Friday, November 26, 2010

Culture and Agriculture

Cuba’s Urban Gardens: Necessity is the Mother of Creative, Social Ingenuity
*Notes for the Reader: Special Period: 1990s. A time of severe economic and social distress in Cuba as a result of the collapse of the Socialist Bloc in Eastern Europe – previously Cuba’s most influential trading partner.  Overnight, Cuba’s economy was crippled. Food, medicine and energy shortages quickly put the nation of Cuba into a state of emergency. The US blockade only furthered Cuba’s economic collapse during the Special Period. Emergency food rationing, importing over 1 million bicycles from China, intensified research into natural, traditional, plant-based medicines and the immediate conversion of empty urban spaces into food producing gardens were some of the ways the resilient, creative and intelligent people of Cuba attempted to cope with this serious situation. Although the people of Cuba may not be in as desperate of a situation today, the ingenuity which sprouted from the Special Period continues to spread in Cuba, making this island nation a shining example for the world in sustainable development. (*******add quote here from United Nations research from Global exchange website)
Alamar Vivero Organoponico
Organoponico is a Cuban term for organically grown, bio-intensive, hand-cultivated urban and suburban gardens, often built with raised beds above cement, on top of previous building sites or on soil previously inhospitable to food production. Through bio-remediation techniques such as worm composting, soil bacterium inoculations and composting, soil material is created organically, enabling the growth of healthy and greatly productive gardens. One of the most important aspects of Organoponicos is that food production is located within areas of high urban populations, meaning that less energy is required to transport the harvests to the people which greatly increases food security and healthy diets for the city dwelling population – where 75% of Cuba’s 11 million residents live.
The Alamar Vivero Organoponico is a seemingly endless urban farm of 11 hectares farmed collectively by over 175 people. The gardens, which beam with a green vibrancy only healthy soil can produce, are situated east of La Habana and were founded in 1995 during the height of the Special Period by current (democratically elected) Farm President Miguel Salcides. On our first visit to Alamar, Salcides outlined the unique characteristics of this Organoponico.  “Here at Alamar, our main goal is to support and encourage the culture of agriculture. In the 21st century, and (he laughs) even in Cuba, we have all the knowledge and infrastructure design to create ecologically sustainable food systems. All over the world, we know the scientific methods of organic growing. The most challenging component of the Agroecosystem is the Human Factor.” Indeed, it is society that decides who eats, what we eat, if we use chemicals or genetically modify seeds, and who will be the farmers.He continues, “Our first goal is to provide a healthy social environment for our farmworkers. This component is key to long-term farm sustainability.” Miguel goes on to list their Farmworker Rights Statement: Dignity, Possibilities for Advancement, Healthy Work conditions (6 hours max work days in summer, 7 in winter), Economical Base Salary, On-Farm lunch and Breakfast Free, Free Barbershop, Toothpaste and Basic Toiletries.
The second goal of Vivero Alamar is to raise the farmworker’s livelihoods by exploring diverse agroecological markets and realms for economic advances. “We have many challenges – and some of our ideas for diversifying farmer activities include: agro-tourism, on-farm restaurants and dining, educational training delegations, production of biological fertilizer and bio-pest control products and intellectual services. This is how we are advancing in the agroecology realm, Intellectual Discipline.”
A third and integral part of the solution for increasing local food security and strengthening community well-being is Education. As we walk away from the vibrant, lively fields of Vivero Alamar Organoponico, I have a new perspective on what the Cuban Agricultural Movement has to teach the world. Here’s the message from the Cuban agroecologists: It is the Human component of agriculture that seeks and needs advancement. Through education, populations will understand the integral role of nutrition to long-term personal health care and well-being. Through education, people will understand how to play active roles in responsible community activism. The Agroecological Movement of the 21st Century is a Social Movement. The key factor in creating a just and sustaining future is education, inspiration and passionate encouragement for the next generation of caretakers. Hope is in the seeds of intellect, creativity and friendship, planted in the Heart’s of the Youth.
Our second visit to Alamar on November 23 was a monumental day: our first Garlic Planting on the Island of Cuba. First, we met Miguel MaceoAlverez from Organoponico Antero Regalado Falcon. Under warm sunny skies we pushed three Utah Porcelain cloves into Cuba’s red earth. “With love, anything will grow,” assured Miguel. He gifted Kati a handful of Jirasols, sunflowers, which they grow for use in Santeria ceremonies and offerings to the Orishas. We promise to return in the spring to check in on our Friendship Garlic.
Next, we return to Miguel Salcides, Marisol and the manicured garden beds of Vivero Alamar. We roll up on our turquoise tandem and immediately draw full-farm attention. We meet Fabian Ramirez, a 7 year-old who agrees to help us plant our Friendship Garlic. He is a quiet little guy with a sweet smile. We walk to the fields in search of the right bed to plant our five Porcelain cloves. Bed Number 1 it is! With the help of Miguel, Fabian and farmworker Raveme Vicente Cenu, we push five more huge cloves into red earth. Kati and I pulled out a baseball as a gift for Fabian, and his eyes grew in excitement. We all signed the baseball together beside the garlic planting. For the rest of the afternoon while we enjoyed a meal of farm fresh lettuce, tomatoes and squash soup, Fabian practiced his pitching stance with a new liveliness in his step. If someday he makes it to the MLB, we’ll have a great story to tell – and the garlic will be named Ajo Fabian. Again, we make the promise of returning in the spring for harvest time. From 5,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains to sea level on the Caribbean’s shores, only time will reveal how the blessed bulbs will grow. Like Miguel says, “ with love, anything will grow.”

