Caught Somewhere in Time

by Avery Davidson, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation

I don’t know his name. I can’t speak his language very well. He’s older, weathered and commanding a pair of bull oxen with whistles, calls and a rope. The oxen are pulling a small wooden harrow, breaking up the red soil with every step. Looking at the man and his implements, it’s like going back in time. It’s 2016. He’s just caught somewhere in time. 

This is what Louisiana farmers, ranchers and others on the trade mission to Cuba saw at the UBPC Organoponico Vivero Alamar farm just outside of Havana. The owner grows sugarcane, corn, fruits and vegetables all organically. That’s mostly by choice, but farm president Miguel Angel Salcines does point out that it’s much cheaper this way and that while working, the oxen provide his fields with free fertilizer. 

For a time, Salcines had to pay 50% of what he sold to the Cuban government to farm the 25 acres of land. He’s still paying taxes that would make any American farmer cringe, but he seems ok with it. A former worker in the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, Salcines has the best looking farm I’ve seen in either of my trips to Cuba. There are cobblestone paths from one field to the next. There is landscaping around the pavilion on the property. For the most part, it looks like something someone would want to build in California to attract agritourists. 

Salcines is also a bit of a celebrity around these parts. He gave a TED Talk and entitled his speech “Agriculture and the Kama Sutra.” I’m not going to go into great detail here, but the crux of the speech was that if you eat what is good for the body, you’ll have good sex. I can see where that would get attention, but sadly, it doesn’t hold mine for long.

Louisiana sugarcane farmer Mike Melancon watches Cuba's version of modern agriculture, as oxen till the soil on a 25 acre sugarcane and vegetable farm.

Louisiana sugarcane farmer Mike Melancon watches Cuba's version of modern agriculture, as oxen till the soil on a 25 acre sugarcane and vegetable farm.

Instead, my eyes are drawn once again to the weathered man, working the field, calling to the oxen. I don’t envy you, sir. I don’t envy your $20/month salary, either, but I see how you’ve earned every line in your face and every crack in your palm.