This story was previously published in The Miami Herald’s In Cuba Today and can be found at www.incubatoday.com
By Elizabeth Hansen, Assistant Culture Editer
HAVANA — Fields of fresh oregano, mint and garlic surround plant engineer Norma Romero Castillo as she speaks about the farming methods at Organopónico Vivero Alamar —an urban farm located in the heart of the Havana suburb Alamar. Behind her are bulls, getting prepared to carry a load of recently harvested crops. There is no buzzing of machines or rumbling of tractors — only the sound of the breeze and bulls clumping down the red dirt road.
“I’m not afraid of mud, I’m not afraid of rain,” said Romero Castillo. “I am trained to face everything.”
An hour west of Vivero Alamar sits the quaint eco-village of Las Terrazas in the Sierra del Rosario Mountains. Most of its inhabitants have been here their whole lives as the only way into Las Terrazas is through marriage. But now, Las Terrazas is experiencing some new traffic in the area: tourists.
Since 2015, tourism in Cuba has increased 17 percent. Much of this is due to the improved U.S.-Cuban relations. Of the three and a half million tourists received in 2015, 161,000 were Americans — a 77 percent increase from 2014, according to reports.
But even with the increase of tourists and U.S. tractor company, Cleber, set to open a factory in Cuba, both Organopónico Vivero Alamar and Las Terrazas won’t be sacrificing their environmental values. Vivero Alamar is sticking to its all-manual and organic labor methods, while Las Terrazas has set a 400-per-month limit on the amount of tourists allowed. This will ensure pollution levels from buses aren’t hurting the environment.
Whether or not Cuba is ready for the increase still remains a question. But as for Romero Castillo, she’s ready.
More tourists mean the need for more hotels, more food and — of course — more mojitos.
Clients come daily to Vivero Alamar to purchase bundles of mint for mojitos.
Although the influx of tourists is good for the struggling Cuban economy, the question is Cuba’s capability to sustain this steady increase. But Romero Castillo does not see the farm struggling to reach demand.
“We’ve got enough mint,” she said. “Otherwise, we’ll plant more.”
Last year alone, over 10,000 tourists came to visit Vivero Alamar, bringing with them over 40,000 CUC (about $40,000), Romero Castillo said. Of these tourists, 70 percent were from the U.S.
“This income source permits us to use that money in producing more and buying more water pipe irrigation systems which are very very expensive,” she said. “We are constantly going up and we wish to keep on growing.”
Up in the mountains of Las Terrazas, tourism began in 1994 to provide jobs. The market succeeded with over 70 percent of the village population working in tourism. Back in 2007, Anais Tomayo was studying to be a teacher. Now, she’s a Las Terrazas tour guide.
The recent tourism spike has also been beneficial for artists. That’s the case of Ariel Gato, whose main income comes from the tourists visiting the village.
“Last year at this time, no one was here. And now, you are here,” Gato said.
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