Question: I’m traveling to Cuba in November this year and I’m planning to stay there for two months. I want to learn more about urban farming and the organic farming at Cuba, to visit different gardens and organoponicos and hopefully do some voluntary work. Do you know about anyone that I can contact about this?
Answer: One of the best ways to learn about urban farming and organic agriculture in Cuba is to be sponsored by a Cuban organization which can set up your program. But to do this, one must usually come under an organization located in one’s home country as well. For example, this is how the Cuban organization known as the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (FANJNH) works. A non-governmental socio-cultural and scientific organization, FANJNH is dedicated to the research and promotion of community-based programs and projects for the protection of the environment. It is also the moving force behind the promotion of permaculture in Cuba. Sometimes FANJNH receives interns who work with them on their permaculture and organic agriculture projects, but to be able to do so one must be sponsored by an organization from outside the country, which enters into an agreement with FANJNH which then organizes the visit – and the entire process takes about six months to arrange.
One might also come to Cuba as a student, to learn about sustainable agriculture in general and how it is practiced in Cuba in particular. One excellent academic institution is the Centro de Estudios de Agricultura Sostenible (CEAS), which comes under the Instituto de Ciencias Agropecuarias “Fructuoso Rodriguez Perez” (ISCAH), a top-notch agricultural university with a very strong combination of theory and practice. Located about 30 km east of Havana, CEAS works very closely at the community level.
If you’re coming as a tourist with a deep interest in urban farming and organic agriculture in Cuba, one of the few locations that upon occasion accept volunteer workers is the UBPC Organopónico Vivero Alamar, located 15 km east of Havana. The UBPCs (Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa or Basic Units of Cooperative Production) are based on a growing perception that smaller farms are more easily managed and better able to take on sustainable agriculture practices.
Established in the ’90s, the UBPC Vivero Organopónico Alamar (vivero means nursery) is one of the country’s most successful neighborhood-managed worker-owned cooperative urban organic farms. Raising a wide range of organic vegetables and grafted fruits, ornamental plants, medicinal herbs, and high-quality seedlings, crops and products are sold directly, from a colorful farm stand, to neighbors from the adjacent community as well as to nearby residential and collective farms. Today Vivero Alamar occupies some 11 hectares (27 acres) where a workforce of some 140 men and women employ the practice of permaculture – no chemical fertilizers and pesticides – to raise crops. Using natural biological methods to nourish the soil, frustrate pests and conserve water, the result is increased yields and reduced costs. Vivero Alamar also sells a range of organic composts and mulches and a selection of patio plants.
Vivero Alamar is just one example of the revolution in food production that swept Cuba in the early 1990s and continues today. From Santiago de Cuba in the east to Pinar del Rio in the west, thousands of urban gardens are blossoming. Today, across the island, there are over 7,000 organopónicos alone, and the number increases daily. Only in the capital city of Havana, more than 200 gardens supply residents with over 90% of their fruit and vegetables, with some 35,000 hectares (85,500 acres) of land being used for urban agriculture – and with chemical pesticides and fertilizers banned in the city.
To explore the possibility of working as a volunteer at Vivero Alamar, send them an email at
[email protected] directed to the Administrator, Miguel Salcines López. Based on your needs and experience, they will discuss with the possibilities of your collaborating with their farm.
Below is the full contact information for Vivero Alamar:
UBPC Organopónico Vivero Alamar
Ave. 160 Esq. Parque Hanoi
Zona 6, Alamar
Habana del Este
Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba
Telephone (537) 763-0531 or 763-0532
Administrador: Miguel Salcines López
You might also be interested to read the article entitled “The Urban Agriculture of Havana”, by Sinan Koont, which appeared in the January 2009 issue of Monthly Review. Among other things, this article speaks at some length about Vivero Alamar.