This was our first day with Xiomara so we were up and out of the house early to get over to her office for 9.30am – involving a very brisk walk in the already hot sun. Xiomara works for the urban planning department and is based in a busy little office in the centre of Cienfuegos. We started off at Xiomara’s desk for an hour or so looking at development plans and considering how Urban Agriculture is reflected in these plans. The reality being that there is a great foundation in existence that the council are keen to develop further in coming years – and that they have a legal obligation to develop!
After this discussion we headed out of the office to visit an organopónico out near the airport – the airport in Cienfuegos is relatively small and much of the land around the site is earmarked for urban cultivation. In order to get out there we travelled on a crazy Cuban Camel bus. This was basically as articulated lorry dragging around a kind of bus, kind of lorry, kind of thing stuffed full with people – and costing 40NP each. Really travelling Cuban style! Organopónico Aeropuerto in Cienfuegos
The organopónico we were visiting was about 10 minutes on the bus out of town. It was big, with a large number of canteros (beds) each hired out to food producers from the state at 2NP per month – 12 people shared the whole site. Most of the produce went to local schools then the producers were able to sell any surplus to the local community. A large portion of the site was shaded meaning the glare of the sun was reduced by about 30% and allowing the producers to grow more delicate crops.
The major issue they had on the day that we visited was water. The producers had a turbine bringing water out of their tank and across the site but this was broken so they had no sensible way of watering the large area of land they were cultivating. They were trying to fix the turbine but if they couldn’t find a way of doing it they would lose their crops. Sadly they had already lost their worms that had died due to lack of humidity.
To get back into town we travelled in a small horse drawn taxi that cost 50NP and that we shared with 5 other people – horses work very hard in Cuba! We got down just as we hit the outskirts of the town centre where we had a look at another, smaller organopónico which was right at the heart of an urban community. Sadly the producers had finished for the day – it is typical for them to start early and finish early to avoid the worst of the day’s sun. Growing food at the centre of the town
Walking back into town Xiomara began to explain how difficult things currently were for Cubans. She told us that she was 72 but carried on working because it made her feel useful in her older years. She had been doing her current job for over 20 years and before that she had worked for 20 years in the Ministry of Agriculture – her university degree in Santa Clara had been in Agronomy, which was where her interest in Urban Agriculture had come from. Her daughter was also well qualified as an Epidemiologist, living in Cienfuegos and working for the provincial Epidemiology unit. Though, as Xiomara rather modestly put it:
“Education is free here so a lot of people are very well qualified.”
Xiomara went on to explain that life for normal people in Cienfuegos was very difficult:
“We don’t earn much money so it is very difficult for us to live. People in Havana can earn extra money by doing work in tourism or by doing work outside the country but it’s hard for us to do that here. That means life is very difficult for us. Very difficult indeed.”
Before Xiomara went back to work we went for refrescos then she headed back to her office and we headed back to our casa to rest and hide from the sun until tea time. After tea we headed own to the point to enjoy the tranquility down there in the Tennessee William’s style world. One mojito was enough after the day to send us gently to sleep.