculture systems, the island is a canvas of experiments and results that strive to produce enough healthy food for the local residents. Though eating habits inherited by diverse cultures are not always thought of as healthy, most of the food you’ll try in Cuba will be organic. Folks visiting from all over the world, and nostalgic Cubans, praise the delicious taste of fresh fruits and vegetables, of not-processed food, and the authentic tradition of enjoying coffee while having interesting conversations after every meal.
Crops Across Cuba
Even though Cuba is a small island, there are differences in the farming approach for every region. Soil and climate conditions, farmable acreage and population demands are among the things to consider to decide which crops to plant. For instance, the area of Viñales in Pinar del Río is used mostly for tobacco, and the area of Sierra Maestra mountains in Santiago de Cuba is used for coffee.
Cuba Through the Seasons
Every season is different, the landscape changes color with rains or drought. These seasons coincide with planting schedules; dry season goes from November to March, and rainy season from May to October. Some experienced farmers say you should never plant in May, because crops grow too much, but don’t produce as well. Some crops can be found all year-round like sweet potatoes, plantains, bananas, taro and others. You can definitely find off-season produce in farms practicing permaculture.
Winter In Cuba
January is one of the favorite months to visit Cuba, it’s winter time, but don’t let the word fool you, we are talking about a lowest temperature of 18 degrees Celsius/64 degrees Fahrenheit (though you will find Cubans in sweaters and scarves during this time of year!) It’s definitely cooler, but you will find a lot more foreigners and heightened tourist activities. You will be able to see some of the following crops being grown during this time: tomato, guava, mamey (tropical fruit), papaya, tobacco, potato, beans and yucca. This is also the season for leafy vegetables like lettuce, chard, carrot, beet and aromatic plants.
Summer In Cuba
June is a very hot month, it’s summer time and humidity levels are really high. We are taking about temperatures of about 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) or more. It might be uncomfortable, just imagine a big sauna and your pores are releasing all the toxins. By looking out the window and being in the fields you might find sweet potato crops, squash, green beans, okra, cucumber and the amazing mangos, avocados and pineapples are in season.
For more information about Organic Growers School’s Agroecology Tour, visit this page.
About The Author
Yoseti Herrera Guitián has a BA in Education as an English Language teacher and has worked teaching English at the University level. She also has an MA in English Language from the University of Havana. Yoseti started working as a tour guide in 2013 with Amistur Cuba, a specialized tourism travel agency that is part of ICAP (Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples). She has worked with diverse groups focused on topics such as health, education, culture and mostly agriculture. Since 2015, she has led travel groups organized by Food First, Slow Food California and Organic Growers School.
Organic Growers School is a non-profit organization providing organic education since 1993. Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support people in our region to farm, garden, and live organically.