As food insecurity has slowly become a realistic concern for the Caribbean, investing time and energy into sustainable food practices is critical. The Healthy Caribbean Coalition(HCC) in partnership with the HCC Childhood Obesity Prevention Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Action Team is launching the backyard gardening initiative which aims to promote backyard gardening by sharing helpful tips and showcasing backyard gardening initiatives from CSOs across the region. This effort is supported by The Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in conjunction with the World Diabetes Foundation (WDF).
Dr. Williamson Chea and his wife, Dr. Christine Chin, in Nassau, Bahamas have taken on the challenge of supporting sustainable food practices by the reins by nurturing their backyard garden and sharing their expertise and seeds. Dr. Chea is the President of the Cancer Society of The Bahamas; the non-profit organisation is comitted to the awareness, education, prevention, research, advocacy, care and cure of cancer and is purposed to serve cancer patients, survivors, and their families, and persons at risk across The Bahamas. Dr. Chin leads the Healthy Lifestyles Team (HaLT) which is a program within the Cancer Society of The Bahamas. HaLT’s mission is to educate, inspire, and empower people to make healthier lifestyle choices and advocate for better health in The Bahamas. Both doctors are committed to improving healthy lifestyles through their own work – backyard gardening is considered a significant component of that lifestyle.
At a time when there is a threat to accessing safe and nutritious foods in our Caribbean region, experts are recommending that backyard gardens should be a part of our food security response. Backyard gardens can eventually reap fruits, vegetables, and herbs that can contribute to a healthy, low-cost diet. Eating these foods have numerous health benefits including strengthening immune systems. Sowing, reaping, and taking care of your garden are meaningful and rewarding forms of physical activity. Being outdoors will also provide a dose of vitamin D. Gardening is known to improve mood as well – the benefits are endless.The Cheas began their backyard garden years ago. They grew up gardening with their own parents. Since then, they have guided many persons in starting their own gardens and have installed gardens in 6 schools as part of the society’s broader childhood obesity prevention agenda. The Cheas’ home garden is abundant with ackee, avocado, banana, breadfruit, coconut, soursop, other trees and vegetables.
As the realities of COVID-19 and its potential impact on food security became a realistic concern, the doctors decided to package and distribute 1500 home-made seed packets free of charge to members of the Cancer Society of the Bahamas, neighbours, and friends. The seeds include green beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, tomato, onion, swiss chard, sweet pepper, okra, cucumber, and zucchini. The Cancer Society of The Bahamas may be contacted if anyone is interested in starting their own garden or a garden for their school.
The HCC applauds Drs. Chea and Chin as well as all efforts by the government, private sector, and civil society organisations that have worked toward developing and supporting initiatives that will ultimately strengthen our local and regional food systems. By taking small steps towards becoming self-sustainable, we can help work toward a much-needed paradigm shift by producing and consuming our own food. This shift will have long-term benefits for our people’s health, agriculture sectors, and economies.
Here are some of their tips to backyard gardening:
- Select an appropriate site for garden: it needs to be in an area with good sunlight and easy access to water for irrigation. If you have pets, put up a fence as they can ruin your hard work. If you don’t have space, start with containers. Start small and increase the size of your garden later.
- A herb garden is highly recommended if you don’t have space for a backyard garden. These are easily planted in pots on a windowsill.
- Plant beds needs to be about 6 to 8 inches deep; wooden enclosures for beds or concrete blocks work well to prevent the soil from washing away with the frequent watering. Wooden ones can be constructed with 2’ x 8’ or 1’ x 8’ lumber. Four-inch concrete blocks are even better.
- Soil selection also is key. Soil conditions vary across the islands; on most islands, the soil is very poor. Additional potting soil or topsoil and cow manure compost mix are beneficial for crop yields. One bag of cow manure compost mix with six bags of soil is recommended.
- Fresh seeds are best. Plant a variety that you like. Remember some plants or vines produce a plant that bears many vegetables (like eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkin) so you don’t need many seeds/plants. Others produce a single vegetable (e.g. carrots, beets, lettuce, cabbage) so you need many seeds for those. Start seeds in small containers like egg cartons and later transplant seedlings to the garden.
- Remember to leave room for growth. Plant vines near the edge so they can ‘run’ alongside the vegetable bed. Plant larger type plant (eggplant, tomato) to the rear of your garden.
- Insects may get problematic. Use natural pesticides like marigold flowers which give off strong scents to ward off insects. There are also lots of commercial pesticides.
- Plants need TLC, sun, water, and intermittent weeding.
- Water twice daily: preferably early morning and evening to ensure that the roots can soak up the water they need. Watering while the sun is hot will cause some evaporation of water and possible inadequacy for the roots. If you are enthusiastic, set up an irrigation system using gravity flow with a large container at a height with small lengths of tubes draining to the roots, or alternatively, a sprinkler system with a timer.
- If you have lots of space, plant fruit trees. These take years to bear but are also very rewarding.
- Most of all, have fun and work with your little ones. They will learn much from you! Your hard work will be gratifying, rewarding, and economical. Fresh vegetables are always much tastier and healthier.
- Encourage your neighbours to do the same. Exchange vegetables. Start a community group, this will encourage social well-being and neighbourly camaraderie.