At Richmond Vale Academy we aim to produce as much of our own food as possible. This way we can always be sure that our fruits and vegetables are fresh, free of pollutants and grown with love!
We have an organic garden where we hold lessons for interested farmers and youngsters. Everyone at the academy are farmers and do their turns in the food production, whether it’s improving the water collection system, moving the chicken tractors, collecting eggs, turning the compost, harvesting fruits, producing delicious jam or making a salad for lunch.
We are self-sufficient with most fruits and meat, and we produce 50% of our own vegetables and herbs. Most of the vegetables that we don’t currently grow are bought locally, from neighboring farmers.
So far, more than 1,000 people have visited our model garden, received lessons and inspiration for a more sustainable, low-carbon and high-biodiversity way of farming.
The Climate Compliance Conference participants help other organic gardens in St. Vincent like the Chatoyer Garden in the Vermont Valley, the IRM Urban Garden in Villa Flat, The Rose Hall Organic Garden, The Fitz Hughes Preschool garden and the Belle Isle Correctional Facility garden.
We also harvest rainwater for most of our needs, and recycle the gray water for plants.
It is very important to us to stay healthy and keep our planet clean, that’s why we give a lot of attention to what we eat. Our sustainable way of farming doesn’t cause soil degradation, unlike industrialized farming, and we promote fresh, locally-grown products and oppose genetically modified organisms on out tables.
We practice Permaculture in our food production and daily lives, from gardening to reusing gray water and using predominantly the resources which are already available to us.
What is Permaculture?
In a world of impending crisis, Permaculture offers practical solutions to building greater resilience into our lives and landscapes.
Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people. Providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.
The word Permaculture derives from permanent agriculture, although through the years it has come to represent more of a lifestyle than just a way to farm. In short, Permaculture refers to a creative design which mirrors what can be observed in nature. It is a holistic way to view farming, where every single element of a system influences the others. For example, we plant shade trees over crops which need shade or put the ones which need more nitrogen next to those which produce it. Permaculture, as the name suggests, is a permanent system – once established it can go on for years with minimal human interference, since it’s based on real systems found in nature, which thrive on their own.
Permaculture encourages embracing the diversity and working with the nature, instead of against it. That’s why we use the elements of landscape which are present, without changing them unnecessarily. Furthermore, we re-use the resources which are available to us, for example building beds from cardboard, planting vines by the fences or simply making compost out of kitchen waste and animal manure.
In Permaculture we cultivate life in our garden, making sure that the conditions are right for beneficial fungi and worms to live there, ensuring that our soil is “alive”.
We also use self-sustainable solutions outside of the garden, for example by harvesting rain water or using biogas plant.
Written by our Permaculture teacher Luke Punnett:
Who can learn Permaculture?
Permaculture is for everyone and anyone who is interested in a sustainable future. Permaculture design can be practiced in limited urban spaces as well as the rural farmlands. It offers the possibility of developing a diverse skill set that allows for greater resilience in increasingly uncertain times. Long-term access to land is critical for implementing designs and is the main impediment to the take up Permaculture design.
Permaculture offers design principles and practical tools, based on observations of nature, that allow us to transform our landscape to one offering greater abundance in a sustainable and chemical-free way.
Permaculture offers a holistic viewpoint on sustainable agriculture, we learn that soil is ‘alive’ and needs to be ‘fed’, that the trees of the forest are ‘connected’ by threads of fungi called mycelium which transfer information and nutrients, that life is interdependent – the destruction of nature preceding our own.
Preventing erosion and recharging the water table
Before we can begin the process of restoring the soil we must first prevent further damage. Water is a critical resource; the management of it as it passes through our land is crucial to the success of our design. Permaculture teaches us to make a simple A— frame that can be used to establish the contour of the land, starting at the highest point on the land we can then dig and plant a swale (a trench along contour). Swales can be planted at intervals down the slope of the land – passive water harvesting. This will lead to reduced erosion and greater water infiltration into the soil – where it enhances existing water table levels. This can mean greater resilience, by our tree crops in particular, to extended drought. It can also, over time, lead to the emergence of springs on lower slopes.
