Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Filming Success in Cuba!

Dear Kickstarter supporters,

Just one week ago, we returned from our month of documentary travels
in Cuba. Canceled flights and major changes to our itinerary didn’t
slow us down for a second as we adapted to the unexpected and turned
challenges into inspiring opportunities. We have over 40 hours of
footage and interviews and are returning from Cuba with excitement for
the new direction of our documentary film.

For three weeks we traveled the island with two young Haitian
students, Ernst and Welbry, who have been studying sustainable
agriculture at the Agrarian University of Habana since 2007. Ernst and

Welbry, who both graduated with high honors in their program, have
ambitious, focused goals of returning to Haiti in September to begin a
“Farm School” – a youth training farm to teach the next generation how
to farm ecologically.

We spent hours touring urban farms in Alamar and Sancti Spiritus,
where Ernst and Welbry led interviews of Cuban farm managers who were
eager and articulate in sharing their experiences of starting thriving
farms from bare ground. We visited rural farmers in the red-earth
lands of Vinales, where massive limestone rocks emerged from perfectly
tended fields of sweet potato, corn and malanga (root vegetable). We
traveled to central Cuba where our garlic and onion growing friends
welcomed us all in like family – onion seeds were exchanged, mangoes
eaten and hours were spend cooling off under waterfalls.
After five years of studying Cuba’s model of sustainable agriculture,
Ernst and Welbry are ready to see what aspects of Cuba’s system are
applicable and transferable to their island home of Haiti. We have
been so inspired by our newfound friends. The focus of this
documentary film will be this story of Ernst and Welbry – how their
education in Cuba has inspired them to create a Farm School program in
Haiti. The film will be used to document the progression of the Farm
School and be used as an outreach and educational tool to gather
financial support for the project's development.

The Next Step? We will be travelling to Haiti in December to meet
with Ernst and Welbry after they arrive home from Cuba. We will
visit with local sustainable farming projects in the south-coast
region of Jacmel, visit prospective land for the Farm School, meet the
families of Ernst and Welbry and continue documenting how Cuba’s
agricultural experiences may help re-shape sustainable food production
in Haiti.

To all our supporters, thank you for your commitment and encouragement
for this project. Without your help, we could not have realized our
filming goals in Cuba. We feel energized and inspired by the direction
of this documentary, and humbled by the opportunity to have met such
great friends as Ernst and Welbry, whose commitment to sustainable
farming education is a story needing to be shared. Please continue to
follow our updates as the project rolls forward.

Pete and Kati

Stay tuned for video clips coming soon!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Road to Baracoa

We have less than a week left in Cuba and the experiences far out-number the space left on this page, but it is essential that we tell you about our favorite place in Cuba that we have travelled to so far: Baracoa. Inspiring Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, Baracoa is nestled in the largest, most biologically diverse rainforest region of the Caribbean. Prior to the 1960s, Baracoa was only accessible by sea and today to reach the town by car, one must be prepared for the roller coaster road called La Farolla. Baracoa has been home to the native Taino peoples of Cuba for centuries, and today their descendants still practice traditional, Taino agriculture in this region.  A land of our dreams, with such a rich history, where we will be returning pronto.

The landscape of Cuba is strikingly diverse. This morning we were in a desert land, watching south swells of the Caribbean in front of the military check-point at the Santiago-Guantanamo border. Cactus plants, wild aloe and red-rock limestone caves were the backdrop to the turquoise sea.
As our tandem wheels took us farther west, the desert dryness evaporated into misty mountains so lush and green. The hairpin road nicknamed La Farola guided us from sea level to 2,000 feet as we twisted and turned, following the contours of these mighty mountains. Around each corner were vistas of deep canyons, wild river gorges and tropical plants new to our eyes. The cool yet humid tropical air made us inhale with patience to take it all in. We finally arrived in the isolate northeastern Cuban village of Baracoa as night engulfed the day and misty mountain clouds floated below the canopy of stars. We have arrived in Baracoa.

