Monday, January 31, 2011

Organoponico NEEM – what is Agroecology and the Cuban model

The industrial model of agriculture is in a global crisis. As resources for the production of food are compromised, the vision of ever increasing yields through industrialization of production is challenged. As a result of this crisis, the new model of agriculture, agroecology in the rural sector and urban inner city are gaining favor. The new paradigm views the farm as an eco system, and blends the technical advances of modern science with the time tested and common sense knowledge of traditional farming practices. In reality agriculture as practiced today, especially, is not really sustainable. We disrupt the fabric of the land and the natural order of things to perform it. Urban agroecological approaches must take into consideration the urban environment. Approaches to agroecology in the urban sector are similar yet somewhat different. NEEM takes a Frank Lloyd Wright approach that integrates the farm into the ecological framework so it is not disruptive, but diverse, complimentary and productive with the least amount of environmental impact. As urban agroecology gains increasing favor through grass roots and policy initiatives, the need for trained professionals and technical staff will be increasingly felt. Addressing that need now will create sustainable economies when they are needed most.
Cuba is no different than the rest of the world. However, the need was more urgently felt in Cuba two decades ago due to the fall of the iron curtain and the existing blockade. These created a crisis induced scarcity of external inputs for agriculture. Cuba returned to sustainable agriculture by default and in the process embraced it. The Agroecological approach takes sustainable AG to the next level, one that is self sustaining and ecologically sound, with infrastructure to support it and in harmony with nature.
The impacts of the industrial model are not sustainable; the increased cost is in chemical inputs and is evidenced by the increase in subsidies ten fold. Subsidies are also not sustainable. Urban Agroecology in practice and theory is sustainable at a fraction of the cost with a positive impact on the socio-economic and environmental dynamic.
The Agroecological model in Cuba is no longer theoretical. The essential area of training for transition is in place and practice.  Cuba has taken the step to become the “first sustainable society of the 21st century”.
NEEM replicates this model because we realize that Cuba is years ahead of the curve and because their practices are ecologically sound, as the oldest and most successful agroecological model on the planet. The Cuban model is in keeping with NEEMs natural and non invasive mission. It is a model that works and that is why we follow it and give credit where it is due.
“We weave the farm into the landscape, not the land into a farm.”
Jeff Ensminger

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Natural Environmental Ecological Management (NEEM)

614 Shepherd St., Durham, NC 27701 (Office)
2001 Chapel Hill Rd., Durham, NC 27707 (Retail and Nursery)
Phone: 919-321-6111
 Wednesday, January 26, 2011