As we observe natural tropical forests, we notice the diversity of plant species occurring in a pattern of typically seven layers. In our designs we mimic nature by providing for diversity, which leads to greater stability in our constructed ecosystem. In Permaculture we achieve effective diversity by using ‘plant guilds’ (i.e. beneficial associations of plants).
Before restoring soil we need to understand how nutrients are cycled in tropical forests. We then seek to apply this knowledge to our farm and garden designs. In tropical forest systems nutrients are cycled primarily in the abundant biomass, which breaks down under sheltered conditions on the forest floor, offering organic material to the hungry bacteria (microbes) and mycelium. This process gives rise to the most abundant and luxuriant forest systems known to man.
For such a forest to develop there is a biological succession which takes place, which building soil over time. The key to building sustainable forest and farming systems lies in understanding this succession and the use of Nitrogen Fixing Trees (NFT’s) and Green Manure Cover Crops in its development. In our regeneration of typically exhausted tropical soils we use the following strategies:
Nitrogen fixing trees and other useful pioneer species,
Dispersed shade systems,
Mulch (e.g. gliricidia leaves, leucaena, vetiver grass, cardboard…),
Green manure, cover crops,
Compost and grass-fed animal manure,
Obtaining a yield.
In our Permaculture design a primary principle is ‘obtaining a yield’. In Permaculture design our yield should come from varied sources and be spaced to accrue over time thus providing greater resilience in our income streams.
Permaculture in Practice
Practising Permaculture is easy once we change our ways of thinking about agriculture and the relationship between humans and the Earth. Below you will find many different areas where we use the Permaculture principles and designs.
Most of our own vegetables come from the organic garden, where everyone works a few times a week... We have four greenhouses, as well as a nursery; we also use any available spaces nearby, for example growing vines on fences, etc. We build raised lasagna beds from leftover material (hardly anything gets “lost” in Permaculture!), like cardboard and wood. Our compost piles are fed daily with kitchen leftovers and manure from chickens and horses. In the organic garden we don’t plant whole beds of the same species, instead we make use of diversity and different needs of plants which grow together in guilds exchanging nutrients and preventing the spread of diseases. We use nitrogen-fixing gliricidia leaves for mulch, which keeps the soil moist and prevent weed growing. Every day somebody harvests our delicious vegetables for salad.
A special part of our garden and farm are chicken tractors: movable enclosures where chickens live eating grass, scratching the soil and producing manure. The tractors are moved every day, leaving behind very fertile soil, while the chickens enjoy some fresh grass.
At Richmond Vale Academy food forest we have planted twenty different Caribbean food trees, including: mango, plum rose, Barbados cherry, papaya, guava, sugar apple, golden apple, sweetsop, soursop, sweet carambola, sour carambola, coconut, tamarind, cashew, pomegranate, coffee, bananas and of course moringa. We can proudly say that we are self-sustainable where fruits are concerned and don’t need to buy anything imported.
We have developed the garden over several years and most of the five hundred students that have participated in programs since 2007 have done one or several actions to help improve the food forest.
Furthermore, we are developing the food forest to be able to produce nutritious and healthy food for our animals. We have planted 650 moringa trees to provide the feed to our pigs, chickens and horses.
Besides feeding ourselves, our aim is to not buy any animal feed in the near future.
Recently the food forest has been improved by building swales to gather water, we have also prepared a path for visitors to follow and learn about different species.
Community Organic Model Gardens
After learning new things from our Permaculture specialist and practicing in our own gardens, we like to share the knowledge with others.
The Climate Compliance Conference has been supporting local communities to establish organic model gardens designed according to the Permaculture principles. Two of the recent projects involve setting up gardens in Rose Hall and in Inivershall Rastafari Movement in Villa Flat.
The main goal of those projects is to provide a demonstration and education site for farmers and neighborhood communities, to teach people that it is possible to grow organic and healthy food for the whole family, or even the whole village.
