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CINDY DAY: Down on the Cuban farm - sun, sand and fertile soil

A farmhand maintains the half-decade old equipment used every day on this farm in Villa Maria, near Maron City, Cuba.  The farmer told me his favourite tractor is the 1956 John Deere you see in this photo.
A farmhand maintains the half-decade old equipment used every day on this farm in Villa Maria, near Maron City, Cuba. The farmer told me his favourite tractor is the 1956 John Deere you see in this photo. - Cindy Day

It was early, dark and snowy.  The drive to Halifax Stanfield International Airport was not a pleasant one; cars were off the road and we were forced to detour around a closed section of the highway.

After we were safely parked, I walked from the car to the shuttle in ankle deep snow.  But none of that mattered – I would be in a sun dress before supper. 

This was our third visit to Cuba and it would be only the third time I would take myself completely off the grid.  The first 12 hours are scary; after that, it’s heavenly. 

While we indulge in an all-inclusive vacation, I make a point of getting off the resort at least once to get to know more about the culture – and this is why I come back.  Their unique culture is comprised of friendly people with remarkable ingenuity.

After settling in at the resort, I checked out the tour options: one of the day trips stood out – a visit to a local farm, the largest privately-owned farm in the area. 

Done!  I couldn’t wait!  The resourcefulness of this unique culture is apparent on the streets and in the villages. An astounding number of U.S.-made classic cars circa 1940s and 1950s are kept running. I was anxious to see how that creativity would manifest itself on the farm.

It was a very warm day; we were greeted by a knowledgeable guide with a big smile and a passion and love for the farm.  Still, I found it difficult to focus.  My attention was drawn to an old open-sided machine shed that housed the equipment used to work the land and harvest the crops.  It was like a museum display.  The tractors were more than 50 years old but were still being used every day.

The Spanish-speaking guide danced back and forth from French to English as we made our way around the farm.  She pointed out many tropical fruit trees: mango, guava, banana, almond, etc.  We picked and ate our way through the gardens where tall tomato plants were staked, next to rows of corn.  Tobacco plants were tucked in behind the corn and around the corner was a plot of coffee plants.  There were chickens, pigs, ducks and a of couple of horses.  Despite the heat and the proximity of the animals, the scent of fresh mint wafted through the air.  Our guide commented that the tourists consumed a lot of Mojitos.  She went on to tell us how Cuba’s agriculture had suffered since the early 1990s.  The fall of the Soviet Union and other communist countries led to a shortage of seed, fertilizer and other chemicals.  By necessity, the development of organic and sustainable agriculture followed. 

At the end of our tour, we were invited to sample some fruit and coconut water before getting back on the bus.  That’s when I spotted the farmer… and couldn’t resist.  I had a lovely conversation with the owner of the third-generation farm just outside of Maron City.  We did talk about his farming practices and his crops, but he seemed anxious to tell me something.  I stopped asking questions for a moment and that’s when he pointed to a humble home next to the machine shed.  He was beaming with pride when he told me that he had built that house; the two people rocking in a small patch of shade cast by the roofline, were his parents.

I was honoured to have been welcomed to his farm with its thriving farm-to-table practices and sustainable agriculture.

Those seven days spent under the hot Cuban sun were amazing; my body was like a solar panel recharged by the sun and my heart was warmed by the kindness and ingenuity of its people. 

I guess it is true: “You can take the girl out from the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.”

Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.

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