I weather the storms; tattered and uneven. But through it all, I continue to stand.
I weather the storms; tattered and uneven. But through it all, I continue to stand.
If you look closely, you can find the widening cracks in our foundation.
If you look closely, you can find the widening cracks in our foundation.
Somedays I wouldn’t trade the billowy clouds, the red soil, and Royal Palms for anything. Other days I’d trade it all for some rain and a little fertilizer.
Somedays I wouldn’t trade the billowy clouds, the red soil, and Royal Palms for anything. Other days I’d trade it all for some rain and a little fertilizer.
Walk a mile in my boots and you’ll see.
Walk a mile in my boots and you’ll see.
 Behind my eyes, you’ll find my soul. If you need me to, I’ll give you all I have.
Behind my eyes, you’ll find my soul. If you need me to, I’ll give you all I have.
Doorways are for standing. Standing and waiting. Waiting for something a little bit brighter than this.
Doorways are for standing. Standing and waiting. Waiting for something a little bit brighter than this.
Tres amigos trumps sibling rivalry. Most often in the case of threes, there’s one who leads, one who questions, and one who longs to get away.
Tres amigos trumps sibling rivalry. Most often in the case of threes, there’s one who leads, one who questions, and one who longs to get away.
Through my wrinkles in time, I can tell you things.
Through my wrinkles in time, I can tell you things.
May the fruits of my labor always sustain me.
May the fruits of my labor always sustain me.
Long rows of security till the way toward an unusual bliss.
Long rows of security till the way toward an unusual bliss.
Skeptical believer gazes. Where my eyes can see, I can go.
Skeptical believer gazes. Where my eyes can see, I can go.
What’s mine is yours. What’s yours is mine. I’ll try to meet you somewhere in the middle.
What’s mine is yours. What’s yours is mine. I’ll try to meet you somewhere in the middle.
I hold on tight to the seeds of the future because they’re the expressions of the roots of my past.
I hold on tight to the seeds of the future because they’re the expressions of the roots of my past.
Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.
Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.
Tropical environments are dynamic. As one thing dies, another is born.
Tropical environments are dynamic. As one thing dies, another is born.
Close to the land, I see myself; proud, skeptical, and verdant.
Close to the land, I see myself; proud, skeptical, and verdant.
Perseverance is everything. Willpower, faith, and determination take you from where you are to where you want to go.
Perseverance is everything. Willpower, faith, and determination take you from where you are to where you want to go.
Ignorance is bliss, but I know too much.
Ignorance is bliss, but I know too much.
¡No es fácil!
¡No es fácil!
This land is your land. This land is my land.
This land is your land. This land is my land.
I weather the storms; tattered and uneven. But through it all, I continue to stand.
I weather the storms; tattered and uneven. But through it all, I continue to stand.Portrait of Manuel (2016) Generally speaking, people in the country tend to be more concerned with crops than politics. Plants are the foundation of everything that we, as humans, need to survive: oxygen, food, medicine, clothing, furniture, shelter. Manuel passionately details the medicinal properties of the plant he just pulled from his nearby homegarden. Although healthcare in Cuba has been touted as a priority of the Revolution, and therefore subsidized by the government, rural access isn’t always easy. Farmers rely on their traditional knowledge of plants to alleviate common ailments and everyday aches and pains.
If you look closely, you can find the widening cracks in our foundation.
If you look closely, you can find the widening cracks in our foundation.Brother of Vicente (2016) — Vicente’s brother lives with Manuel and often sits on the sidelines; watching. His look and gestalt are on-point; what you’d expect from a rural farmer trying to make it day-to-day in the western mountains of Cuba. Summers can be unbelievably hot and humid, but fields are often wet and muddy, so rubber boots and no shirt is the norm. Beards and hats are encouraged. Today, there are 11 million people living on the island of Cuba and 23% of them live in rural areas. This number continues to decline though as rural youth move to towns and cities in search of greater opportunity.
Somedays I wouldn’t trade the billowy clouds, the red soil, and Royal Palms for anything. Other days I’d trade it all for some rain and a little fertilizer.