The project is very important, because some other gardens and farms have been established for years using fertilizer and pesticides, while we want to show and prove to the farmers that it is possible to start a new, natural and healthy way of growing food and selling organic vegetables.
These sites will become a really useful part to educate, raise awareness and spread the word of growing local and organic.
An important part of the work is to reuse materials like pallets for the tools, shelf and shelter. In Rose Hall we used old tires to broaden the path and planted vetiver grass inside to stop the soil erosion as Rose Hall is a mountainous community. On the other hand, in Villa Flat we used lots of bamboos to build the greenhouses and nursery, since bamboo is one of the most sustainable building materials in the tropics.
Both actions took several days of hard work to complete, with Climate Compliance students working hand-in-hand with local activists. The project usually starts with choosing the right space for the beds and carefully designing the garden, then cleaning the terrain and leveling it before starting to build the beds and other structures. Here’s how Robin from Germany remembers his team’s action in Villa Flat:
...this small trip was really successful and everything worked out good. It was a great experience because we learned as much as we taught, and everyone was happy being there and creating the change.
At the same time, Fighting with the Poor teams take similar process to establish backyard gardens for single households. In this way they promote organic gardening, ensure cheap food for a family and practice their skills in building small gardens under a teacher’s eye before going to Belize or Ecuador and replicating the process for the impoverished people there.
In April of 2012 we initiated a project in RVA to collect and use rainwater, which in the rainy season is plentiful on St. Vincent. This system includes four tanks of 1000 gallons capacity each, which makes a total of 15,000 liters of water. We have an electric pump half hp and an electronic system for the scheduling valves for irrigation of greenhouses and nurseries. With this system our garden is one hundred percent organic, receiving water completely free of chlorine and other chemical treatment, and sustainable by conserving water. From its inception until today, this project has allowed us to reduce the consumption of 300,000 liters public water in a year, at a rate of 850 liters per day, to use in our garden.
However, our public water consumption for other activities such as food preparation, personal hygiene and general cleanliness remained high. That was how we began to consider the need to expand the system of rainwater collection for other areas and uses in the academy, except for food preparation. We have studied various possibilities and suggestions until we found a practical and economical solution: we decided to place an additional tank, 400 gallons, on a specially constructed home-made tower, which was installed on top of the highest building of our campus.
This supplement to the original project works with the same pump we use for the organic garden. We now have rainwater in 80% of the campus, with the exception of the kitchen and one bathroom where public water remains in case the system needs to be repaired or needs maintenance.
Thus we have made one step further to convert RVA into a Climate Compliant Center. We want to lead by example and spread the benefits of using rainwater in local communities.
Establishing Greywater Systems
Recycling the graywater is one more way towards becoming environmentally-friendly community.
The graywater comes from the bathroom sinks, showers and washing machines, as opposed to the blackwater which comes from the toilets. Graywater can contain traces of dirt, food, grease, hair, and household cleaning products. While graywater may seem “dirty,” it is a safe and even beneficial source of irrigation water in a yard.
If graywater were released into rivers, lakes, or estuaries, its nutrients would become pollutants, but to plants, they are valuable fertilizer. Aside from the obvious benefits of saving water (and money on the water bill), reusing graywater keeps it out of the sewer or septic systems, thereby reducing the chance that it will pollute local water sources. Reusing graywater for irrigation reconnects people and our gardens to the natural water cycle.
Our first graywater collection and purification system in RVA was designed according to Permaculture principles and it uses the water from our showers, laundry and sinks. After going through a cleaning process, the water is stored in a pond, from which it is extracted to water the crops.
To be climate compliant with food we produce a big part of what we eat.
Many skills are taught and learned during the food production actions. Every week we have set aside the time in our weekly schedules to produce jam, yoghurt from local, grass-fed cow milk, granola, pesto from our own basil, moringa and spinach, hot sauce. We make pickled fruits and vegetables to conserve seasonal produce for other times of the year. We are making smoothies, sorbets and juices for everyone to enjoy healthy snacks. We bake all of the bread we eat.
