Week 3 – Cuba Field School

Today we visited an urban farm just inside the Havana city limits. It was very interesting to see a 25 acre plot of land within city limits being farmed. I have recent come to the conclusion that I think that community gardens and urban farms will be the solution we need to feed the world. Especially with more extremes weather events that are occurring and for tropical countries having increasing droughts. Areas that currently can increase the productivity of existing agriculture should in an environmental way of course as well as people going back to the idea of subsistence farming with gardens and other avenues.

My hope is that all of the abandoned buildings that exist in cities today will be converted over to either homeless shelters or some type of farming whether that be through organic production using raised beds, hydroponics, aeroponics or rooftop gardens and greenhouses. As the public becomes more and more aware of how their food is produced there will be an even higher increase in demand for local and environmentally friendly food. The idea of eating fresh fruit and vegetables year round would be mind blowing to some people.

If this was to take effect someone might ask what we might do with all the “normal” agricultural production products and my answer to that would be to export to countries with the extreme weather events making agriculture very difficult. Rights that I feel everyone should have are a right to food and water and to some sort of shelter or housing. If you have food, water and a dry place to sleep you should be able to deal with other situations that might be going on in your life whether that be mental or physical issues.

In terms of comparing one urban farm to the next I feel that is very difficult as people’s situations are very different but it does allow for ideas to be formed when planning my future farm layout and production aspects as I hope to have a garden and greenhouse type situation.

Tuesday was a relaxing day as we only had class in the morning. Roxanne talked to us about her greenhouse plants that are ornamentals and are sold here at INCA. It was interesting to learn about all the different ornamentals that were present in the greenhouse and that only 2 people work there to care for all of the plants.

One interesting comment that Roxanne made was that she propagated different ornamentals in different ways such as with cuttings, which I didn’t know was possible. It is definitely something I want to try back home with different flowers that I like. The possibility of taking a cutting from a wildflower in the ditch that you like and bringing it home and planting it in a pot is incredible.

One other interesting comment that was made was that Roxanne participates in different fairs throughout the province so she takes flowers with her when she goes to those fairs and talks about her work whenever she can. Whether that is travelling home from work or to a friend’s house she always takes to opportunity to talk about her work and in turn spread the word about the ornamentals.

Wednesday was an interesting day. We spent the day learning about the biological products that are used in agroecology systems as well as the production process for some of the products that are produced at INCA. Dr. Elein Terry Alfonso talked to us in the morning about biological products in general as well as the global demand. It was interesting to gain insight into a different subject matter that I am not as exposed to in the classes that I have taken so far in my university career. Elein talked to us about a variety of different topics but she also included both the positive and negatives about biotechnology, which I feel like sometimes, are glazed over. It was a nice change to hear both side of the story from the same person.

After Elein’s lecture we were given a tour of the biotech lab and were shown how some of the products such as Pectimorf and Quitomax were produced. It was cool that we were actually shown how products were made and the equipment that were used.

In the afternoon we were given a tour and demonstration about how Ecomic is made which is a product that is added to the soil during planting to help with mycorrhizal stimulation. The process of creating the Ecomic seems so simple yet complicated at the same time. I found it interesting to be able to walk around the processing plant if you would like to call it that, for Ecomic as most of the products that are created today are created behind closed doors.

Thursday May 19th was our second last day at INCA and we went to the BEACH!!!! The beach was awesome even though it rained (just our luck). When we got back to INCA in the afternoon we had a lecture from Barbara who talked about the work that is being done with PIAL which stands for the project innovation agriculture local. The primary goal of the PIAL is to work on seed saving and seed diversity as well as the accessibility of knowledge. One interesting comment that I can make about seed saving is that it isn’t done in Canada, as you are legally not allowed to save seed unless it is the original Roundup Ready variety, which is very rare to come by.

I think it is also important to comment on how much emphasis is put on working with women and youth. I think at this stage in the game almost everyone realizes how important our youth is and that engaging them and interacting with them is how knowledge will be passed on from generation to generation. I am glad to see that there are more organizations within the world promoting the gender equality if it is only a small step towards overhauling everyone’s opinion.

A second comparison that I might make between home and the educational opportunities that exist for agriculture employees is that the University as well as Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) offer courses and workshops that are available to the public as well as conferences to help spread the knowledge about different aspects of agriculture.

Overall it was interesting to hear about the PIAL and everything that they are working on within Cuba.

Friday, our last day at INCA! Today was a bittersweet day as it was nice to know that we were going home to begin summer jobs and get to see our families again but it was also sad as our time in Cuba was coming to an end. Today was also presentation day, which was a little nerve racking, but we all survived and I am sure we all did very well. The presentation itself was a cool idea as it helped develop transferrable skills that can be applied to other jobs in the future. One improvement that I would suggest for the course is having more on field experience and lectures specifically about how to evaluate an agroecosystem.

The presentations took all morning and in the afternoon was the goodbye celebration with a lot of people from INCA that we interacted with during our stay. It was nice to be able to see everyone and say goodbye and to thank them for the wonderful experience that it gave us.

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