Somedays I wouldn’t trade the billowy clouds, the red soil, and Royal Palms for anything. Other days I’d trade it all for some rain and a little fertilizer.Land of Magín (2006) — The countryside of Pinar del Rio and Artemisa provinces are beautiful, but unpredictable. Farmers in the rural areas of Cuba often deal with extremes. Hurricanes are fond of the provinces that bookend the island, often bringing copious amounts of rain and wind that are quick to destroy newly planted crops. When not wet, these areas face periods of severe drought, leaving fields brittle and dusty. With no irrigation alternatives, rural Cubans make do with mediocre yields that might support the family but not bring in the much-needed cash from selling excess produce at nearby agricultural markets.
Walk a mile in my boots and you’ll see.
Walk a mile in my boots and you’ll see.Portrait of Hierro (2016) — Hierro might be 77, but he has the temperament of a child not pleased with the current situation. He is always anxiously waiting for the rain to stop so he can get back out into the field because, after all, time is money. Farmer households in the western mountains of the Sierra del Rosario are first homes, and second, businesses. They have to produce enough to feed themselves and their families, and enough to sell, so they can earn much-needed cash to spend on essentials not provided by State rations. Cuba’s market economy is highly complex and farmers have to navigate an intertwined and confusing web of formal and informal economies.
 Behind my eyes, you’ll find my soul. If you need me to, I’ll give you all I have.
Behind my eyes, you’ll find my soul. If you need me to, I’ll give you all I have.Granddaughter of Vicente 2005 — Vicente’s granddaughter waits patiently for the interviews to end so she can showcase the possessions most important to her. This particular morning, she harvested near-to-ripe avocados from the family’s homegarden. Rural Cubans have more ready-access to fruits, vegetables, and starches than those who live in the cities, especially if they have gardens and farms located nearby. This was a critical game changer for rural families during the years of the Special Period in Time of Peace. A lack of gasoline made it difficult to transport products from rural areas to cities, making some rural communities better off than their urban counterparts, where city dwellers lost an average of ten pounds that first year.
Doorways are for standing. Standing and waiting. Waiting for something a little bit brighter than this.
Doorways are for standing. Standing and waiting. Waiting for something a little bit brighter than this.Family of Vicente Sr. (2005) — Sometimes all you can do is wait. Vicente’s granddaughters learn at a young age how to lean in doorways and perch on handmade chairs as they wait for whatever comes next. Waiting is a given in Cuba. Things move at a snail’s pace on the island and a sense of urgency is rare. Kids learn, quickly, to be patient and to hold on tight to what matters to them the most. You never know when what you’re holding might be taken away.
Tres amigos trumps sibling rivalry. Most often in the case of threes, there’s one who leads, one who questions, and one who longs to get away.
Tres amigos trumps sibling rivalry. Most often in the case of threes, there’s one who leads, one who questions, and one who longs to get away.Family of Moro (2005) — Moro’s grandchildren have grown up on the land that he cultivated for more than six decades. Today they still live there with their parents who continue the tradition of cultivating their family farm, even though their patriarch, Moro, has moved into town where others care for him as he battles ever-growing bouts of dementia. Moro is approaching 89 years of age and he has seen Cuba change a lot. His experiences have, without question, influenced those around him. These youth have a hunch that there’s more to life than what they see around them.
Through my wrinkles in time, I can tell you things.
Through my wrinkles in time, I can tell you things.Portrait of Moro 2005 — Moro perches on his porch in a handmade chair common to the countryside. Bright blues frequent rural houses, providing a reprieve from the muted greens and browns of rural Cuba. For more than 80 years, Moro has seen the island of Cuba change drastically. He remembers a time before the Revolution of 1959. He witnessed the effects of the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union as Cuba entered into the Special Period in Time of Peace. Today he waits to see what changes might occur following the recent ease on U.S. travel restrictions and the death of Fidel Castro. Moro farmed his land for five decades and has since passed it on to his sons. He now suffers from bouts of dementia and lives in a nearby town where his family takes care of him.
May the fruits of my labor always sustain me.
May the fruits of my labor always sustain me.Moro con su nieta (2005) — Moro and his granddaughter select limes from a citrus tree, situated in the family’s homegarden, to offer as a gift to their guests visiting for the day. Agriculture has played an instrumental role in Cuba’s economy for hundreds of years. Of the 11 million people living in Cuba today, only one million are farmers. Cuba has approximately seven million hectares of land that can be used for cropping, yet half of this land remains uncultivated. Although sugarcane is still a primary export of Cuba, it’s no longer ‘King,’ and now accompanies a handful of other primary exports, such as tobacco, citrus, honey, and coffee, all of which Moro produces to some degree.
