I recently returned from an amazing trip to Cuba. My favorite excursion upon our extensive tour of this most beautiful Caribbean island was our visit to La Finca Agroecologica in the lush Vinales valley where organic raised-bed gardening in Cuba demonstrates pure perfection. La Finca is a shining example of ecological gardening in harmony with nature wherein the dense, red clay soil has been overcome with the amended soils of raised beds, and the strategic use of plants and flowers to naturally and organically control garden pests and disease. This family owned agroecologica not only produces an abundance of beauty and fresh food, but operates a restaurant called El Parasio where one can savor a healthy, organic meal straight from the garden. Dining on the open porch overlooking the gardens and the exquisite Vinales valley is a feast for the body and soul while offering a true taste of paradise.
The Cuban people have long-suffered the impacts of the American Embargo since the 1960s when they were essentially cut off from most of the progressive world. However, their resilience and determination to survive these hardships resulted in a blessing of abundant sustainable and organic farms devoid of insecticides and pesticides. This lack of chemical toxins in their natural environment is so clearly evident. One cannot help but notice the pristine environments that radiate healthy ecosystems with clean streams, abundant birds, bees and wildlife, plant and tree diversity and crystal clear oceans and skies. As I slipped into the Caribbean sea for a swim, I instantly recognized the purity of these ocean waters untainted by constant polluted run-off and toxic dumping. Most significantly, their happy and healthy soils provide nourishing fresh food. Not only do Americans fall behind Cubans in overall health, we have made the grave mistake of endlessly poisoning our soils with harmful toxins that inevitably find their way into our bodies as well as into the animals and our water supplies. A return to organic gardening and biodynamic agriculture would be a wise move for our country if we want to restore our health and natural environment.
The Cuban culture affirms the benefits of organic gardening and living in harmony with the natural world. The raised beds at La Finca Agroecologica are the proper solution to the gardening challenges presented by both the thick clay soil and also the hilly terrain. Rather than exert enormous efforts to amend clay soil, the raised beds allow for easily amended soil while simultaneously gardening terraces are used along the rolling hillsides. Besides being able to control and improve these amended soils, raised beds allow for easier accessibility, pest and weed control, higher yields, improved drainage and aeration while retaining moisture and controlling root spread. Our tour guide of the La Finca gardens was a delightful, elderly Cuban man, Martine, who enthusiastically shared all his knowledge of the plants and flowers being used for natural pest control. Every bed was strategically planted to ward off the many garden pests that prevent successful growing. It was clearly working for these gardens were abundant and healthy.
– Basil was planted everywhere to prevent whiteflies and mosquitoes.
– Borage surrounded the cabbage to ward off the cabbage worm.
– Chives were planted to deter aphids and beetles.
– An abundance of lemongrass (citronella) and oregano were growing for which both discourage a wide variety of insects.
– Lantana was used to lessen mosquitoes as well as Lavender that also discouraged moths, fleas, flies and even scorpions.
– Dahlias and Cannas bloomed as an antidote to nematodes.
– Fennel warded off aphids, slugs and snails.
– Garlic was used to ward off snails, aphids and beetles.
– Marigolds filled the beds to thwart while flies and nematodes.
– Narcissus was planted to discourage moles.
– Nasturtiums abounded amidst squash to control the squash worms as well as aphids and beetles.
– Radishes grew amidst cucumbers to deter cucumber beetles.
– Thyme proliferated amidst cabbage, corn and tomatoes to control their common pests.
The gardens at La Finca Agroecologica are a true testimony for choosing nature’s wisdom by which to harmoniously thrive over man’s ignorant choice to poison the natural environment and disrupt nature’s balance. While Cuba is a smaller country than America, the same biodynamic gardening principles can be applied to small scale raised-bed gardening as well as large scale agricultural farming. Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic preparations were created to treat and restore both small and large scale farming operations, and have proven their rejuvenating properties time and time again. It is high time we learn from both nature and the Cuban people how to live in balance with our natural environment without the use of toxic chemicals that destroy harmonious and healthy living. The pristine natural environment that is alive and well in Cuba is a bittersweet reminder of how badly we have poisoned America the beautiful and how well we could be living if we made better choices. As renewed relations blossom between America and Cuba now, let us hope we do not contaminate the island gem of the Caribbean with our toxic progress.