My name is Ms Emris Stapleton, from Chateaubelair. I am a Field Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture. I am also a farmer, an organic gardener and an active community member.
The idea of growing food without pesticides and other chemicals is something that has always intrigued me, but I needed expert advice as to where to begin. The opportunity came to me in July 2017, when I was approached by Mr Luke Punnett, Mr Selly Patterson, Mr Ammon Felix and other dedicated volunteers from the Richmond Vale Academy Climate Compliance group to start a permaculture garden. I attended the classroom session and was very fascinated and excited by this concept of ecological farming. I couldn't wait to start my very own garden.
We planted different types of vegetables and flowers to attract pollinators (bees, butterflies, etc.) which would help pollinate the plants and act as repulsive for pests. I find pleasure working in my garden, and there are always new ideas and new ways of getting things done. I also find peace in myself because I get to do something that I really love. I believe that if we plant what we eat and eat what we grow, it will benefit us tremendously. We become healthier individuals knowing that our food is free from chemicals and other harmful substances, and it is safer for the environment.
By December 2017, my garden was fully established, I decided it was time to start spreading the knowledge of permaculture and sharing it with the officers and the inmates of the Belle Isle Correctional Facility. The prison already had an advantage in terms of labour, land space, arable lands and different types of livestock which can provide manure. After meeting with the senior officials at the institution, they welcomed the idea and thought it was a very good and healthy way of producing their food and so the prisoners began their very own organic garden. We set seeds, constructed permanent beds with bamboo, we mulched, we planted seedlings. This new idea of growing food differently is now being used as part of the learning and rehabilitation process for inmates while at the institution. It means a lot to the inmates to have the opportunity to learn and practice organic farming. Many promise that after their release from the institution they will continue the practice to gain meaningful employment to generate an income for themselves and their families. When they compare the vegetables produced in the organic section with the ones produced with chemicals, they see that it is safer and that the yield is better.
Everybody needs and deserves to live a healthy life. Being in prison doesn't mean it's the end of your life. It should enable people to get back on the right track. It is about making use of every available opportunity that will help to make each inmate a better person in the future. This project is something that I enjoy and I would like to encourage other people to get on board!
I am also part of Family Producers of Organic Foods (FPOOF), a group of about 20 gardeners that was formed in 2017 after the first home gardens were built in Chateaubelair. It consists mainly of single parents, mostly females, who are unemployed and have a passion for growing foods without chemicals. This group aims to work together to help each other in the gardens, by coming together to reinforce beds, share seeds and seedlings, plant together, this way we encourage everyone to maintain their gardens. We also have a weekly farmer's market in which members come together to sell the excess products on Saturday mornings.
As a group we host fundraising activities and the money goes towards the group to support group activities, purchase tools, seeds etc. This is evident as most recently the group purchased a gas stove to help one of the members whose home was burglarized. This is the kind of example we want to set: an example of cooperation and mutual support.
Permaculture is like a recycling system: nitrogen fixing plants are used for mulch, which then becomes fertilizer, new seedlings are planted, they absorb the nutrients to grow and it's a never ending cycle of feeding the earth which then feeds us in return! It is the same for humans, the more we give and share, the happier and healthier we become.