Despite the challenging situation that the current corona pandemic causes and the lock-down that has been put in place, this crisis sometimes leads to good things, one of them being a higher local production of fruits and vegetables on Saba as a result of increased popularity of agriculture.
Production at the government-owned Hell’s Gate Farm (the Farm) has grown over the past weeks with the help of some of the permanent workers and a number of volunteers. Vegetables and fruits like pumpkins, cucumbers, corn, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, tania, papayas and bananas are being grown and distributed locally.
At the Garden in The Level (the Garden), a project of the Saba Reach Foundation, the faster-growing crops are being produced, such as tomatoes, lettuce, spring onion, sweet pepper, hot pepper, bok choy, broccoli, radish, kale, swiss chards, cabbage, water melons, cantaloupes and a wide range of herbs and seasoning.
The demand is definitely there, said Garden Manager Sam Frederick who has been delivering produce to people’s homes on Wednesday’s and Friday’s. Home deliveries were already taking place before the corona crisis, but with the lock-down, there is an increase in interest. In fact, the demand is often bigger than the supply, said Frederick. “It would be good if we could boost produce to make sure that we have a constant and higher supply. People are constantly asking for fresh produce, while we can only make a limited amount of deliveries because of the supplies,” said Frederick.
Families in need
Some of the produce of both the Farm and the Garden goes to families in need, while the rest is sold at the various supermarkets and delivered at people’s homes. Eating locally grown vegetables and fruits is not only cheaper than imported produce, it is also healthier. “Our products are daily fresh and they have not been on transport by boat from abroad. Also, we produce organic. It is important to eat healthy, it always is, but now even more so,” said Frederick.
The additional local produce is needed especially now with less fruits and vegetables coming to the island due to the corona crisis and the related measures, explained Head of the Agricultural Department Randall Johnson. At the Farm, the efforts are aimed at increasing the production and making some investments that will increase efficiency such as covering the ground with weed cloth, a fully automated irrigation system and the construction of steps, said Johnson. Maarten Plante-Van der Horn is assisting at the Farm to further enhance productivity. The ultimate aim is to increase local food production on the long term.
Volunteers play an important role, both at the Farm and at the Garden. Volunteers Sue, Suzanna and Ingrid have been weeding and harvesting the crops, while Gerry and Paul are working on the steps at the Farm which is located on a steep piece of land.
The steps were worn and eroded so Gerry and Paul have been replacing and rebuilding many of the old steps and they also constructed wooden steps in many places. They plan to finish the job this week. Randall Johnson said the construction of the steps was important. “We need those steps because it is steep land, and you easily slip, especially when it’s wet. It also makes it easier to carry the produce up the hill,” said Johnson.
At the Garden, volunteers are also assisting with weeding and harvesting, and twice a week with the packing and distributing of the orders. The volunteers have special permission from government on certain days to work.
Investing in agriculture as Saba has been doing is good for many reasons: not only to provide a source of healthy food and to offer employment, but also to keep this sector as a part of the local culture. In the future, there will be more produce when the hydroponics/greenhouse farm at Rendez-Vous comes on line. The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries LNV makes this project financially possible. Commissioner Rolando Wilson, content with the developments, said that agriculture was definitely proving to be an asset, especially in these hard, uncertain times.
Commissioner Wilson said the benefits of agriculture are multiple and that is why it is important to keep investing, he said. “It means healthy, fresh and affordable food for our people. It provides employment, honest earnings that makes people feel proud.”
Backyard farming by residents has increased. Many residents already have a small garden where they plant fruits and vegetables, and many more are in the process of doing so. Residents see the benefits of growing their own produce, and it also gives them something positive to do during the lock-down. A group of residents has started a Facebook page called Let’s Grow Roots where members share tips, invite each other to pick up and swap seeds and seedlings, give advice and inspire one another.