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Journey to Sancti Spiritus

Our Global Exchange program is nearly over and soon we will be riding our tandem bike through tobacco fields and connecting with more and more farmers.  Inspiration is everywhere in this country. The following images are a collection of photos from a cooperative farm, a walk around one of the oldest cities in Cuba, and an urban permaculture project. Make sure to read the short story below by Pete about our new friendship with the Garlic farmers of Banao......


November 19, 2010
La Habana Cuba
Honored, Humbled Guests of Banao’s People
Sometimes we write to reflect on experiences, to record ideas, dreams, aspirations or important events. Tonight, after spending two hours embraced by the loving hearts of new Cuban friends, I write, so that we may never forget this deeply compassionate, love-filled fiesta with a community of amazing souls.
Meeting with Banao’s CDR
*Note for readers: CDR (pronounced “say-day-air-ay”) stands for Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. Created in the early years of the Revolution, CDR is basically a town hall meeting forum for neighborhood members to gather on a regular basis to discuss community problems and solutions. Each CDR has an elected leader (non-paid voluntary position) who represents the people on the National Assembly level.
Our group of ten American visitors and one Cuban tour leader arrive in our bus well after dark. Expecting to have a “meeting” with local CDR members, we are prepared with notebooks in hand, ready for a formal discussion, eager to learn. As we bump along the town streets of Banoa, a rural community in Central Cuba, we see a person waiting for us at the street corner. He waves to us, then sprints down the street waving his arms at a mass of people gathered in the streets. What the ten of us experience next, we could have never expected, and we will never forget.
As we exit the bus, the mass of people, easily numbering 100, has organized themselves into perfectly straight rows on either side of the small cobblestone street. Their hands are folded in front, stoic in their bodies and faces, radiating direct eye contact, emitting welcoming yet serious glances as we all begin to walk down the center our their human tunnel of honor. My mind races with confusion, and I wonder who they think we are. They all begin to clap with vigor and in unison. We feel like heroic champions, returning from a valiant effort abroad, being welcomed back home as honored citizens. What have we done to warrant such a gesture of respect? We have done nothing special, but we are guests of Cuba, visiting from the United States, and to the people of Banoa, our arrival is something to celebrate. They see us as family, and their hospitality runs freely and deep like a bubbling spring.
The clapping stops and a woman, the speaker of Banao’s CDR, announces, “We begin all our community gatherings with this song, our national anthem.” The voices begin with conviction and harmony, kids, grandmothers, teachers and farmers. The song ends and we clap. An elementary child, dressed in her school uniform and shiny black shoes, recites an emotion-filled, eloquent poem about the Cuban Five, all by memory, all words spoken from the heart. Next, two high school youth sing a Cuban welcome song accompanied by a guitar. The committee’s leader reads a beautiful welcome address, bringing tears to our eyes. We are treated with incomprehensible honor and love. All eyes are on the ten of us, the moment lit by streetlights and infused with an energy of both uncertainty and excitement that builds with each second.
King, a member of our group, steps forward to make an unexpected offering to the people. “I have a story to share. Before Fidel Castro was a legend in Cuba, he tried out for a baseball team in the early 1950s in the United States. Luckily, he did not make the cut – instead becoming one of the world’s most unique and controversial leaders. We have a baseball from the United States to offer to you as a gesture of friendship.” The group energetically claps and the ball is passed to the woman leader. Smiles begin to loosen and the intensity of the moment eases with this regalito.
Next, Kati and I step forward. In our hands we hold a garlic braid, Ajo Criolla, which we had purchased earlier in the day from a man selling on the highway. “Thank you for welcoming us into your community so beautifully. We have a garlic farm in the United States, and although it is difficult to bring garlic from our farm here, we wanted to offer this beautiful Cuban garlic to you as a gift. Then, Kati steps forward and so eloquently adds, “For us, we see garlic as a symbol of family and unity, because from one single clove planted, many new generations will grow and expand in our gardens. We offer this to you with hope that our futures will grow together with kindness and friendship.” What we learn next is a true miracle.
The community of Banao is famous throughout the island of Cuba for the cultivation of two special, honored crops: Cebolla y Ajo (Onions and Garlic!). My heart skips a beat when our translator relays this joyous information. My eyes widen as we prepare to hear more. We have landed in the heart of Cuba’s garlic growing community. I am stunned by this news and in the moment, there seems to be no such thing as coincidences in life, only perfectly aligned combinations of factors, allowing for true connections to be made.
**Note. The following story may seem too striking to be true. However, this is simply the true documentation of the evening’s proceedings. Kati’s initials are here to confirm content accuracy (kg).
The woman leader of the CDR takes the braid and holds it high above her head, “Even though we have plenty of our own garlic in this town, and even though this garlic you offer to us probably was grown by one of the members in attendance tonight, we will honor these heads of garlic as the most special garlic we have, because it comes from your hands tonight, and we know that your admiration and friendship is now inside of these bulbs.”