Long rows of security till the way toward an unusual bliss.
Long rows of security till the way toward an unusual bliss.Florentino’s Malanga (2006) — Florentino lives in a small house near Las Terrazas with a woman of African descent who is forty years younger. He has a sparse homegarden and surrounding farmland mostly planted with malanga. Also known throughout the world as taro root, malanga is actually a corm (a compressed underground stem) and there are more than 40 species worldwide. This tuber is richer in minerals than a potato; high in fiber, riboflavin, and folate, all of which are important when food is scarce and you spend all your energy farming the land around you.
Skeptical believer gazes. Where my eyes can see, I can go.
Skeptical believer gazes. Where my eyes can see, I can go.Portrait of Babín (2005) — Babín is slow to share because he understands the consequences of buying and selling illegal products on the black market. Slaughtering a cow without explicit government permission, even if it belongs to you, is considered a crime and can land a buyer or seller in jail for up to five years. Babín prefers to play it safe and focuses on producing small quantities of sugarcane (seen in the background), bananas, pineapple, and malanga. Like most Cubans, Babín is handy, innovative, and entrepreneurial. He crafts tools such as axes, pilones (large wooden mortars used for mashing fresh coffee berries), and sugarcane presses that squeeze the sweet juice from the straw-like fibers of la planta de caña de azúcar. When selling to other locals, these handmade items can bring in a significant amount of income, making up for the meager 3,000 Cuban Pesos he receives annually as a retirement pension from the government; the equivalent of about $113 USD a year.
What’s mine is yours. What’s yours is mine. I’ll try to meet you somewhere in the middle.
What’s mine is yours. What’s yours is mine. I’ll try to meet you somewhere in the middle.Fruits of Babín (2016) — Averrhoa carambola, or starfruit, is a species of tree native to Asia. Not commonly consumed in Cuba, it can occasionally be found in agricultural markets, yet is primarily consumed in rural areas if farmers choose to grow it. Babín carefully slices off the outer layer of the fruit and hands a small piece to each of the six people visiting him that day. Cubans are taught through principles of the Revolution, and perhaps more so out of necessity, to always share. Keeping something only for yourself isn’t usually an option.
I hold on tight to the seeds of the future because they’re the expressions of the roots of my past.
I hold on tight to the seeds of the future because they’re the expressions of the roots of my past.Corn of Cacho (2005) — Cacho holds a striking handful of freshly-shucked corn, ready for household consumption and sale to the market. Contrary to popular belief, the United States and Cuba do trade, but it’s a one-way street. Since 2000, the United States has exported nearly $5 billion worth of agricultural products to Cuba, with primary exports today being poultry, soybean meal, and corn. In 2008, the U.S. exported approximately 800,000 metric tons of corn to Cuba, but that number has steadily declined due to increased global competition. In 2015, the U.S. exported only 100,000 of the 900,000 metric tons of corn that Cuba imported that year. The U.S. economic embargo continues to play an instrumental role in the limitations surrounding trade between the two countries. A close neighbor of the U.S., the potential for more trade with Cuba is significant, and from a geographical standpoint, perhaps inherently logical.
Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.
Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.Sons of Juan Antonio (2006) — Two boys and a jeep circa 2005. Juan Antonio’s youngest threatens to drive to town on his own. It’s rare in these parts of Cuba for farmers to have their own ride; still. Owning a jeep has allowed this family to transport their produce from the rural areas to town where they can sell it to intermediaries who pay a much higher price than the government. Business is largely conducted discretely.
Tropical environments are dynamic. As one thing dies, another is born.
Tropical environments are dynamic. As one thing dies, another is born.Portrait of Isidro (2005) — Isidro reluctantly displays a fresh bouquet of the Cuban national flower, Mariposa blanca, a white-flowered ginger lily native to Asia. Picking wild fields of the national flower in abundance is frowned upon in certain circles and should not be done frivolously. But, in 2006, it could earn good money on the streets. Cubans employed by the government continue to bring home an average of $25 a month. One bouquet like this might earn $1-2 USD on the black market, especially in the cities as it’s frequently used in bridal bouquets and for offerings to saints and the deceased. Harvesting a field of the national flower could earn you a month's salary in just a few days if you know how to leverage the underground economy. You just have to make sure you don’t get caught.
Close to the land, I see myself; proud, skeptical, and verdant.