Arriving in Cuba by canoe near 700 AD, the Taino People originated in the Rio Orinoco region of Venezuela. With them in their canoes, these people brought with them their staple crops: Yucca (cassava), Boniato (sweet potato), Maize, Calabasa (squash) and Frijoles (beans). Similar to the Tres Hermanas (Three Sisters) form of traditional agriculture found in many regions of the Americas (corn, bean and squash are inter-planted to take advantage of their positive ecological interactions) the Taino also had a three-crop inter-planting system which incorporated Maize, Boniato and Yucca. The Taino also used ground corn and corn husks to make ‘Hallaca’ or Tamales. Tobaco, coca and clarinocampana, a hallucinogenic flower, were all plants sacred to the Taino and used to help chiefs communicate with their gods. Taino farmers placed special ‘energetic rock idols’ in the middle of their fields to help protect their crops.

Baracoa is the land of three rivers, Rio de Miel, Rio Duaba and Rio Toa, the most voluminous. These freshwater lifelines begin their journey to the tropical Atlantic waves high in the lush mountains above Baracoa. They provide needed water for the Caribbean’s largest rainforest, irrigation water for the diverse plantations of platanos, cacao, coconut palms and mangoes, and an important tranquil inlet for the curious and gentle manatees of Cuba.

Polimitas: These Cuban endemic land-snails are vibrantly colorful, delicate and beautiful. Becoming endangered due to their illegal poaching for the tourist trade.
Roof Top Garden: Luis and his family began this rooftop garden ten years ago when the Baracoa Urban Agriculture Program gave out an urban growers handbook. Today, they produce medicinal herbs for use in teas and bushels of lettuce which they sell weekly to their neighbors. Luis says his son, Yeser, has loved to garden since he was a little boy.

On the last day of March we made some great friends who offered to prepare us a fresh meal, Baracoan style. We met this young group of guys at their home and they were carrying a string of congrejo (crabs). Next we picked up a bottle of rum, and headed to the beach. The most spectacular beach, miles of soft, black, glistening cobblestone, arching into a protected bay, backed by the tropical forest, and not another person in sight. We felt like they had led us to a secret beach. The boys climbed the coconut trees to cut fresh cocos, which we spike with Cuban white rum, for the freshest Cuban cocktail possible. They built a driftwood fire in the sand between the Caribbean Sea and the flowing river Duaba, and as the sun set we feasted on crab, vegetables with rice, mangoes and more agua de coco. Our best Cuban dining experience so far...

With the lushness of Baracoa and the white sand beaches of Playa Maguana behind us, the road west quickly turned devilish. The banana groves, waterfalls and fern-lined creeks quickly vanished, and we were pedaling up steep hills covered in an endless Pine Forest. Temperatures were pushing 100 degrees and the road would challenge even a professional downhill mountain bike racer. Huge potholes, steep descents and agonizing uphill climbs had us cursing the midday heat, each other and bike travel all together. We stopped in a small sliver of roadside shade, drank our last drops of water, and watched as dozens of vultures circled in the scorching thermals above us. Bumping down the dusty road, a truck slows to a stop and signals for us to hop in. Cubans pile out of the truck to help us lift the bike in, and we are off again, heading west, in the shade of a truck’s canopy. We pass through Moa, a land of environmental destruction, the island’s largest nickel mine, where factories puke with smoke, roadside pipes drip neon yellow sulfur dioxide and the barren land is devoid of vegetation. The tropical beauty of Baracoa is in our lovely memories.

The truck dropped us off here in Moa, where we had already missed the only bus out for the week. As has been the motto here in Cuba, if we go with the flow, great opportunities and wonderful friends emerge. Within ten minutes we find another ride in a truck, heading to the town of Holguin. The fare is reasonable and we hop aboard. The truck is filled with thousands of cartons of farm fresh Cuban tomatoes, and the turquoise tandem, Kati and I and three farmworkers fit snuggly as we again continue west into the sun. After the truck stops and unloads the tomatoes, the farm manager having sold all his crop, the celebration begins with a bottle of rum. For hours we pass the bottle around in the truck, the evening breeze blowing in my face, the Cuban countryside whizzing by in its greenness and expansive beauty. Spanish flows from my tongue easily as the truck picks up and unloads many interesting travelers.  This journey has been so  rich and full of adventure and learning.....our internet time has run out for the more stories when we see you soon.