It may seem like just another entry to the list of stories about the sometimes-exaggerated fantasy of the Cuban countryside, but it is not. The province of Santi Spíritus is home to an undeniably special place: La Finca del Medio, a bastion of humanity, creativity and respect for nature.
A place where everyday can be seen as a great harvest, the result of caring for family values and a love of the land, while fostering a sense of belonging in those who live and work there, producing food, informed by unique and refreshing concepts.
The philosophy of this universe, crafted by farmers Casimiro and Caridad, with their son and daughters, can be best understood in the words of Leidy Casimiro Rodriguez, the eldest daughter: “The farm consists of around 10 hectares, and a family with an average age of 32. All the members of the family have participated (both within Cuba and abroad) in events related to agro-ecology, permaculture, gender equality, and food. Between us all, we have reached a consensus that agroecology in Cuba would light the way, for the first time in history, for the country to become totally self-sufficient with regards to food in the long term. Providing healthy food of excellent quality, without extremely costly transport and all of the damage it causes. We believe that Cuba has the right conditions and, crucially, the need and commitment”.
One thing that stands out in the work of this group of farmers from Sancti Spíritus is their willingness and determination to address the problems arising from climate change and the effects of natural disasters that typically occur in the Caribbean, such as hurricanes. They intelligently combine the knowledge handed down by their forebears, based on observation and practice, with scientific knowledge, acquired over many years of study. The application of agroecology and permaculture has allowed them to reach new levels of development and has become a major challenge.
Leidy, when describing the activity at Finca del Medio, proudly emphasizes educational work and the drive to convert new devotees to the farms most innovative concepts. For her family, education in these principles has always been important: “Together they have participated in agroecology and permaculture courses, some given at the farm itself by the originator of permaculture, David Holmgren, and his family, in conjunction with the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation. We are thinking, as much as we can, about creating the conditions and obtaining experience, organizing workshops according to our means on any topic of interest related to what we do and we have learned from the field in the last 23 years. We want to share our knowledge and learn from those who visit us”.
It’s therefore little surprise that the Finca del Medio identifies strongly with the principles of Slow Food. This is where the Cuba’s Slow Food community, “Agroecology and Permaculture of Taguasco”, is based. This harmony of principles, is according to Leidy, clear to see: “We are now on a path towards excellence and exquisiteness in producing the healthiest and most delicious food from the Cuban countryside. We are focusing on simplicity and quality for food that is not only very tasty, but also good for the body in terms of the quality of its nutrients: food that is fresh, local, and free from additives and harsh chemicals.”
As for the relationship between Slow Food and La Finca del Medio, Leidy sees it as mutually beneficial: “It’s a link that provides ample room for the management of knowledge and activities that can contribute to the development of family farming based on principles of equality and inclusion. A blend of ethics and resource independence in an ecological, productive, technological environment, promoting energy, economic and socio-political efficiency. Academically, it enriches knowledge of food culture, agroecology and permaculture, via exchanges that promote the sharing of knowledge between farmers, researchers and decision-makers. In practice, our Convivium (Agroecology and Permaculture Taguasco) cooperates with various social, family and institutional projects to spread our principles to other domains, promoting socio-ecological resilience in agriculture, taking an agroecological approach, blending the ethical and design principles of Permaculture and those of the Slow Food movement”.
Many interesting aspects have been left out of this brief tour of the Finca del Medio. Many things about the family, their daily habits, their attachment to traditions, and about how they deal with natural or financial difficulties, are worthy of exploration. Nothing has been said about the boldness or the intelligence of the tempestuous Chavely, an artist, the youngest of the siblings. We have not heard about the work of José Antonio, the brother who works to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers, publishing several books about the Finca del Medio. Or young Lysandra, who, united in love with José Antonio and captivated by the beauty of the countryside, brought their son, José Alberto, into the world.
As for Casimiro, the founder of this Food Community, we are still to learn about his talent and passion as a farmer and human being. He is the model father and son who knew how take on the legacy of his parents. We have yet to meet Caridad, grandmother to another beautiful boy, Darío Antonio, Leidy’s son. She is, above all, the female mainstay from whom other women have learned how to assume the heroic and anonymous daily role in the family of woman, mother and farmer.
The Casimiro Rodríguez family and their Finca del Medio are surprising and inspirational, and as we bring to a close this brief overview, it cannot go unsaid that Leidy Casimiro Rodríguez is a respectable scientist – the first Cuban to obtain a PhD in Agroecological Sciences – and an intrepid farmer; a female role model for the Cubans of today and tomorrow.