Community Talks - Agroecology in Cuba

April’s Community Talk at MoCo fell on a beautiful, warm spring evening, and a good crowd turned out to hear local farmers Katie Black and Jim Ryan speak about their fascinating agro-ecology tour of Cuba...

Katie and Jim attended a week long conference in Cuba last November that drew small farmers from all over the world to observe the unique, innovative and resourceful farms that have been sustaining the Cuban people through years of economic sanctions.

When the Soviet Union fell in the 1990’s, Cuba lost nearly all of its ability to import or export goods. With no access to farm machinery, pesticides, fertilizers, or any of the other tools of modern farming, Cuba was forced to “go organic” in order to feed its people, and in the decades that followed, have created an amazing system of small, sustainable farms that are able to feed the Cuban people and provide a stable quality of life for farmers.

Jim and Katie showed us countless photos from their trip that illustrated the resourcefulness of the Cuban farmers they met, who were able to recycle and repurpose almost anything into usable materials on their farm, as well as the pride each farm took in the soil they were building, the ecological practices they were applying and the food they were growing.

What really seemed to stick with Katie and Jim was not simply the unique structure of each farm, but the system that allowed these farms to thrive. They explained how every region of Cuba has a strong farmers’ co-op and that these co-ops support small farmers in every way. The local co-op will find a farmer land to work and facilitate education throughout the farming community. The co-op finds a market for crops, picks those crops up at the farm and delivers them where they need to go. The co-op’s pavilion is a central meeting place in each region where people meet to socialize, learn and share information. Through this government supported system, Cuba is able to supply all its hospitals, schools and nursing homes with almost exclusively locally grown food, while ensuring that farmers are able to make a good living and focus their energies on the farm. What an amazing example of cooperatives working at their fullest potential for the communities they serve!

Thanks so much to Katie and Jim for sharing their thought provoking story with our community, and to all who showed up on a beautiful April evening to hear it. To learn more, please read Jim’s written account of the trip at .

So what is “Agroecology” anyway?

Agroecology is the incorporation of ecological processes into agricultural systems. Agroecology takes organic farming to the next level, blending principles such as permaculture, bionutrient density, and biodynamic farming. On the Cuban farms that Katie and Jim visited, the farmers proudly post the Agroecology practices they are using:

Translated into English, the sign reads:


 Agricultural Practices:

•Animal power

•Intercropping and permanent beds

•Soil conservation

•Erosion control- reforestation

•Compost and vermiculture

•Botanical insect control

•Biodynamic principles

•Micronutrient tea application

•Live fence

•Seed saving

•Climate change awareness & strategies

•Maximize available resources

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