My jaw dropped as Elizabeth, our Cuban translator, echoed these words. I could hardly breath – my heart garden bloomed with miraculous joy in this moment. I held my beautiful wife close, pinched my own cheek to make sure this was not a wonderful dream, and another round of vigorous clapping echoed into the tropical breezes of the night. The party was just beginning.
Welcoming ceremonies complete, baseballs and allium gifts exchanged, and music begins to blast from two large speakers on a wooden table outside the community building. Before anyone can understand that we are not headed inside to begin the meeting, Kati and I are swept off our feet by two elderly dancers. The crowd moves into the streets center and the dancing begins. Kati is twirled around by her Cuban dance partner, her dance skills and rhythm serving her well as onlookers clap hands to the Reggaeton beats and laugh at the sight of ten Americans trying their best to dance.
Sweat pours from my face as my seventy year old Cuban dance partner shakes, rattles and rolls in the balmy air of Cuba’s central valley. I take a break and quickly am met by a group of kids who try to teach me their dance step. I try. Kati’s pot-bellied dance partner is all smiles and smooth moves and seems to be glowing with his good fortune of dancing with my beautiful wife.
The music stops and the woman CDR leader makes an announcement, asking for the newlyweds Kaaaati y Pedro to come forward to the dessert table set up in the street. Someone had been informed we were on our Luna de Miel, honeymoon, in Cuba. “We have a very special tradition here in Cuba, of good fortune, for celebration the union of two people in love. We ask you to honor us, and please cut the first piece of cake.” Nearly to the day of our two month wedding anniversary, encircled by the gentle, smiling faces of an entire community of new Cuban friends, we take the knife together, cutting through the cake with smiles as big and pure as on our wedding day at Costanoa. We eat the first slice and everyone claps. Sticking Cuban frosting is smeared on my face. We want to cry from the beauty of this gesture. Our marriage is blessed, Cuban style.
We thank the crowd of friends, again uncertain what we have ever done as human beings to deserve such regal treatment and respect. But all we can do is reciprocate the emotional love. We announce to the crowd that it has been a dream of ours to celebrate our Luna de Miel in with the People of Cuba, but that we never could have expected we would be gifted such love, kindness and spirited joy. Having our Luna de Miel celebrated with the People of Banao on this magical night is the highest honor, and this experience of pure friendship will live on within us, and our future family, forever.
For the next hour we share our photos and explain life and family in the United States. One garlic farmer named Avley Gomez Enrique held up a photo of Kati and I holding a bundle of freshly harvested garlic, with the Wasatch Mountains of Utah pink with the alpine glow of sunset and said with gusto, “These are the same as our mountains above our garlic fields. You think I am joking but you will see, we are the same people, farming the same beautiful plants beneath such similar beautiful mountains. Pedro, you and your wife Kaaati are good people.” We described out beach wedding ceremony, the surfboard and the dolphins, our bicicleta double, our moms and dads and sisters and brothers and we all laughed in the unexpected joy of our many similarities and newfound friendship.
We learn Cuban Ajo Criollo is planted between October and November and is harvested by April 1, a growth cycle of about 5-6 months. Bulbs are generally quite small but exhibit a deep, biting, picante flavor that builds on the tongue and builds in intensity inside the stomach, with a clean, pleasing finish. The group of garlic and onion farmers that have surrounded us erupt in laughter when Kati tells them that our mountain grown garlic takes 9 months to mature, just like a baby. Of course, that prompted the question, since they all knew we were Honey Mooning, “When will you have your ninas and ninos?”
We tell our new friends from the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, our nuevos amigos de Banao, that soon we will return to visit. We tell them we will return very shortly on our bicicleta double, with our ajo from los Estados Unidos to plant in their fields. The women all invite us to stay in their homes with their families when we return so we may tell more stories and laugh and dance. We will begin our first Farmer Profiles for The Plants and People Project and with the youth of Banao, push the first experimental Porcelain cloves from the Mountains of Utah into the Caribbean soils of Banao, Cuba – in the allium growing center of the island. Sometimes, for unknown reasons, the realities of life far exceed our wildest dreams. This has been one of those sweet, unforgettable times.
Too soon, the time comes that we must leave the smiling faces of Banao. A last dance circle is enjoyed by all with music blaring into the night’s darkness beyond the street lights. A lengthy farewell ceremony follows in which many kisses, handshakes, long hugs and countless “much gusto”s are exchanged. We wave, kiss on the cheek, hug again and again and again, trying to prolong the moment of friendship as long as possible. We board the bus with beaming smiles on our faces and deep within. Tonight, maybe we will all dream of this love-filled exchange, not as Americans or Cubans, but as fortunate human beings whose hearts sing the song of unity, while warm breezes of friendship refresh our collective spirits.
The Cuban people we have met so far have such sincerity in their actions, emotions and gestures of cultural communication. We feel appreciation and respect for our new friends, and are humbled to meet people whose essence is genuine and pure like the light of the moon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cuba, oh Cuba....

