Cuban Scientist Dreams of a Sustainable Farming Community

This is an article about agroecologist Fernando Funes and his farm “Finca Marta”, in Artemisa, where he has implemented sustainable development models of production and society.

By IPS Cuba

Fernando Funes Monzote, in love with science and farming. Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

HAVANA TIMES – Eight years ago, agricultural engineer Fernando Funes put on a hat, some clothes and wellington boots and set out to take science to the land on his “Finca Marta” farm, which now provides work for 15 people. Today, he wants to expand his experience and create a sustainable farming community.

In the Caimito municipality, in the Artemisa province next to Havana, the farm’s staff grow herbs and vegetables on its eight hectares, keep livestock, produce biogas for the house and it also has its own apiary, all of which are eco-friendly practices.

“We have a level of organization, production and ties with markets that has given us experience, we want to duplicate this elsewhere, creating a community and social dynamic, not just a productive one,” Funes explained to IPS Cuba. Funes transformed a plot of land overrun with weeds into an organic farm.

Sustainable farming community

Funes said he not only wants for this farm to grow, but for this experience to be replicated in as many neighboring plots of land as possible, until a sustainable farming community is created in the next few years.

Finca Marta, the seed of a sustainable farming community farming community. Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

There are many models in the world: ecovillages; the Landless Workers’ Movement, in Brazil, and transition towns, in England, for example.

“Every country has a different model. I have seen and visited many of them, and I wanted to take the best of each experience for our community,” Funes admitted, who dedicated 20 years of his life to research and teaching.

He pointed out that this initiative is a united effort of different farms, who hold onto their individuality within the group, with shared goals such as protecting the environment, production, commercialization, agro-tourism, educational activities and research on and the introduction of renewable energy

“It isn’t only centered around production, but everything leads to it indirectly,” Funes explained.

Then, he added that, within this social and economic dynamic, funds and assets generated would also be invested in the community’s entertainment, such as a swimming pool, social center, a store, for example, where not only the communtiy benefits but other locals in the area too.

“We are going to encourage farms belonging to other families and make a social, human connection with them so that we can work together not only on this small space, but in a larger area, so that more people are looking after the environment, producing food and living in the countryside,” he planned.

Further projects

Planting on Terraces at Finca Marta.  Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

However, this isn’t the only project that Funes has in mind, who has been throwing some conceptual ideas about with experts at NGOs such as Cubasolar and the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation, as well as with experts who have worked on issues relating to communities and landscape architecture.

This entrepreneur is also working on proposals such as a fruit and vegetable company, a cooperative of consumers and an app to inform users when products are available and help facilitate food orders.

While he is working hard to bring his projects to life, the 15-person team on his farm are growing some 60 different types of plants, mainly vegetables, which are then sold to thirty-something private restaurants. They also sell honey to the corresponding state company and they receive tourists, via a travel agency, as part of an agro-tourism project.

12 thoughts on “Cuban Scientist Dreams of a Sustainable Farming Community

  • April 9, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    That Nick is why I mentioned the snake incident (which incidentally was recorded by one of the camera operators who stuck to his position). I learned from it that snakes like the boa constrictor involved, eat seldom and are pretty somnolent, but a TV studio has a lot of very bright powerful lights, and that caused the snake which had been laid along the laps of the front row of the audience, to awaken and take a look around. That was when the trainer and his two assistants, decided to put it back into its big box, with the consequences i described. Once in the dark of the box it decided to snooze – but not before urinating on the hot tiled floor of the studio – I can’t start to describe the stench. But, all the time, the studio audience just sat in their places! The show had to go on and they certainly got their entertainment.
    As you will know, Cuba does have snakes, but all are non-venomous and small, only the crocodiles pose any threat – and fortunately the American ones are only found in the western tip of Guanahacabibes.

  • April 8, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    The agricultural sector is not the only one in which fortunes are made out of the exploitation and abuse of those at the bottom of the pile.
    You are absolutely correct to point out this sad fact Mr MacD.
    And thank you for your bovine insights. It is always good to learn stuff from someone with expertise in their field.