From our gardens we harvest moringa, lemongrass, peppermint, soursop leaves and nettles and dry them in a specially-build solar dryer to be later put in containers and enjoyed as “tea”.
On our farm we are making passion fruit and lime juice, and grow bananas to generate income towards scholarships and other expenses. We are currently making transition to 100% organic bananas and the passion fruit field is fertilized by chicken tractors.
We are continually studying about the dangers of genetically modified products on our tables and in the gardens. As staying away from those products is becoming increasingly difficult, we organize actions to educate the public about it, take part in pro-organic projects and in annual March Against Monsanto. Below you will read about the impact of genetically modified foods in the words of Vincentian Stan Horne, a neuropath from The Rose Hall Natural Healing Clinic.
A simple, but very positive act for the future of our planet. Stan Horne: What's to Eat? Say No to GMOs!
Gone are the days when we knew we had good quality food for our table. Today, we have a variety of foods from which to choose.
Unfortunately, much of the food we are consuming is either denatured or devoid of their natural health and energy promoting essential nutrients, simply due to the processing and the refining of that which is good and wholesome. For example, brown rice when made into white rice loses as much as 100% of its health benefiting nutrients.
We are being brainwashed into thinking that wholesome food is a thing of the past and not as good as what’s produced in the laboratories of giant chemical companies now turned food experts. Not coincidentally we are also witnessing a rise in some of the most curable of the so-called “incurable” degenerative non-communicable diseases e.g. cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, cancers of various kinds and so on. Another assault that has been thrust upon us is the proliferation of GMO products.
Genetically Modified (changed, tampered with) Organisms e.g. 85% of all corn are changed, modified or their genetic structure is altered, so that these items can remain on the supermarket shelves for as long as possible or until you get around to purchasing them. GMO foods are being forced on us by the law-makers, hence they are becoming more and more difficult to avoid. Another name for these GMO products is Frankenfoods.
This is a reference to the Frankenstein monster, who was created in the laboratory by a mad scientist. The natural molecular structure of plants has been genetically changed to produce these Frankenfoods or GMO products. Consider what your home might look like after the builder has made his changes without your knowledge – you won’t know until you begin to experience the resulting problems. For every human God, Jah, Allah – PBUH has not only used a blueprint i.e. our genes, he also ensured that when we humans reproduce, our genes i.e. the blueprint he instilled within us will produce an offspring that is similar to its own kind.
With GMOs/Frankenfoods the blueprint or genes of the vegetable, fruit, fish, animal or whatever the food has been altered into something else i.e. something other than the plants and herb yielding seeds God had intended for our health, our healing and our disease free sustenance. GMOs/Frankenfoods are relatively new and we are not quite sure as to the long term effects on our health and our bodies.
Currently over 90% of genetic research in agriculture is solely for the purpose of creating a plant that is cheaper to grow, easy to transport from one continent to the next, however far away, maintain a fresh look upon arrival and have an indefinite shelf-life. According to one survey of food crops, 93% of the genetic changes to our food is to make food more profitable. Only 7% of that research is done for the purpose of improving the taste of or the nutrition valve of our food.
A manufacturer’s sole aim is to make a profit at the expense of yours and my health. GMO/Frankenfoods are Trojan horses bearing unknown substances that if we, the public, knew what they contained, we would not eat them.
GMO/Frankenfoods are carrying unsuspected unnatural gene combinations, toxic material and allergy triggers, which can be detrimental if you have food sensitivities, intolerances or allergies. The unnatural substances are not listed in the ingredients list on the food item. As a result there is hardly any safety testing. Therefore you have no way of knowing exactly what you are eating and how safe it is. Unfortunately it’s not until we begin experiencing the liver damage, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, hypertension or heart disease that we realize it’s caused by what we’ve been eating all along. So, what are you eating?
The Rose Hall Natural Healing Clinic
St. Vincent and the Grenadines