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Backyard farming – more than just a hobby

Backyard farming – more than just a hobby

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The likelihood of Michael “Mercy” Ollivierre going hungry, in the near future, is slim.

One peep at his backyard reveals the reason.

He has a lush array of crops growing just footsteps from his kitchen.

Farming has always been a part of his life, he says.

“It has always been a part of me; if I don’t have (land) space around me at the time I would grow something in a flower pot,” he said.{{more}}

Growing up with a father who was an agriculturist, and working beside him as he farmed at the Campden Park Estate, Ollivierre grew to love farming.

He is always guaranteed to get food from his garden, sometimes even an entire meal.

Whether it be eggplants, or his new favourite Jamaican Callaloo, “there must be something out there that I could eat,” he said.

Ollivierre, an athletics coach by profession, sings calypsoes under the name “Lord Have Mercy”, and was crowned calypso king in St Vincent and the Grenadines in 1980.

He has his farm at his home at Villa, a residential, upmarket area, more usually associated with tourism, rather than agriculture.

SEARCHLIGHT visited the farm, and was taken on a tour of the small, but beautifully arranged space.

Ollivierre has about threequarters of an acre of land on which he grows several crops, including eggplant, chives, peppers, pawpaw, corn, cucumbers, palm plants and other potted plants.

He said his farm has come a long way.

The grounds of the farm Olliverre said, were wooded, just a ‘backyard bush’. But after one year of clearing the area, tilling the ground and planting, it is now a fertile, scenic backyard farm.

Diversity is key

According to information provided by the Ministry of Agriculture on Home Gardening, Olliverre has the right set of crops in terms of Diversity.

“Diversity influences the economical, social, environmental and health and nutritional benefits to be derived from the home garden. An ideal home garden will consist of crops of the vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, fats/oils and minerals food groups and roots/tubers, fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, herbs, condiments and spices crop types,” Michael Gloster of the Ministry of Agriculture said in a brochure on Home Gardening.

Ollivierre’s eggplants provide a great source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, while his corn, low in cholesterol, contains a high percentage of carbohydrates. His okra on the other hand, has a high level of anti-oxidants. The pawpaw is rich in vitamin C, while his few potted plants and young palm trees add ambiance to the farm.

Layout is very important when considering home gardening and farming, and Ollivierre has paid special attention to this, using his creativity to bring a certain flair to what could have been a regular, run of the mill, backyard farm.

Crop beds are neatly squared, and are separated by pathways. His chive bed is circled by rocks, and he has even incorporated a musical note design in one of the pathways, fusing his love for music and farming into one.

Gloster states that layout has implications for the usage of small equipment and machinery, the carrying out of certain management practices, as well as the harvesting and movement of produce from the garden.

“A good layout will allow free movement, air and good light penetration and reduces incidence of pests and diseases,” Gloster says.

Farming at home and abroad

Ollivierre has taken his green thumb around the Caribbean, farming in small land spaces while a student at both University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados and at the Mona Campus in Jamaica.

It was while he lived in Jamaica, working with community organizations, that Olliverre said he was introduced to the ‘amazing’ crop – the Jamaican Callaloo.

Jamaican callaloo is thought to have its origin in South America; however, it has been recorded as being in Jamaica from as early as 1752. The plant grows up to about 12 -15 inches in height and has leaves that extend to about 3 to 5 inches. The Jamaican plant stalk is light green and can also be cooked.

The Jamaican callaloo is a staple crop in Jamaica and tastes almost like spinach, but not as sour. Like other dark green leafy vegetables it is low in calories, low in fat, high in protein, dietary fibre, iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A and folic acid.

Ollivierre, who has Jamaican callaloo plants growing on his farm, noted that it is very easy to grow and cook, and can be prepared in the same way as Vincentian Callaloo. The stalks of the plant are stripped and then chopped into pieces to make whatever the cook may desire. The vegetable is commonly cooked with okra.

He said in Jamaica, the vegetable is used to make soup, stews, juice and fritters. It is also used as a spread to make sandwiches and can be prepared with codfish for a delightful meal.

Ollivierre said the plant is frequently used in underprivileged communities in a variety of ways, adding that persons lived off the crop.

“Mentally Fertile”

Ollivierre has a special love for working on his farm, which he says keeps him out of trouble.

“…because when you’re in love with the farm, you just want to come home to the farm,” he quipped.

He especially enjoys working on the farm in the moonlight, he says. When it’s extra bright, he spends extra hours outside working.

Other than the therapeutic effect of farming, having a backyard farm also has an economic advantage, as Ollivierre often sells whatever surplus crops he has, and never spends money on vegetables or seasonings.

He has sold a few of his crops to Rastafarians and to supermarkets, bringing in a ‘little fifty dollars here and there’ to buy basic necessities for himself. His family members also benefit from his farm’s produce, as he often gives them crops from his garden.

Ollivierre added that his farming has inspired others, causing them to start their own farms, with him providing seeds to get them started.

“I think we generally shy away from farming in SVG; we don’t want to get our fingers and nails messed up,” Olliverre noted.

He, however, encouraged persons to give it a try.

“I think people should really consider getting into farming. It’s good exercise, its good therapy,” Olliverre stated, adding that he will be willing to donate seeds and suckers to interested persons.

It has not all been smooth sailing, however. Ollivierre said he has had to deal with persons stealing his crops and dogs eating his vegetables, but despite this, he considers his backyard pursuits quite rewarding.

He plans to add a few more crops to his garden, and even a bench, a swing and maybe a hammock, so that he can relax and spend more time doing what he loves.

“Its fun for me and it keeps me mentally fertile,” Ollivierre said.

Farm requirements

Gloster, giving tips on starting a backyard farm or home garden, stated that location is very important.

“A home garden must be located in an area where there is adequate sunlight, rainfall and protection from high wind. The garden must not be located in areas close to septic tanks, waste disposal, toxic chemicals and heavy metals, prone to soil erosion and flooding because these can cause contamination of produce, damage to garden and homeowners.”

The garden or farm must also have adequate lighting. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, Gloster says the amount of light received is adequate for plant growth. However, during the dry season, and on coastal areas where the land is low, irrigation will be needed for successful home gardening.

Gloster also advises that persons exercise caution when watering plants in their garden or farm, as too much water can result in high incidence of pests and diseases, and poor plant growth because of erosion and leaching of nutrients. Too little water affects the growth and development and yield of plants.

Another important factor to consider, if desirous of starting a home garden or farm, is security. Gloster states that a good security system includes the enclosure or fencing of the entire property, specific areas or individual areas within the home garden. This, he adds, could be done using local materials.

“Family members must be fully aware of the benefits to be derived from the home gardens, so that they would want to get involved in home gardening,” Gloster adds. In order for the garden or farm to be sustained, Gloster says that home holders and family members must be fully involved in the management of the farm.

As for Ollivierre, he learned the hard way about security, and manages his farm by himself, with the help of others when it is time to reap.

“The sustainability of the home garden for food security and generating income is dependent on careful planning and the inter relationship between climatic conditions and good crop management practices.” Gloster adds.

The climate in St Vincent is ideal for most crops, “however, during the dry season, high temperature, low rainfall and low relative humidity create problems for home gardening,” Gloster says. In this instance, proper irrigation is necessary.

Gloster recommends that homeowners utilize every little space in and around their home to grow their own food.

“The rise in food prices and the unavailability of healthy and good quality food on the local, regional and international market will continue to affect the economy of SVG negatively. These have resulted in an increase in social, economical and health related problems for Vincentians.” Gloster says.

Home gardening or farming, he concludes, can contribute significantly not only to food security, but also the wellness revolution