An Oasis in Havana
HAVANA, Feb. 12th (El Toque) A comprehensive gardening store “Oasis Nelva” sprouted up on the corner of Habana and Muralla streets, seven years ago. Carmen Monteagudo Garcia, “the responsibly crazy store manager” (as she calls herself) tells us that she always wanted a business like this one.
“I have been working in local sustainable cooperation and development projects since 1995, which has allowed me to be in touch with different practical examples of improving life’s conditions with an environmental, social and ecological commitment. So, when the opportunity arose, I thought about something like this.”
The opportunity came when her work colleague, gardening expert Evelio Perez, gave her them chance to rent the place where the store is now located.
“Here, we sell decorative plants for exterior and interior spaces, soil, organic fertilizers, compost and arrangements with natural features,” she says. “We also offer after-sales services, which include design, assembly, maintenance and plant replacements.”
According to the entrepreneur, the store is stocked with plants coming from a national network of garden centers and urban and suburban plots. “We normally produce all the fertilizer ourselves, although we also buy it sometimes.”
Moreover, she points out that “it isn’t easy to keep a business like this going, as she has had to face mistaken opinions and people’s skepticism who don’t understand what we are doing.”
“The key thing for all of us here is that the customer buys an eco-friendly product. We are trying to be an example of the fact that it is possible to live in harmony with Nature,” she says.
Carmen boasts about the “excellent relationship the store has with the community.”
Yosvani Castillo earns a living by driving a bicitaxi. He has been living in the neighborhood ever since he was born, 45 years ago. “People at the store are friendly, they don’t get mixed up in anything, they greet everyone,” he says.
Their achievements include “having been able to build a store with local dynamics and collaborate with neighbors in everything we can. When there are activities at school and children need to take in plants, we sell them as cheap as we can to parents and we even give them away for free sometimes; plus, our garden center is at the service of whoever wants to learn about how to look after the environment,” the entrepreneur explains.
Carmen seems to have her objectives and life philosophy that she wants to develop very clear; and the store has diversified over time. “We have a bar selling a variety of refreshments and a crepe restaurant too. All of this has been created as part of the same project to encourage eco-friendly practices.”
According to her, every dish is made with organic ingredients that come from Marta Farm, located 20 kms away from the capital in the Artemisa province.
The space opened and they added food options at the bar for foreign passers-by and locals. At a first glance, natural elements dominate Oasis Nelva’s decoration in the store, bar and crepe restaurant. “Many of the decorations are made with recycled materials because this concept is a part of the culture we want to transmit,” Carmen says.
Nevertheless, the place is sometimes empty. “We have better days than others, but I’m happy when young people come and then come back again; this shows me that some people are slowly changing their habits and that I am on the right path, which isn’t the easiest, that’s for sure.”
Even so, many of the people who come to the bar or crepe restaurant come but not because of the store’s commitment to Nature. “I went once because somebody told me about their crepes, then I went back because I liked the atmosphere, it’s a great place to be with friends,” one of the customers says.
“The Cuban to foreigner ratio of customers is about the same and we try to make sure everyone leaves happy. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you realize what we’re doing or not, as long as they realize that they are somewhere different, we are happy,” says Carlos Alberto Romero, an employee at Oasis Nelva.
“In the store’s six years and the crepe restaurant’s three years, I’ve not been able to turn this into a profitable enough project,” Carmen says, “although I still have hope that it will be one day. This doesn’t make me change my philosophy. I have a background working with NGOs, collaborating with the Nunez Jimenez Foundation; and I understand that there greater things in life than money.”