Thursday, 27 June 2013


This week Kat and I have been working in the Agroindustria department, where various spices, sauces, vinegars and even wines are produced. Three men, Luis, Amaury and Pablo, and three women, Luisa, Koral and Mariuska run this department have between the six of them have over 35 years of experience. Kat and I worked primarily with Lusia, Koral and Mariuska (pictured below) who made us feel so welcome it was as if we had worked there for months instead of just one short week. 

From left - right: Mariuska, Luisa and Koral filling bags of Humus de lombriz

The atmosphere in the department could not have been lighter hearted. While filling bags of Humus de lombriz, or while peeling garlic there was plenty of time to talk, joke and exchange swear words. Unfortunately since we only worked in the agroindustria department for a week we couldn't see all the different things they make. To do that I think you'd have to work there for a year. We did however fill and bags of Humus de lombiz (nutrient rich soil) that are sold at the front of the organopónico for one Cuban peso a piece, we saw how salsa criollo is made by blending basil, oregano, salt, vinegar, and onion, to create a salsa that is very popular on pastas, we sifted clumps out of the "sazonador" (combination of spices) before it was packaged, and on our final day we peeled more garlic than I can express. Even after showering, the garlic smell is still clinging to both Kat and I. Personally I love the smell of garlic so for the moment I don't mind too much. Below are photos of the department and the lovely people we worked with this week:
The main office on the left, Humus de lombriz on the right.

Mariuska sealing the bags of Humus de lombriz with the "macina sellador" (sealing machine that looks like a giant stapler)

Wall of all the different products they sell

LOTS of garlic, and bins filled with various spices

Luis showing us how the beds where the dry the plants before processing them further

Sazonador before and after going through the sieve 

Sazonador after packaging (Luisa, Mariuska and Koral package these with the macina sellador pictured above) They sell for one cuban peso per package.

Luis making the salsa criollo

Kat and I smashing garlic with wooden blocks (very stress relieving)

So much garlic.

Just so much.

Koral and Mariuska fanning away the garlic peels

Pastas de Ajo (garlic paste that is the end result of our garlic peeling). One and one quarter full bag of garlic will produce 11 bottles like this one which sell for 10 cuban pesos. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

A Morning Walk Through Havana

This morning, despite my well known hate for waking up early, I went for a walk through the city at 6:30 with my camera. Everyday morning when Kat and I take the bus to work I see things out the window I want to photograph but never have the time to. Today, since we didn't have to be in class until 10am, I finally had the morning to walk down our regular bus route and get pictures of the city in the morning light. (If I haven't mentioned it before, every Friday Kat and I sit down with some of our professors from the past semester and talk about our experiences on the organopónico). At 6:30 the majority of the city is still sleeping and the streets are relatively quite, which is a little odd for Havana. My walk ended up being two hours but was incredibly relaxing. I won't upload all the photos I took since there are way too many, but here's a sample of what Havana looks like early in the morning:

I've never seen calle Reina so quiet (Reina means queen)


I see these guys fishing everyday when Kat and I are on the bus. Finally got a photo.

Something tells me the scaffolding has been there a while.

I really love some of the street art here

Calle Prado without any people

"Fieles a nuestra Historia" or True to our History

"Me Gusta Cuba"

The Malecon in the morning light

CDR's (Committees for the Defence of the Revolution) 

Finally back to our home street after 2 hours

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Medicinales Photos

Crotons Justica - plant used for spiritual practices

Rows of medicinal plants

Ramón collecting basil

Basil! (at this point the bag is about 1/4th full)

Basil seeds

Aloe to the left, Mint to the right

Ramón in his element

Helping customers

Frutales Photos

Guava Trees
Osmin taking us on a tour

"Aguacate" or Avocados

Gotta love the size of the Mangos. This one isn't even done growing. 

Little Papaya seedlings

A tiny avocado

Guanabana or "Soursop"

A Fig tree (do the leaves remind anyone else of treestars?)

Avocado tree before transplant..


Frutales y Medicinales

This week we worked in both the Frutales and Medicinales departments.
In the Frutales department we were working with Osmin. This department was initially misleading as I thought we'd be growing and picking fruit. Instead, the frutales department grows fruit trees and sells them to the public, earning around 5000 - 6000 cuban pesos each month. Mango, fig, avocado, peach, guava and coffee trees are just some of the few that are grown in the department. Osmin is one of the two men that make up the Frutales department; his coworker Jesús is on vacation. Our main job during our time in Frutales was to replant countless avocado tree from small bags containing exhausted hardened soil to larger bag with freshly mixed organic soil (See photos).

During our shorter time in Medicinales we were weren't too useful but learned a lot. The Medicinales department consists of two men as well, Ramón and Roche. Ramón and Roche have been working on the organopónico for years and have become well known by their many customers. The plants grown in the Medicinales department include plants for cooking and seasoning such as spinach, mint, and many varieties of basil, as well as plants knows to help stomach pains, inflammation and diabetes. The best sellers however, are the plants intended for spiritual rituals. Santeria is widely practiced in Cuba, and many practices within the religion require specific herbs and plants. 
(Basic Introduction to Santeria:
Ramón told us that in a day anywhere between 50 and 60 people will visit and leave with plastic bags full of herbs. You can get a lot for your money here; five Cuban pesos buys a regularly sized plastic bag packed full of fresh basil. One thing's for sure, of all the departments we've worked in, Medicinales smells the best by far.

One thing that Frutales and Medicinales share in common is their low labor demands, each requiring only two workers. With so few positions available, one can imagine it's difficult to get a job on the organopónico. Each week Medardo Naranjo, the "subdirector cientifico-técnico" or deputy scientific-technical director, sits down with Katherine and I and answers any questions we have about what we've seen and experienced on the organopónico. This week he explained to us that in order to be hired, a person must first be selected from the list of applicants in Human resources and work for three months before going before the general assembly after which they are either hired or not. While this process seems a little daunting, once hired an employee is part of the cooperative, and is allotted shares based on how long they have worked on the organopónico. The longer you work, the more shares you have, and the more money you earn.  

On a completely unrelated note, this week on the bus they played the most entertaining assortment of music. Normally, if music is playing on the bus it's Spanish music but this Wednesday we were serenaded by Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", followed by The Eagles' "Hotel California" and last but not least Elton John's "Can you feel the love tonight?". It was a great start to the day.
Hasta luego!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

For some reason when your hands are this dirty your face becomes itchy all of a sudden..



Our lovely breakfast spot for sunrise

Soil additive that Gabby called "micorriza" which is a fungus that helps fertilize plants. I'm fairly certain this translates to mycorrhiza:


All smiles at the end of the day

Giant ant hole, and rows of ornamentales

Kat & our coworkers: Sun, and Soil