Cuban culture and organic farming in havana

Havana Holidays: Learning About Cuban Culture and Organic Worm Farming

Havana has fast become one of the prime destinations on just about everyone's bucket list this year and for good reason too. Steeped in history, filled to the brim with a rich culture and home to one of the friendliest nations of people, Havana offers something for every kind of traveller. Fresh off the plane from Havana, our guest Anna sat down with us to share her adventures.

1 Why did you decide to visit Cuba?

Cuba is notorious worldwide for its organic farming movement and as a Travel Fellow under the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT), researching worm farming and organic agriculture in Cuba was a natural draw. Before travelling to Cuba I had also been conducting research in the USA, which was a stark culture shock, but a most welcomed one.

Guest Anna visits Almar, home to one of the largest organicoponicos in Havana

Guest Anna visits Almar, home to one of the largest organicoponicos in Havana

2 Were you travelling as part of a group or solo?

Travelling solo in Cuba scores the highest for ease of travel and safety for women. As long as you can put up with the frequent kissing noises from passers-by, it is all part of the macho customs but entirely harmless. You get used to being called pretty on a regular basis, don’t be fooled by it!

3 Why did you choose to stay in a homestay?

Homestay offers the opportunity for a vibrant cultural exchange, and there is nothing more valuable than local knowledge. Having travelled in the USA alone on a very hectic schedule, arriving in Cuba to a welcoming homestay host was just what I needed.

I completely lucked out with Pedro and Marilys as they were the first and only hosts that I contacted. Before arriving, I was inquiring to see if they knew of any local worm farms and it transpired that they had invaluable contacts. It was meant to be.

Homestay hosts Pedro and Marilys at their home in Havana

Homestay hosts Pedro and Marilys at their home in Havana

4 Tell us about your homestay experience.

My homestay could not have been more perfect. I now have a whole new Cuban family! Pedro and Marilys were wonderful hosts and helped me so much with my trip. I could not have landed a better homestay. The location was perfect, and the casa was clean, spacious and my morning Cuban coffee and breakfast always set me up for the day.

As I was staying in Havana for longer than Pedro and Marilys were able to host me at their casa (it is super popular and in a great location), they offered to help me find other accommodation.

Host Marilys takes Anna to Pinar del Rio

Host Marilys takes Anna to Pinar del Rio

They found options in Central Havana and said if I wanted I could stay with them in their family home in neighbouring San Miguel. I had grown attached to my hosts and opted for San Miguel. Staying in a residential area offered an authentic taste of Cuban life, and I survived the public transport when braving it into the city. My hosts made me feel so welcome, and I soon became part of the family. Cubans have big hearts and are big on hospitality.

Vista at Pinar del Rio close to Havana

Vista at Pinar del Rio close to Havana

I am missing my Cuban family and the Cuban sun now I have returned to the not so sunny UK. Pedro and Marilys, te amo! One of the highlights of my trip was spending a day with Marilys in Pinar del Rio; she is wonderful, and so was the scenery, a little bit of heaven on earth.

5 Tell us more about your organic worm farming research.

I feel in complete gratitude to the wonderful WCMT who gave me the opportunity to travel to Cuba to research what I know to be the most important factor in the future of farming, and that is worm farming. Cuba, as well as being a majestic country full of charm provides a very interesting case study for organic farming fanatics and as a small-scale worm farmer, and director and founder of The Urban Worm CIC, I'm no exception.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Cuba was left overnight without the majority of its imports of oil, food and synthetic fertilisers. Finding low input, alternative ways to feed the nation was a necessity, and as a result, the organic revolution was born.

Polytunnels at the Alamar Organicoponico in Havana

Polytunnels at the Alamar Organicoponico in Havana

Car parks were turned into urban farms, and farming worms was on the rise. Worm castings aka worm manure provided a source of nutrient rich organic fertiliser, teeming with minerals and nutrients essential for healthy plant growth and disease suppression.

As well as producing superior organic fertiliser, worms are excellent waste managers and can consume up to half their body weight a day in organic waste! In a world with rapidly depleting natural resources, moving towards low input farming practices that nourish the planet, people and plants will be the future. We have many lessons to learn from Cuba, and the worms. To see more of my pictures from my worm farming escapades in Cuba and the USA, please visit The Urban Worm’s Facebook page.

6 What is something that surprised you about Havana?

I love food and to be honest, I was preparing myself for two weeks of bland, fried food. It was my second experience of Cuba and the first time round the food had been less than disappointing. However, I discovered the Cubans could cook very well. I had the pleasure of eating with my host family, which was delicious, and dancing was involved, always a bonus! Granted there are now definitely improvements in Cuban catering as the tourist industry grows, but do not always expect fine cuisine or service with a smile. I would say that if you get the chance to taste some homemade cooking, take it!

Anna and homestay host Marilys during their visit to Pinar del Rio

Anna and homestay host Marilys during their visit to Pinar del Rio

7 What would you say to anyone thinking of trying a homestay and would you use a homestay again?

Homestay is the perfect way to orientate yourself with the local culture. Local advice is the best advice; it'll be a homestay every time from now on. This was my very first experience of homestay and one which I will never forget.

8 What is your best memory from the trip?

I have so many wonderful memories from my trip, so many that my visit felt a lot longer than a couple of weeks. I can say that early mornings drinking cappuccino fresh from the cow on the most wonderful family permaculture farm in Sancti Spiritus is a winner, it is not every day you get such an opportunity!

Cuban coffee served at Pedro and Marilys homestay in Havana each morning

Cuban coffee served at Pedro and Marilys homestay in Havana each morning

9 What advice would you give to others visiting Cuba?

Drink plenty of Cuban coffee, avoid government-run restaurants if you enjoy eating. Be patient and try not to get too frustrated with the lack of efficiency that you may be used to at home. It is all worth it and part of the Cuban charm. Oh and watch out for holes in the pavement when walking home late at night. Cuba, I will be back.

Anna stocks up on some local Cuban produce to bring home from her adventure

Anna stocks up on some local Cuban produce to bring home from her adventure

Inspired by Anna's homestay in Cuba?

Begin planning the trip of a lifetime to Havana.

Homestays in Havana

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