We made it to Cuba after 3 days in Cancun and what a contrast of worlds.  People say that travelling to Cuba is like travelling back in time, but I think it is more like travelling forward….

Our first day in Cuba we went to the Province of Pinar del Rio where we toured a bio-reserve region and a sustainable community project. The name of this province means “Pines of the River” and it was amazing to see this kind of endemic pine tree growing right along-side palm trees and other tropical plants.

The community here was quite amazing and seemed to be a rare example of a place where tourism exists harmoniously within culture. The people of “Las Terraces” community grow much of their own food and have developed various crafts and products in addition to an amazing restaurant that attract tourists from all over the world.
This is Maria.  An amazing spirit who brews incredible coffee and has very soft and hard working hands.  She was very excited about our gift of garlic and told us many stories about her life, of which we understood very little (spanish is extremely fast and of a totally different dialect here...but we're learning more each day!)
The siteof “Las Terraces” was once a coffee plantation implemented by the French and worked on by hundreds of slaves who labored on land that ultimately proved to be very poorly suited for growing coffee because the soil is not deep enough.  But now an organic farm thrives for the community.

Pete, of course, tests out the waters wherever we go!

On Day 2 we went to a play put on by “La Colmenita” Children’s Theater Company which was an extremely powerful production about “The Cuban Five” who are political prisoners being held in the US. These amazing children put together such a beautiful and moving production that spoke to the pain that is being caused by US policies against Cuba and exemplified the creative spirit of survival in this country.

After we were moved to tears by the incredible performances we walked around Old Havana and were overwhelmed with the beauty and culture of this city.

We couldn’t be more humbled or happy to be here and we can’t wait to see what happens next.  More to come!!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Heat Wave, Surf's Up, Made it to San Diego

We finally made it to San Diego!!!! and what an amazing journey it has been.....

Corona Music Garlic in Santa Barbara. With winds alas at our backs, we ride south from Gaviota, through citrus orchards that fill the warm air with fragrance of sweet blossoms.

Surfing Rincon! The warm eastern winds begin to blow again, just like on our September 25 wedding day. Below green hillsides terraced with rolling acres of avocado trees, the first signs of an ocean swell from a storm in Alaskan waters begin to peel into the pointbreak of Rincon. At this world famous surf location, Kati lounged in the drift-wood supported hammock and Pete borrowed a board to ride a few fun, gentle waves.

Poison fields and headwinds. Day 27 from Oxnard to Santa Monica was the most difficult 50 miles of the journey. The day began before sunrise, with an easterly wind that smelled of a rotting carcass. Then we caught a glance of our camping neighbor, and we convinced ourselves he was one of Ventura County's most wanted, so we broke camp in silent, record time, and were on the road by daybreak. With no bike shoulder and semi trucks gusting wind bursts with each pass, we rode with pure concentration. Hundreds of acres of parsley and strawberries stretched towards to coast dunes. Men in white haz mat suits drove tractors that sprayed a mist from a container of neon green liquid. The winds blew this mist onto some crops, but mostly into the air. We covered our faces and rode with determination.

