Greetings from Richmond, we have just moved back after five months of being evacuated!
In spite of all the ashes and challenges, we are recovering our beautiful campus and will re-open the school in January 2022.
Enjoy some news from the ongoing ecological home garden project and we will update you soon on all the new activities we have planned for the coming years.
Like most people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Altrice Lampkin grew up in a household where farming was part of their culture.
In Spring Village, her parents grew root crops while her in-laws, in Barrouallie, where she now lives, plant peas and sorrel.
The farming that Lampkin knew was, “… when the plants get to a certain stage, you apply the chemical fertiliser”.
However, sometime ago, she visited a friend and saw a different type of farming. It was a relatively small backyard garden in which a wide variety of fruits and vegetables were being grown. Further, it was quite obvious that her friend’s farming included a lot of natural fertiliser, such as grass cuttings.
Lampkin learned that her friend’s garden was part of the home garden project executed by Richmond Vale Academy (RVA). She, too, applied and was successful and is into her second month in the programme which focuses on permaculture -- a way of ecological — organic — sustainable farming.
“With this, it has no chemical. It is just the material from the bananas, grass and that kind of stuff,” Lampkin beams as she points to her garden. “I think this way is better because it is healthier; no chemicals at all.”
Lampkin’s backyard garden is planted with lettuce, chives, bok choi, bean, avocado, sage, dill, tomatoes, pineapples, sugarcane, saffron, and ginger. She had never thought it possible to grow so many things in such a small space.
She has been in the agriculture market for over 20 years as her mother is an itinerant trader in agricultural produce, known locally as a “trafficker”. Lampkin plans to sell some of her produce to her mother and is hopeful that many of the other people who have applied for participation in the project would be successful.
“I think it is a really good project. I had applied for a while and before the volcano erupted in April they came and looked at my land. However, the eruption held it up somewhat and after the eruption they came and did this,” she says of the farm.
Lampkin is one of eight Barrouallie farmers who have so far successfully applied for participation in the project, which is catering for 15 families. RVA is reviewing the application as well as the plots of other applicants.
Towards the end of 2019, RVA received a US$30,000 grant from the GEF Small Grants Programme to create 15 home gardens in Sandy Bay. The project was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the selection of families beginning only in October-November 2020. By December 2020, the families in Sandy Bay were selected and the first workshops were held. However, that same month, La Soufriere volcano began erupting effusively, and in February 2021, RVA was granted permission to move the project to Barrouallie
In March, RVA began collaborating with the Barrouallie Heritage Organisation for the execution of the project. However, La Soufriere erupted explosively on April 9, causing a further delay of the project, which resumed towards the end of that month. The actually planting of the home gardens began in April.
Danail Petrov, the programme coordinator, says that the home garden project aims to reverse the heavy dependence on chemicals that has characterised agriculture over the last 80 years or so. “Instead of being farmers, we are chemists. We have lost our connection with the ground and with nature and we just learn how to solve ‘problems’ through chemicals,” he explains.
Under the project, participants learn how to use plants as fertilisers and pesticides as well as for weed control. They learn how various natural elements come together to produce healthy, nutritious food, which do not deplete the soil. “The idea is to mimic the natural environment,” Petrov says.
Participants are taught how to work in tandem with nature to their benefit and that of the environment. “Our minimum goal is to be sustainable; our optimal goal is to enhance the environment through the farming that we are doing. Instead of depleting the soil, we are improving the soil,” Petrov further states.
RVA advocates starting small and making higher production per square foot. The expansion comes after the farmer masters the knowledge and skills needed for successful organic farming. The garden is designed so that it attracts insects that are beneficial to the plants and repels those that the plants do not want around, thereby eliminating the need for chemical pesticides.
Some of the plants have deep roots that bring up nutrients; others have bulb roots that crack the soil differently, even as others channel nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil.
The barbed wire fences around the gardens keep animals out, but also act as a structure on which climbing plants, such as passion fruit, can grow. The gliricidia cuttings that support the fence also help to fix nitrogen in the soil. Vetiver grass is planted along the fence so that even if the wire fence collapses with time, the grass will become a natural fence. The vetiver is also used for mulching the beds in the garden. Banana leaves add potassium, grass clippings add nitrogen, palm leaves or chicken manure add phosphorus to the soil. Each farmer is given a 650-gallon water tank to collect rainwater with which to water the plants. The rainwater is better for the plants as it is chemical-free. Using rainwater also reduces the cost to the farmer, if potable water were used.
The project falls in line with what Renald Francis, a 46-year-old teacher, was trying to achieve in his backyard.
Before learning of the RVA’s project, Francis had devised a “20-25 millennium food sustainability programme” for his household. He had hoped that by 2025 he would have planted at least 25 heads/holes of 20 different crops in his garden -- all produced organically. However, in keeping with the concept of farming that he knew, Francis would formerly have planted each of the 25 plants in a distinct plot in the garden.
“Now, I have learnt that I can grow all of these crops together to benefit each other. That’s how plants operate naturally. Hardly would you find a monocrop naturally. Plants complement each other and that is what I have to learn.”
In addition to a wide range of vegetables, in the four months since RVA began working with him on his garden, Francis also planted fruits such as avocado, cherry, and bananas. These complement the other fruits he had on his property.
Francis lives in Larley Road, Barrouallie, where the soil, naturally, is rather dry, and conventional farming is only possible for about seven months a year. He has already seen the transformation of the soil with the mulching techniques that he learned from RVA. “I have seen the difference in terms of the soil texture even after a couple days. The amount of moisture that is left in the soil from the mulching is really phenomenal.”
With this and the rainwater he is now able to harvest, Francis is optimistic about operating his home garden all year round.
“I am really excited. I have given RVA one hundred and one per cent support when I see the transformation in terms of the texture of the soil. I am going to work hard to transform my entire garden into this whole concept.”
Francis’ garden is part of his long-term plan.
“I see this as part of my retirement plan…. For backyard gardens, it is most productive because, at the end of the day, you want to produce your best crop because that is for you to eat… For those of us who just want to get the healthiest food to eat, it is the way to go.”
Verthylin “Rosie” Gill, 57, of Larley Road, had been involved in farming all her life before she learned about the RVA project from her younger sister who is a participant.
“It was impressive. “It was done in a unique way,” Gill said. Gill was especially amazed by the use of the wood chips in mulching.
It is only about a month since Gill has been involved in the project, but it has left a positive impression on her. “They have new ways of doing it. They cover the soil with cardboard to stop evaporation and they use banana bodies (trunks) to enrich the soil and so on,” she says.