The following blog post is written by Reality Tours intern Lissa Goldstein, who visited the Alamar Organoponico.

Wondering what sort of people and places you might encounter on a visit to Cuba?  The UBPC (Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa or Basic Cooperative Production Unit) Vivero Alamar is one of the places where you will see Cuban charisma and creativity at work.  Located in the eastern part of Havana, it is the largest farm cooperative in the city.  The farm was started by Miguel Salcines in 1997 on a small plot of land that would allow him and his family to fend for themselves in a period of instability and uncertainty.  Today, it has grown to 11 hectares (about 22 acres) and has over 160 members.  The median age of the members is in the 50s which, as Salcines likes to say, makes for a very wise staff.

Alamar Organopónico, Havana, Cuba - Photo by Bryan Weiner

Alamar Organopónico, Havana, Cuba – Photo by Bryan Weiner

Lettuce, eggplant, tomatoes, and carrots and other vegetables provide much of the farm’s income.  They sell ornamental plants and fruit trees, worm compost produced on the farm, and value-added farm products such as spices and pickles.  The cooperative uses innovative organic farming methods and is a model for what sustainable medium-scale production can look like.  The farm’s social structure is innovative too, particularly when compared to most farms in North America.  As a cooperative, 30% of the farm’s income goes back into the farm expenditures and the rest is divided among the members according to seniority, in addition to a monthly wage.  Some of the job perks include two meals a day, a monthly haircut or manicure, and flexible scheduling.

Salcines talking with a recent RT group.

Salcines talking with a recent RT group.


Salcines, his wife, and their daughter, Isis, are at the center of the operation.   Upon meeting them, it’s easy to see why this cooperative has been so successful.  They are smart, funny, charismatic, and have a great deal of valuable information to offer visitors to the farm. After walking all around the farm and hearing the stories and insights of the members of the cooperative, visitors can sit down to what is easily one of the best meals in Cuba. Fresh organic ingredients, a plethora of vegetables and salads (which can often be a luxury in Cuba) and fantastic traditional recipes are served in an outdoor, covered dining area right next to the gardens.

So even if you’re not a farmer or food activist, this is the type of place where a visit is bound to be enlightening, inspiring and delicious!

Global Exchange is proud to announce a partnership with NEEM (Natural Ecological Environmental Management). Learn more about NEEM sustainability tours to Cuba.

It was time to make the global to local connection.


Windmill and pond at Alemany Farm

The idea was pretty simple: the whole office, a few times a year, working together at a local San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit. Team building and community building all in one. Early in 2013, the Global Exchange staff put together a list of organizations we’d like to volunteer with, from food banks to nonprofits using wilderness adventures for girl’s empowerment.

There were so many worthy organizations, in fact, that choosing just one was no simple task. Carleen and Paula put together a handsome voting board, complete with illustrations, for the staff to participate in sticker-fueled democracy. We eventually decided on Alemany Farm, an urban farm that aims to “increase ecological knowledge and habitat value, and to sow the seeds for economic and environmental justice.”

So last Wednesday, March 7, we headed to Alemany Farm, the entire office crammed into a few cars for a short drive from the Mission District to Alemany Boulevard. The contrast between the farm and the surrounding environment is striking; located just off busy highway 280 in San Francisco, we went from urban to bucolic in the span of thirty seconds. We found ourselves in the shadow of a giant windmill flanked by native reeds, surrounded by rows of greenery sprouting from the hillside, the aesthetics complimented by the chatter of swirling birds.


Global Exchange staff touring Alemany Farm.

Jason Mark, one of the farm’s managers (and a former Global Exchange staffer) greeted us and led us to a stone amphitheater for a brief history lesson. What is now a beautiful urban farm was at one time an illegal dumping ground, which yields interesting finds in what Jason refers to as ‘urban archeology’ – broken ceramic pipe fittings and the occasional electronics component. The farm is now managed by a collective of volunteers, who oversee all aspects of the farm and coordinate the work of groups like ours. The farm acts as a showcase for urban gardening, providing the city of San Francisco with a living example of how to grow food in densely populated areas.


Preparing the field for new growth

After the history lesson, we embarked on a thorough tour that encompassed compost bins, the pond, the bees, a creek, and various growing areas. Then, we got to work. We split into small teams, covering nearly the entire farm (minus the bees, someone else takes care of them). We turned over one of the compost bins, which involved pitchforks and some heavy lifting. We moved a giant table into a greenhouse. We pulled weeds. We prepared a field for replanting, and we sprayed a kelp emulsion onto garlic. For a few hours, we were honest to goodness farmers.


Drea shows off her leafy greens

At the end of the day, we got to enjoy the fruits (veggies, really) of our labor. Our harvest, which weighed in around 7 lbs, consisted of kale, lettuce, and carrots. This represents a tiny portion of the farm’s output.  Over the course of a year, the farm produces at least 10,000 lbs of organic fruits and vegetables, representing over 70 different varieties. All that from just 3 acres of land!

Everyone who went to the farm got something out of it, and not just tired arms and legs. Despite the difficulty of the work, not one person complained. In fact, the close of the day brought wide smiles, everyone glad to be able to play a small part in the success of this amazing organization.

Check out Global Exchange’s Facebook page to see photos from the farm.

To find out more about Alemany Farm, visit