I spent the last two weeks teaching organic farming to young Jamaicans who are paving the way for sustainable agriculture in their country. Jamaica serves as yet another example of the negative impact globalization and free trade can have on a developing country’s economic and agricultural stability. The documentary “Life in Debt” provides the back story to the agricultural and economic woes of Jamaica, and it was amazing to witness these issues firsthand.
The inability to make a living farming, lack of secure markets for produce, and minimal institutional support, have made agriculture a less than desirable profession. Additionally, climate change is altering this small island nation’s farming techniques. This year marked one of the worst droughts ever, and these extreme weather events are only expected to worsen as time goes on. One in five Jamaicans is employed in agriculture, yet only 6-8% of their GDP comes from agricultural products, indicating that farms are overall under performing.
Though the outlook may seem grim, there is actually quite a growing demand for organic and local products in Jamaica. The movement is slowly taking hold as more and more farmers become disenfranchised with the current faulty system. The high cost of chemical inputs and environmental damage of poor farming systems have intensified the need for ecologically responsible training. The Source Farm Foundation as well as the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement are working to create a network of skilled organic farmers and markets to help reduce poverty and food insecurity for the island nation.
The project I participated in was partially funded by the United States Agency for International Development involving a collaboration between The Source Farm Foundation (a Jamaican nonprofit) and FAVACA (Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas). The program sources volunteer educators with agricultural and permaculture experience from the U.S. There are many levels to the project, but I participated in the One One Coco New Organic Farmer Project. The initial phase involves a one month residency and intensive training in both permaculture and organic farming. After completion of the course participants are offered ongoing educational opportunities, field trips, technical support, and marketing opportunities.
The group of farmers I taught came from a variety of different educational, experiential, and environmental backgrounds. Many of the students had been growing for some time, but wanted to transition to organic, or wanted a stronger knowledge of soil management, farm planning, marketing, and disease/pest management.
Every morning at 9 am the students filed into the tiny earthbag building toting their muck boots and of course, machetes. Most of the students were eager to learn, others had information to share, or questions that required further research, others had difficulty sitting in a long lecture early in the morning, but shined when out in the field. The hands-on learning was a place to take the theoretical knowledge and assign it to something physical. We conducted soil tests, identified diseases, mended a drip irrigation system, built a hugelkultur bed, demo’d a soil blocker, learned about crop-planning and field mapping, as well as created some homemade fertilizers and pesticides.
The Power of the Machete
Need to weed a row??? Use the Machete!….. Need to transplant some kale??? Use the Machete! ……….. Need to till the earth??? Use the Machete!……… Need to climb a tree and chop down a coconut???? Use the Machete!
One thing I realized from this trip, was the resourcefulness of Jamaicans. Here I was thinking, you can’tfarm if you don’t have four types of hoes, a seeder, etc. etc. But really, a machete is all you need! It’s a one-size does all farm tool, and it symbolized to me, the spirit of the culture and the land of the region. Jamaicans are fortunate to have a food forest surrounding them. Everywhere you look there is a tree bearing fruit, or a medicinal plant growing like a weed. Neem and Papaya trees provide the resources to make home-made pesticides and fungicides, and the famous Scotch Bonnet pepper makes a mean insect deterrent. Large amounts of biomass are produced each day, making compost materials fairly easy to come by in the rural farm locations. Seaweed is also readily available to create a potassium rich tea to fertilize fruiting crops with. It was amazing how the simplest information can be turned into such a useful tool.
This experience was an amazing chance for me to really test my knowledge and skills of farming. It reaffirmed my passion for being an educator and farming advocate, and broadened my teaching experience. I returned with a revived spirit and a thirst for more. I hope to share this energy with Polk County as we embark on our local food journey…
Below are a few more pictures from my trip. All-in-all I took around 1000 photos! Jamaica is a beautiful country with lively people, delicious food, and some of the most amazing and strange fruit I have ever seen!
If you want to hear more about my trip, join us for our Friends of Agriculture Breakfast on February 25th (7am) at the 4H building on Locust Street in Columbus.