North Carolina Sustainable Agriculture Delegation in Cuba  

Two peoples with one passion separated only by distance and politics
The North Carolina delegation to Cuba has returned from a most successful research trip. Led by NEEM and hosted by Dr. Fernando Funes, we were exposed over the seven day period to the agroecological system in Cuba from A - Z.
I half jokingly mentioned that there are as many Ministries and affiliated groups in Cuba as there are Oricha (the numerous deities of a prevailing religion, Santeria) which on first appearance seemed daunting in size and scope to imagine being effective. The group learned quickly that it was a collective, each with a specific task constantly updating each other on results like dripping water that fills the pot.  We have much to share in presentations to our community in the same spirit.
What did we learn?
That since sustainable agriculture is possible on a country level in Cuba that it is also possible in North Carolina on a State wide level. That farming is food science, an art, an honorable profession that is available to us in the States as a resource for sustainable economies in the urban sector. The U.S. is not all that different than Cuba, we too are a consumer society with all of our industry gone and Agriculture the largest left that must be preserved. Our community’s notion of local is best is strengthened and that the small local system works, less susceptible to problems, and is nutritionally and ecologically sound with the lowest environmental impact and a positive effect on the carbon footprint.
Some highlights of the trip:
Dr. Fernando Funes and his staff at ACTAF briefed us on the system. This set the tone for the days ahead allowing the delegates to get a basic understanding of the model. We were honored and forever grateful to Fernando, the father of Agroecology in Cuba, for taking the time to be with us daily. Fernando, his late wife and son Fernando II are Agroecolgical giants in Cuba. My first meetings with Cuban officials in the mid nineties were in Washington with Gustavo Machin at the Interest Section. We discussed infrastructure and I expressed a fear of potential change and return to conventional systems once relations between our countries were resolved. The delegation left knowing now that measures are in place that will prevent that. This was most important to know.
Organoponicos (large and small inner city farms) – referred to as “Basic Unit of Cooperative Production” (UBPC) litter inner city Havana. They provide sustainable economies and an enormous percentage of dietary requirements of the Cuban people are met through production and distribution. We saw several but the largest (and one of the most productive and successful) was Organoponico Alamar, run by Director Salcines in Vivero neighborhood. Alamar is a completely self sufficient operation with no chemical inputs with acres of raised beds, greenhouses, composting and vermi-composting, micorrhizes, livestock, biological controls, vegetable and ornamentals etc. Alamar’s success is a reflection on a large scale of the other smaller but similar operations hiring roughly 130 people with classes, restaurant, gift shop and vegetable stand on site.
Indio Hatuey Research Station - founded in the sixties, this is the most historic but one of many places established for research in a rural setting. Hatuey is in the province of Matanzas. All work here is based on diversified agroecological systems. Research covers every aspect and investigates various crops, silvopastoral concepts (mixed crop and livestock), organoponic, microorganisms, silk worm (sericulture), forage grasses, lawn grasses, bioenergy, complimentary and companion growing, most efficient complimentary crop rotations, nitrogenification through legumes, Integrated Pest Management etc. with tests sites and field tests throughout the property. All information developed here is shared with other stations and passed down country wide to the smallest operation in the rural and urban agroceological sectors. We could have spent days here.
Foods Conservation Community Project - “Vilde and Pepe’, old friends I had not seen for 8 years who are devoted to food preservation, solar drying, canning/bottling, condiments, preserves and an undying gift to the community by this devoted couple to fostering Traditional Cuban Cuisine and maximum utilization of products produced. They spread a spirit of sharing in educational projects throughout Cuba and the global community.
Villa Hortensia – farmer and Agroecological artist par excellence Idalio Mederos. Words cannot truly relay what we witnessed here. Idalio has taken Villa Hortensia to a level that can only be described accurately in a slide or power point presentation. His farm is a visual and artistic Garden of Eden producing ornamentals. No natural stone was left unturned here, every step a visual pleasure right up to the most artistic compost pile I have ever seen. Idalio is what we would all like to be, off the grid, no computer, making his own charcoal, completely self sufficient, humble with an enormous heart. Hortensia lies outside Havana in the Artemisa municipality.
 “El Grupo Magnifico”
The delegation was diverse and comprised of North Carolina farmers, academics representing 4 major universities, NC Department of Agriculture, fund resources, Non Profit Groups, Agricultural and sustainable community consultants. Fernando Funes, our driver and Joe (our interpreter). Most were members or affiliated with CFSA and CEFS. A few were out of State invitees and either current or future collaborators with NC. We were professional, family and will work together in future collaborations; here and in Cuba. All had determined early on to share our mutual information, pictures and presentations gathered with our communities here in the States. I think I can speak for the group in that our desire is the same spirit of cooperation and sharing for the greater good that left an indelible mark on all of us.

We thank in addition: CATEC, UBPC’s, Indio Hatuey, CTA’s, INIFAT, ICAP, MINAGRI, Idalmis Nazco, Alina Martin, Ivis Cárdenas, Roberto Caballero, Egidio Perez, Director Salcines, Osvaldo Franchialfaro, Giraldo Martin, Dr. Odalys, Dr. Iglesias, Idalio Maderos, Luis Ortega, America and Carlo, Eng. Diaz, Eng. Rodriguez, Vilda and Peppe, Dr. Perez, Dr. Vazquez, Dr. Febles, Dr. Orellana, Dr. Funes Monzote II, Dr. Rodriguez-Nodals, Dr. Companoni, Dr. Cruz and Roberto Sanchez; the Hotel Nacional and its staff and the people of Cuba.
Jeffrey A. Ensminger
            Executive Director