Although I am standing on the back step of my homestead in northern Alberta, I can picture Cuba as I gaze across the garden. This winter, Donovan and I had the pleasure of spending three weeks exploring Cuba. It was in Cuba seven years ago where Donovan’s desire to farm was reawakened. The straw hat wearing, overall-clad voice in the back of his head beckoned him back to the land.
He first travelled there for a nine-week permaculture course in central Cuba, organized by Ron Berezan also known as The Urban Farmer. They transformed an unproductive vacant lot that was being used as a garbage dump and turned it into a food forest. Now, the diversity there is outstanding – there are mango trees, bananas, pineapples, vegetable beds, bamboo, tilapia, and much more.
Cuba has been an inspiration to me ever since I watched a documentary on their conversion to organic agriculture, which happened almost overnight. In the early 1990s, Cuba’s primary trading partner, Russia, was unable to continue supplying them with the chemical fertilizers and pesticides required maintain the sugarcane production that occupied the majority of Cuba’s arable land. Cuba was forced to become more independent and produce their own food without chemicals and fertilizers.
I am inspired by the possibility that such a drastic reversal from the current industrial agricultural model can happen in such a short period of time. Through composting, crop rotations, inter-cropping, and soil building, Cuba was able to produce a large portion of their own food.
The reason that I can see Cuba in our garden is because I would see chickens wandering and foraging everywhere we travelled to in Cuba. Now that the snow is gone (for now – that could change in the next few days), our chickens have been exploring and foraging in last year’s garden. It is nice to watch chickens being chickens and indulging in their natural behaviour. I really hope they devour all of the slug eggs! To mimic summer foraging, the chickens were provided with a fresh supply of alfalfa throughout the winter. On occasion, they also received spent veggies which they excitedly devoured. This kept the yolks thick and yellow, but we missed the summer orange yolks from eating fresh grubs and green grass. Since the chickens have begun foraging again, the colour of the yolks are becoming a that darker orange and even more nutrient dense.
Cuba had been a huge inspiration for the second year at The Homestead and improving our self-sufficiency. One of the major tasks this month is to expand our composting system. Regularly, throughout the winter we added organic straw and shavings to create a deep bedding in the Egg Chalet. As the bedding got thicker, the lower layer began to compost and released heat that helped heat the coop. Now that it has warmed up, we will start actively composting the nutrients that the chickens so kindly deposited for us throughout the winter so we can improve the soil at The Homestead.
Stay tuned and follow us on our journey. We will have a lot to share during our second season at The Homestead!