When Elisabeth and Rolando decided to clear a garbage dump right next to the Bay of Cojímar, and start a family farm on the site, their friends, neighbours and the local authorities all thought that they were bananas.
Well, the Cachón is now a lovely, fertile vegetable farm/orchard. On the weekends, Elisabeth collects the organic lettuce, celery, beets, guavas, mango etc. and sells them fresh right there on the road next to the Cachón.
Speaking of bananas, it was by covering the ground with banana leaves and sugarcane waste, explains Elisabeth, that they were able to restore the soil so that it could produce fruits and vegetables.
But the Cachón is now so much more than just a vegetable farm/orchard. Elisabeth and Rolando are both agro-ecologists and environmental activists. El Cachón is one of the biggest environmental community projects here in Cojímar, a neighbourhood in the Eastern Havana municipality of Havana.
First of all, the Cachón serves as an example of how to improve the sanitary hygienic situation in the community and develop self-sustainable urban agricultural production next to the sea.
Moreover, Elisabeth and Rolando organize environmental and sociocultural events, workshops and competitions for children, youth, adults and seniors right there at the Cachón. For example, they do a scarecrow competition with children ages 9 to 15. The task is to construct scarecrows (a local tradition here in Cojímar), but the catch is to do so using all sorts of trash materials that the children may find on the beach. Then the scarecrows are all displayed in the garden of el Cachón. Elisabeth remarks that the school children with whom they organize environmentally related workshops on a monthly basis do end up informing and educating their parents about family farming practices, influencing them also to introduce more fruits and vegetables into the household diet.
Rolando explains that family farming is for everyone. Elisabeth and Rolando facilitate a permaculture course to youth and young families in Cojímar, introducing them to the idea of small-scale urban food production with simple, accessible methods.
The couple is really trying to change their community’s preconceptions about farming and food production. In fact, now that Cuba is pushing toward a form of food production that is much smaller in scale, more sustainable, with more freedom of action for the producer, it’s obvious that the future of Cuban agriculture is with young farmers. This is so especially when you keep in mind that Cuba has a rapidly aging population, coupled with a decreasing birth rate.
Rolando exclaims, however, that urban farming in courtyards or patios, is also an ideal way for elders to keep themselves busy, eat healthy and feel that they continue to contribute to the household and society.
The Cachón project is heavily involved with other municipal, regional and international social groups and networks. It offers courses in urban agriculture and has hosted international student and urban farmer group exchanges. Elisabeth explains that environmental awareness is so transversal that it is stimulated further by way of community activities that they host which may not directly be about a specific environmental or agricultural issue. The Cachón provides an opportunity of association and learning between people who otherwise would’ve never met if it was not for this nifty sociocultural space.