Viñales Valley is located in Pinar del Río, the westernmost province of Cuba. Declared a Cultural Heritage of Mankind by UNESCO in 1997, the beauty of its mountains in mound forms, agriculture based on tobacco growing, and kind and hospitable people has made of this site a place of extreme interest for travellers from all over the world.
The first time I met Rachel in a restaurant 5 minutes away from the center of Viñales, she sized me up and said, “Come on, bend down and pick up 4 bunches of lettuce for lunch.” Actually, we came to visit this place as part of a guided lunch. And what a lunch! More than 21 different dishes! All were delicious. The vegetables were especially good: sweet tomatoes and juicy eggplants. Later we learned that all were grown in the family house yard, which has now expanded and turned into the Finca Paradiso.
Wilfredo García, the owner of the farm and father of Rachel, is an enthusiast of agriculture. You can always see him with a plant or seeds in hand looking for a better place to plant them. He did not surrender to hurricane Sandy when all the plantations were devastated, but began from scratch with the idea to create an organic garden from which he feeds not only his family but all the visitors who go to his “Paladar.”
The Paradiso farm project is based on respect for the environment and service to the community. About 10% of the production of vegetables and legumes is selflessly donated to day care centers, the municipal hospital and pregnant women health centers.
Along the years, Wilfredo and his collaborators have improved the planting, irrigation and farming techniques. Presently, they receive the support and recognition of international organizations such as UNDP and GREEN PEACE. Likewise, Cuban state institutions have helped them with educational and promotional materials.
Our second visit to the farm was with the purpose of learning more about their techniques, although our stomachs and our minds were fixedly set in those 21 delicious dishes. Adrian and Tony revealed the secrets of flowers, smells and colors that keep away the pests. They took us to the lagoon where they produce fertilizers with food leftovers and we walked through the Viñales Valley admiring one of the most spectacular views of Cuban landscapes.
Then Rachel reappeared to tell me that I seemed stressed. She prepared an anti-stress coctail with different herbs of the region and we all returned to Havana sedated and curious to know the secret recipe of “Rachel Paradiso” cocktail.