Essex Farm Note
Week 49, 2015
Michele and I got back from our week in Cuba on Saturday. It’s good for the agrarian soul to see farms in other places, and good to recognize the bond we share with all other farmers, one that transcends geography, politics, and language. There were 250 people from 25 countries on the trip, and we broke into groups of 20 or so to tour farms in different provinces. The farms I saw, in Artemisa province, were similar to ours in that they were focused on growing healthy food for their own communities, and were highly diversified, with many relying on animal power forsome or all of their traction. Unlike ours, most of them focused on fruit, and used permaculture-style intense production methods on smaller-scale pieces of land (of 3 to 10 acres), with an emphasis on intercropping, and on worm compost.
Predictably, I was obsessed with the buey – the good-looking oxen that are used for tillage, hauling and cultivation. Animal traction in Cuba has existed since colonial days, but it became newly, urgently important after the fall of the Soviet Union cut off not only most of Cuba’s food imports, but also access to tractors, parts, and diesel. Two of the teams we saw included one steer and one bull – or so it appeared from down low and behind. My Spanish wasn’t good enough to ask too many questions about that situation, but I have never seen working bulls in North America. One farmer hitched his team for us and demonstrated his method for killing weeds before planting, using a one-row walking cultivator with a bar running under the surface of the soil. I am a horse person and have always thought of oxen as rather slow and plodding, but those big buey moved out a lot faster than I thought they would, the yoke strapped to their strong necks by their horns.