Using Aquaponics and Rainwater Harvesting to support healthy eating among persons living with NCDs in St. Lucia
Our region has been making commendable strides toward prioritizing food security, from Government-funded injections into agricultural sectors, to private and public collaborations to distribute seedlings to interested backyard gardeners. These examples are part of the whole of society approach needed to strengthen our region’s food system; this whole of society approach is the cornerstone of the Joint Statement issued by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition and the OECS Commission on April 15th 2020. The government, private sector and civil society have a major role to play in enhancing food security and ultimately making healthy, nutritious foods more accessible. Supporting backyard gardening was one of the suggestions outlined in the Joint Statement to address the region’s food and nutrition security concerns.
In light of the current circumstances, enthusiastic backyard gardeners and famers have used the opportunity to expand and introduce innovative backyard gardening techniques to better support their communities. Mr. Andrew Felix, the President of the St. Lucia Diabetes and Hypertension Association, has always been an advocate for holistic health and wellbeing. In the COVID-era, he has also lent his passion and expertise in diet and nutrition to expanding backyard gardening initiatives in his community.
Mr. Felix and Alex Alexander are currently working on a project called “Alex Happy Greens (Organic Freshly Picked Vegetables).” They provide organic fresh produce to communities in St. Lucia. The team also makes special provisions for vulnerable populations including persons living with non-communicable diseases (PLWNCDs) and the differently abled. Given his background in nutrition, Mr. Felix assists in preparing fresh produce packages that are suitable for those PLWNCDs who may have dietary restrictions. The team also provides safe home-deliveries to these persons.
The “Alex Happy Greens” team has introduced innovative techniques into their farming regime including rainwater harvesting and aquaponics. In a time of impending drought in the Caribbean, Mr. Felix encourages rainwater harvesting which is an economical way to maintain healthy green gardens. Rainwater harvesting is a natural, free source of water to irrigate plants. The water is salt and pesticide free which is key for organic use. Using a downpipe from your home into a barrel is usually sufficient. No chemicals are needed for water treatment; instead, treatment can be done by simple filtration.
Mr. Felix and his team have also invested in aquaponics. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture, which is growing fish and other aquatic animals, and hydroponics, which is growing plants without soil. Ultimately, with aquaponics, plants are fed the aquatic animals’ waste and in return, the vegetables clean the water that the fish live in.
Fish and microbes play an important role in aquaponics. The “Alex Happy Greens” team use tilapia which is the most widely raised warm water aqua crop in the world. Microbes that are in the water also play an important role in providing nutrition to the plants. The beneficial bacteria gather in the spaces in between the roots of the plant and converts the fish waste into nutrients that the plants can use to grow. The result is a perfect collaboration between aquaculture and gardening.
Aquaponics are ideal because crops are provided with a natural fertilizer and the aquaponics system uses less space than traditional farming as crops grow in specialized containers. Plants also grow more quickly than traditional farming.
We commend “Alex Happy Greens” team and all who have taken the initiative to enhance household or community food security. These individual and community level initiatives paired with the government, private sector and civil society’s dedication to supporting the provision of healthy foods, particularly to those who are most vulnerable, through policies and programming is critical during this time.
We are interested in featuring your backyard gardening initiatives; share them with us via our HCC social media channels. Also, if you’re just starting your backyard garden, check out the HCC social media pages for some simple tips to start and maintain it.