Vermont farmer takes inspiration from Cuba
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | March 11,2013
Mimi Arnstein Photo
UVM Extension specialistVern Grubinger, left, and Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham, right, are shown with a host farmer at an organic urban farm co-op near Havana, Cuba, during a recent agricultural mission.
American farmers go into organic growing by choice.
In Cuba, according to Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham, they do it because they have to.
Stevens, who runs the organic Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, joined several other Vermont farmers for a 10-day tour of Cuban agriculture last month organized by the Vermont Caribbean Institute.
The trip was intended to identify potential areas of collaboration. Stevens said there were not many specific practices he found worth bringing back to Vermont.
“Obviously, with geography and climate and everything else, there are not a lot of direct transferables I can try,” he said.
He also said food that would rarely wind up in an American retail outlet is sold to consumers in Cuba because they cannot afford to reject produce over imperfections.
“It’s all just there because food is food and people have to eat,” he said.
However, Stevens said, watching the Cuban farmers at work got him thinking about the big picture of agriculture.
“A lot has to do with the long-range perspective,” he said. “What we’ve been able to do for 31 years in our farm is directed toward filling our markets.”
Cuban farmers, he said, have more of an emphasis on the “human element.”
“Whether we went to a research facility or a farm or a university, they all came back to a triple bottom-line concept,” Stevens said. “The societal element is important, the economic element is important and the environmental element is important.”
While the lack of a free market has limited some of the options to Cuban farmers, it has also spurred innovations in organic farming, such as in pest control, as Cuban farmers lack access to many of the pesticides available in the rest of the world.
Stevens said he also thinks the United States could try to adapt some of the ways Cuba implements scientific programs at the farm level, perhaps with university sponsorship.
On that note, he said America could help the Cuban agriculture industry with experimental design. He said research projects in Cuba emphasize feeding people over producing data.
“Maybe they could learn how to set up (repeatable) trials,” he said. “Maybe they know it, but we didn’t see a lot of it.”