The Caribbean Agroecology Institute (CAI) was founded in 2004, then known as the Vermont Institute on Cuba, by Marisha Kazeniac and Thelma Esnard, two visionary women, one Vermonter and one Cuban, who felt passionate about the power of people to people exchanges to bring two countries together, despite political differences.
In the early years, the organization focused on coordinating mission-driven professional and educational programs linking Vermont and Cuba in arts and cultural exchange, historic preservation and community building, education and environmental studies, and medicine and public health. Examples of those early efforts include sponsoring the shipment of humanitarian aid to Cuba; an annual Vermont-Cuba Forum in Burlington; a New England tour of Cuban art; and internship programs in Vermont for emerging Cuban artists and arts professionals. While work in Cuba continued, programming then expanded to the Dominican Republic with environmental remediation projects in Puerto Plata and baseball/cultural exchanges between Vermont and the DR, among other initiatives.
In 2014, the Institute initiated a strategic planning process with key partners in Cuba through which a more intentional focus on environmental and sustainability issues was identified. New organizational leadership in 2015 helped catalyze a focus on food systems, agroecology, climate resilience and sustainable livelihoods.