BY ARLENE RUBINSTEIN
PAVO, Georgia - Nearly a dozen farmers in southern Georgia had the opportunity to exchange experiences with Cuban youth leaders Itamys García Villar and Luis Ernesto Morejón. Willie Head, a leader of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the South Georgia Vegetable Producers Cooperative, hosted the all-day visit March 27.
The Cuban youth learned about the history of Black farmers in this region, about 20 miles from the Florida border, from members of the Vegetable Producers Cooperative. They also toured three cooperative members' farms.
Nine people made the 250-mile trip from Atlanta along with García and Morejón, including two translators, several unionists, and two students. Lee Dobbins, secretary of the Georgia Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, and chicken farmer Willie Adams from Greensboro, Georgia, also drove down. Before the meeting, Adams explained contract farming to García and answered questions about the use of hormones in chicken production in the United States.
Willie Head and Gladys Williams, who is in charge of the quality control for the cooperative, met the group at a restaurant in Quitman and directed them to the Simmon Hill Community school, where six farmers were already waiting. The Simmon Hill facility was a school for Blacks before desegregation. The farmers bought it and are now restoring the facility as the headquarters for the cooperative.
"We have a strong sense of history," said Head in his introduction to García and Morejón. "Two miles outside of Quitman, land on both sides of the road has been owned by Black farmers for hundreds of years. We have seen difficult times. We have been in a conflict with our government."
Head introduced each farmer by name. Then each told about themselves and what they farm. Among them was Rosa Lee Murphy, 85 years old and an anchor of the cooperative. She currently farms and works on quality control, setting standards for the cooperative. According to the farmers, her policies have led to new markets. She was also the cooperative's first truck driver. "Don't get old 'til you have to," said Murphy. "I've been working since I was nine. I don't feel bad about it at all."
After the presentations, García and Morejón had a lot of questions. "Do you pay taxes? Does the land belong to you? Do the crops give you enough to pay the taxes?" When farmers explained they pay taxes by the acre their whole life, García said that in Cuba, under the 1959 agrarian reform, land was given to the peasants.
"We've had difficult times since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Our production of sugar is restricted. But we don't want to give up," stated García. "We have a lack of fertilizer from the socialist camp, fuel is very expensive and we get it from far away. We buy products in China when we could get all the rice we need from you at a lower transportation cost."
"Are technical services also included in the blockade?" asked Dobbins.
"Yes," García responded. "We need to assimilate more technology for better yields. The U.S. blockade limits our exchange on this."
"We want to extend our expertise and knowledge," said Dobbins. "Not for the profits we can get from you, but because a food shortage has a terrible effect on kids."
Both García and Morejón were fascinated by the visit to the farm of Ulysses Marable, Sr. The second oldest member of the cooperative, Marable began as a sharecropper and now grows cotton, corn, peanuts, watermelons, and vegetables. "We produce more than we can sell," he told the Cuban youth.
"Cuba has the opposite problem. We can't produce enough for our people," said Morejón.
Marable explained a farm technique of "laying of plastic with drip irrigation" that allows farmers to plant earlier and produce more per acre. The Cubans were unfamiliar with the procedure. At Charles Brooks's farm, they also learned about another technique for growing KY pole beans, where the plant bed is elevated for quicker drying in a moist area.
"We invite you to visit Cuba," said Morejón. Several farmers expressed serious interest in doing so.
At Willie Head's farm a discussion broke out about education. "Are your profits enough to send your children to college?" asked Morejón.
"Oh, no," all the U.S. farmers answered.
"That's one reason the peasants of Cuba love the revolution. Education is free," replied Morejón.
"Well, Cuba is much more advanced than the U.S.," responded Head.
At the end of the day Head made some closing comments on behalf of the farmers. "This is only our first exchange with the people from Cuba. We're going to start our work to dismantle the blockade. You work on your end, and we will work with you on ours."
On behalf of himself and García, Morejón thanked the farmers and pledged: "We will go back and tell the youth of Cuba what we learned here. Sometimes we don't understand that there are so many hard-working people like you in the U.S."
"Hard work is all we know," responded Head. "America will experience the same revolution as Cuba, it's just a matter of time. Again our experiences will run parallel."
Arlene Rubinstein is a member of the International Association of Machinists.
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