The "Organoponic" Orchard Works
The Alamar Organoponic Orchard (Organopónico Vivero de Alamar) is a leading site in the urban agriculture program. The initiative was launched in the 90s, in the throes of the "Special Period," and backed by General Raúl Castro. Its aim: to enrich the population's impoverished diet by furnishing it with natural products. In the beginning organoponic gardens received support from the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), but they have endured thanks to the efforts of workers who tend the rows and man the sales stands each day.
"Most of us have been working here since the beginning, back when getting food in Alamar was nearly impossible," states a clerk at one of the stands. "There are some who have always been farmers, while others of us have learned. One does come to love the earth," he says.
The wages and benefits workers receive are also an incentive to continue. "It is true that we do well," says the clerk, "but not always. It depends on production. This summer, for example, we were getting just the minimum salary, because the heat kept us from growing anything here."
In addition to the traditional crops of tubers and vegetables that were planted in the 90s, the organoponic orchard at Alamar yields other items, like medicinal and ornamental plants, and edible fungi. The plot of land cultivated has also expanded.
Through the introduction of unusual crops, the organoponic garden has played a role educating the public on eating a more diverse diet. "At first people looked at the cauliflower, for example, and asked, 'What is that thing?,' but now they come and ask when we are going to plant more," said one dining area worker.
"I was glad when I saw that they were planting different things," said Lily. "At home we are all vegetarians, and we always have to eat the same stuff, due to the lack of options. When they've got broccoli or arugula, that means a change for us. We had never even eaten arugula, but it's very good. It’s too bad they don´t always have these vegetables."
With regards to the selection of these products, Ramón, one of the growers, explained: "Most of these are really winter plants, and, because it's so hot here, they can´t be grown year-round. And we can't plant the same amount of other things we sow, like lettuce, because they don't sell much yet."
The prices at the organoponic were another advantage they had, but that has waned. "They are now the same as at the other growers'," a customer complains. Others, however, like 43-year-old housewife Elise, believe that it still has an advantage. "There are things I prefer to buy here," she says. "Garlic, when they have it, is cheaper than at the grocer’s or off the carts. Chard is also cheaper, and of much better quality, along with the lettuce and peanuts. "
As a leading urban agriculture project, the organoponic orchard frequently receives visits from Cuban students and high-ranking foreign officials.
"Many foreigners, including presidents, visit us," reported the clerk at the sales kiosk. "I always appreciate it and it makes us very proud, because it is a recognition of our work."
"Of course, if it's good it is thanks to the efforts of those who work here," says Lily. "No matter how much support there is from the government and the military, if they don't do a good job, it shows. It is clear that in this country if something succeeds it is because hard-working people make it work."