  • April 7, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    The “abuses of staff” are not confined to any particular industry Nick, Exploitation of man by man is part of history world wide. Just don’t label one selected industry!
    Back to the cows! You may be amused to know that many years ago when ITV had a program named “Don’t ask me”, produced in Leeds, a farmer from Shropshire sent in a question asking: “Do cows ever sleep”. He said in typical rural manner, that: “man and boy, I have never seen a cow sleep.” The program had a series of “experts” one was a lady medical doctor who gained fame, another was a Professor of animal husbandry from the University of Edinburgh and it was he who was expected to know the answer. Problem was that he didn’t know. So the Producer contacted a Professor at the University of Nottingham -who happened to be a friend of mine. He too didn’t know the answer, but said he knew a man who would, providing my name and telephone number. Upon ending his conversation with Leeds, he immediately called me, advising that I ought to seek a fee and a visit to Leeds to personally advise his fellow Prof. Within five minutes I had done so! So I travelled First Class by rail to Leeds, staying in a good hotel and attending the preparatory session at the studio to advise the Prof. and attend the actual show in the evening. All very entertaining as the largest snake in captivity (29′ 6″ long}, got loose in the studio with audience present and bit it’s trainer around the thigh. When I expressed my concern to him about the blood seeping through his pants, he gave a fascinating response: “Don’t worry, when they bite, they bite clean.” He and the snake were there because someone had asked if snakes have legs?
    However, back to the cows and the question! Yes, cows do sleep, lying down as they chew the cud (how many times prior to swallowing?), but the problem is that being ruminants with four stomachs, they produce those gases of which you wrote. So within 15 to 20 minutes they have to waken to stretch their necks and burp, or quite simply they would explode. QED.
    Animal behavioural studies are now quite popular and an autistic lady became quite well-known for designing handling facilities to minimize stress – remarkably similar to those I had previously designed, but fortunately not sharing her problem did not attract the interest of the non-agricultural community. As I indicated, I owe much to Nuffield for funding international research into the inter-relationship between cattle and those who tend to their needs.
    One final comment. The world record for milk production is held by a cow named Beecher Arlinda Ellen in Indiana with over 5,600 gallons in one year. The Professor from the University of Indiana who studied Ellen, and I shared platforms on more than one occasion.
    As you may also understand I view those scrub cattle that wander aimlessly around those hundreds of thousands of good agricultural land reverting to bush in Cuba with bemusement. Who if ever, because many appear aged, gets to eat them, ‘cos they sure ain’t providing milk – only methane!

  • April 7, 2020 at 2:48 am

    Mr MacD,
    I do not dispute your specific comment regarding this European Heavyweight of the agricultural industry. I see that have considerable experience in this industry – your viewpoint comes from having had ‘skin in the game’.
    Given that experience, you will surely be aware of the abuses of staff within the sector. These abuses occur in Europe, The Americas, Asia etc.
    I do not imply that every operator is going to abuse or exploit their staff and I feel sure that a fine fellow such as yourself would most certainly not have been involved in such low practices when you were in this ‘field’.
    However, it is an absolute indisputable fact that abuse and exploitation of those at the bottom of the ladder in this sector goes on. For example I can tell you without absolute 100% certainty that it goes on in the U.K.
    As I say, not all operators abuse. But some of the world’s largest operators have been found to be at fault.
    As an expert in these matters, you will be aware of some of the detrimental effects of over intensive farming methods.
    You introduced the topic of Mercedes and whether their production could be described as ‘crude’. I merely mention one of the historically cruder aspects thereof.
    My knowledge of cows and their sleep is somewhat scant. I believe that they can have a nap whilst standing up ?
    But what do they dream about?
    Maybe some cows dream about grazing on a vast Uber-farm rather than on their humble smallholding ?
    Perhaps they dream about how the grass must surely be greener on the other side ?
    It comes as no surprise that you will see comparisons between Nazis and Communists. I’m sure there are certain comparisons to be found between Nazis and Capitalists too.
    All I can say is that I have Capitalist friends and Communist friends. But no Nazi friends.
    I congratulate you on your fortune Mr MacD. It is good to feel fortunate. Positivity feeds into wellbeing and good health.
    I was in the grand house William Morris’ was fortunate enough to live in as a child (Walthamstow, north-east London) a few weeks ago. It’s now a museum.
    You got good taste in wallpaper Mr MacD.

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