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The Love of Art and Agriculture – An Ode to Cuban Women

Cuba is the last chapter of my book, but in many ways, my experiences with female farmers in Cuba (and farmers, in general) is what ignited my passion to write Women Who Dig.

A few days ago, I was elated to wrap up the first-draft of my book. Although I’m writing from Uganda these days, I’ll admit that I spent the last few weeks — in mind, memory and imagination, anyways — immersed in toda la Cubana. As I listened to the audio recordings of my interviews with Cuban farmers, I was struck their vulnerability. It was as though women exposed parts of their souls to me.

If I were doing academic research, I would’ve coded my transcription notes, looking for similarities between interviews. No doubt in my mind, I would’ve highlighted the word “love” and the expressions like, “in order to be a successful farmer, you must have love”, and “if you don’t have love, how can anything grow?” at least ten to twenty times.

“All you need is love,” the Cuban women told me again and again and again.

They were farmers and poets. Their words reminded me of Pablo Neruda’s 100 love sonnets.

Of course, it’s more than just “love” that has made many Cuban women successful in their livelihoods as farmers. Cuba’s unique history, politics and social realities is what’s truly shaped the environments that support a more gender inclusive society and agricultural system in Cuba.

It’s by no means utopia, or perfection. But Cuba offers a very unique context for female farmers that I haven’t seen elsewhere. (I’m excited to share more with you in the book!)

I remember my first visit to Cuba in 2011 with The Urban Farmer’s organic farm tour programs. Before I left, a Costa Rican friend told me, “Everywhere you look in Cuba, there’s art. You turn on the tap and art flows like water!” He was right. On every project in Cuba that’s followed since my first visit in 2011, I’ve found myself interacting and participating not only with farmers, but artists.

Ceramics by Odalys, a Cuban farmer and artist who runs "La Consciencia", a permaculture farm outside of Matanzas, Cuba. Photo Credit - Trina Moyles

Ceramics by Odalys, a Cuban farmer and artist who runs “La Consciencia”, a permaculture farm outside of Matanzas, Cuba.
Photo Credit – Trina Moyles

In February 2015, when I visited different parts of Cuba to do interviews with women, I met Odalys, a farmer, artist and mother of four children. She and her husband, Hector, ran a beautiful permaculture farm called “La Consciencia” (The Conscience) outside of Matanzas, Cuba.

Odalys had studied Art History in university and always dreamt of making a life for herself in La Habana, the capital city, diving into film and art communities and interacting with artists. Her life, she confessed, didn’t turn out that way. Instead, she’s invited Cuban artists to her farm to make art. On La Consciencia, Odalys has given artists space to create stunning installations. She’s also opened a ceramics workshop on the farm to supplement their livelihoods as farmers. She professed her love for art and agriculture.

“For me, I admire women that are involved in agriculture. It’s very hard. It’s a profession that beats you to the bone. But this contact with nature, it cleans the soul. It adds beauty to the life,” said Odalys.

She moved her hands when she spoke as though conducting an orchestra.

What can the world learn from women farmers in Cuba?

I can’t wait to share more with you.

Next week, I’m diving back into the editorial process, working through the stories — trimming, editing, embellishing — transforming the raw stories into a more polished second draft manuscript.

Interested to read more about Cuban women in agriculture? Read about Edith Ramirez — “Flowers and Garbage in Cuba”, my article published in Permaculture Magazine (December 2013).