Out of the agricultural fields and back to the coast, where we took a rest and were gifted a bag of cashews from a bouldering climber.

Then the Santa Ana winds began to howl down the canyons, spraying offshore mist hundreds of feet into the air. The gusts were sustained 30 knots, and we had to dismount the bike and walk to avoid getting lifted off the cliff and out to sea.

Perfect waves in Malibu. The northwest swell arrived at County Line, where waveriders found warm offshore winds, head-high surf and ideal conditions. Onlookers watched the sets roll in with amazement.

Bay Watch dreaming.... Lifeguard Pete keeps the Malibu shores safe as he watches surf at Zuma Beach.

Malibu's beach estates hang on the cliffs behind this honeymooning mermaid. We swam beneath the waves like dolphins, the ocean's salt and sand scrubbing away any pesticide residue and highway grime. The toughest riding day became a warm, beautiful beach day, and we set our compass for the northern shores of L.A.
 Our voracious appetite is symbolized by this burrito stand art piece. We eat six super burritos for every 50 miles we ride.....each.

Santa Monica gifted a colorful, gentle welcoming to the L.A. area where we met up with dear friends Amanda, Jamie and Kendra for a few sweet meals, lifeguard truck posing and a visit to a community garden.

Venice Beach was alive and well, with street performances, a Go Vegan march and a Halloween costume volleyball match. Pete watched a pick-up game, and waited for someone to hustle with, White Men Can't Jump style.

Biking L.A. was the easiest, safest leg of the coastal journey, with huge wide bike paths winding through the sand and hundreds of feet from the nearest autos. We made our way to the home of Kristin and Gene, parents of winemaker Colin McNany. A delicious meal was prepared, halibut, mashed potatoes and an apple crisp tart. Living large with the McNany's of Palos Verdes.

Kristin took us to Colin's old stomping grounds of Rocky Point, where we walked Nanuk, searched for seashells and then went for a zippy Sunday drive in a brand new convertible.

On Halloween we carved pumpkins, planted garlic cloves and by nightfall scared so many Palos Verdes kids into screams of fright. We passed out candy and Kati brought a new spin to the streets of PV, when she insisted the kids must tell a joke before receiving a Butterfinger or Whopper Balls. Carrying on St. Louis Halloween traditions, and confusing the trick or treaters, who walked up the steps in search of free, no hassles candy.

Would you trust your children with these freaks?

Kati bonds with Nanuk, a kind-hearted dawg that reminded Kati of her beloved childhood puppy Brooks.

Honeymooners enjoy sweeping vistas of the L.A. harbor, industrial park and power plant facilities.

To the canyon views of Laguna Beach, where fall monsoons brought green sprouts to the often parched chaparral of southern California's coastlands.

Amazed to find Plumeria trees in full fragrant bloom, preparing us for the tropical scents to come in Cuba.

As the sun lowers on day 34, hundreds of wave-riders search the oceanic horizon for their perfect wave. Pictured here is a break named Trestles, where turquoise waves shimmered in the golden hues of fall.

San Onofre state beach, our last campground before the final push into San Diego, represents our strangest camping experience. We woke numerous times in the night, thinking a Boeing 737 was about to land on our picnic table. It was the CoastLiner Amtrack screeching to a halt just across the street. The northern view from our campsite revealed the Southern California Edyson Nuclear Power Plant, illuminated like a space craft by halogen flood lights and responsible for supplying much of Southern California's huge energy supply. To the south, we are warned of the bike path that passes through the Camp Pendleton Military training grounds, a road that was closed to bikers earlier in the week because they were exploding deadly ordinances. BlackHawk helicopters circled in training missions day and night and swiftboats whizzed around the aircraft carrier just offshore. San Onofre and the southern coast highlighted the contrasting forces which California is home to, military and navy training grounds, nuclear power plants, world class surf locations, glamorous estates, turquoise waters filled with dolphins and whales.

Thirty five days of adventure along the California coast by tandem bike. Our potential as a couple has deepened as we understand the skills of patience, communication and trust. We love our Turquoise Tandem, and we prepare now for leg two of our Honeymoon travels.

Swami's surf break.... Dear Moms and Dads and family and friends. Thank you for your love trust and support. Continue to send us love and safe travel vibes. We'll write soon from Cuba!