Close to the land, I see myself; proud, skeptical, and verdant.Portrait of Isidro (2016) — Today we found Isidro on the side of the road; again. Shirtless and darning the revolutionary ‘Castro army cap,’ he waits patiently for someone else to say the first word. Isidro has farmed his land for decades and enjoys the solitude it brings. He’s slow to share, but never hesitates to catch a ride to town. After all, hitchhiking is his primary mode of transportation.
Perseverance is everything. Willpower, faith, and determination take you from where you are to where you want to go.
Perseverance is everything. Willpower, faith, and determination take you from where you are to where you want to go.Granddaughters of Juana (2005) — Most Cuban households are multi-generational because housing has been, and continues to be, one of Cuba’s primary constraints. Common in Latin America, rural women spend the most time on reproductive activities; daily chores such as cleaning, tending to children, cooking, washing, and shopping for food in bodegas. These two girls aspired to move to town where, today, one is a nurse and the other works a day job. Their mother, Olga, still lives here and often cares for her grandchildren, as necessary, so the girls can continue to work.
Ignorance is bliss, but I know too much.
Ignorance is bliss, but I know too much.Olga (2016) — Olga inherited this house from her parents. Her father, a rural farmer from Artemisa, passed away years ago. Her mother, Juana, who primarily negotiated the buying and selling of all family produce and livestock products for decades, recently moved to a nearby town. Olga spends her days tending to chickens, pigs, goats, and orchids, which she propagates herself and sells for a pretty penny around town. She has two daughters who moved to nearby townships, seeking a more fast-paced and prosperous life. Ever-willing to support their dreams, she cares for her grandchildren every chance she gets, while her daughters work long hours, both days and nights, for $30 a month salaries.
¡No es fácil!
¡No es fácil!Feliciano’s carbón (2006) — Feliciano stacks bags of carbón (charcoal) under dried palm fronds and scraps of metal in an effort to keep it dry. Carbón is a key livelihood strategy for farmers in western Cuba. They need it to live. They need it to sell. In 2006, carbón was a primary source of fuel for rural farmers. As of late, many of these farmers now have access to electricity (and TVs that air U.S. cartoons from the 1980s to boot). However, despite access to a more reliable source of energy, production of carbón continues to earn a mighty dollar. Farmers especially like to burn the invasive woody plant, marabu (sicklebush), which is native to South Africa, largely because it’s a major nuisance and difficult to cut with a machete. More importantly, it burns clean. In Cuba today, marabu is believed to cover 1.7 million hectares of once-productive farmland, so there’s ample brush for the burning. Marabu is significant because in January 2017, artisanal marabu charcoal became the first legal Cuban export to enter the United States in more than 50 years. A day later, the governor of Florida tweeted his disapproval of the Port of Palm Beach and Port Everglades for accepting this shipment, stating that he intends to ask state lawmakers to restrict dollars for ports that enter into agreements with Cuba. And so the”cold war” continues.
This land is your land. This land is my land.
This land is your land. This land is my land.Portrait of Manuel (2016) — The Amerindian tribe, the Ciboney, are believed to be the oldest inhabitants of the island, having arrived in Cuba sometime around 1000 B.P. They eventually shifted westward as Arawak tribes (the Taíno) began to take over. Christopher Columbus came next, in 1492, when he sailed the ocean blue, seeding Cuba’s Castilian roots. This period of time also brought in slaves from Africa, who not only made the sugarcane industry’s success possible, but also brought with them relevant crops and the syncretic religion of Santería. Prior to the Revolution of 1959, approximately 75% of Cuba’s most fertile, arable land was owned by foreign companies and individuals. The Cuban Revolution nationalized and re-distributed this land following the Revolution, which is still, today, an emotional sticking point for Cuban Americans. A complex situation to say the least, what’s largely unknown are the current issues rural Cuban farmers face with regard to land ownership in Cuba today. Farmers, like Manuel, either own their land or use land held in usufruct, meaning they don’t own the land outright; they’re just borrowing it. This, naturally, has pros and cons. It gives farmers who can’t afford it access to land they can cultivate and profit from, indefinitely for their lifetime, as long as they don’t damage or destroy the property. The downside is that they likely won’t be able to pass it on to their children. Many subsistence farmers were promised early on that they would, one day, inherit the land lent to them by the Cuban government. Decades later, Manuel is still waiting.
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