A Little Inspiration from the Far North

Looking out from the house in Vermont

Here we are, in Vermont, in the frozen Northeast Kingdom.  The boys and Kwao are enjoying snowboarding and sledding, and I am actually enjoying having more computer time.  Winter in Vermont is cold, yes – right now, the temperature is 18 degrees F.  But this season is also cozy – you get to snuggle by the wood stove and spend more time in close quarters with family members, for better or for worse!

Up here, I notice all of the exciting things that are happening in agriculture in general and with sustainable agriculture in particular.  Localvore sentiment is very strong in Vermont, and it’s practical, too; supporting our farming neighbors can be the most affordable option.  My mother in law buys raw, organic milk at a farm down the road for $1 per bottle. The same amount of organic milk from the supermarket would cost her $3.50 to $4.00.  By tradition, too, Vermonters consume local produce.  Which Vermonter in his or her right mind would buy Aunt Jemima’s syrup when Chris and Annette have the most delectable syrup from last season at their farm over the hill? 

In town, there are weekly farmers markets, where local producers can sell their preserves, fresh bread and other produce year round.  One of the local farm stores already has up their racks of seed, much of the packs are organic or heirloom seed.  The colorful packs make up a rainbow selection that makes me wish for a fatter wallet.  I want to buy them all, thinking about the bounteous future harvest the packs represent.

Also in stock are any number of organic treatments to protect the vegetables we grow.  How lucky Vermonters are!  Lots of summer rain producing vigorous plants, more cows than people in the state producing an abundance of cow manure that you can get by the truck load, organic options in the farm store and, to me the most important, a pervasive cultural knowledge of the basics of successful organic farming.  People put into daily practice techniques that would be too extreme for most Jamaicans, like composting human manure and using it in the garden.  If we did that on our Jamaican farm, none of our neighbors would ever eat any of our callalloo!

Thinking about Jamaica, now,and comparing it to Vermont, I wonder what can we and our neighbors do to get closer to the ideal: an abundance of healthy plants organicaly grown from safe (non-GMO), strong and climate appropriate seed?  I know that we’ll never have their daily soft summer rains to refresh our crops.  We can, however, harvest the rain we do get and learn about double-digging and other techniques that conserve the water the plants do get.  A truck full of cow manure is something I will probably never see down there, but we can compost banana and plantain trunks, endless tree leaves, kitchen scraps and more to enrich our soil.

I’m heartened by the government’s push for Jamaicans to Eat Jamaican.  I love the Jamaican Organic Agriculture Movement’s efforts to promote seed saving on the island.  I am really impressed by the Ministry of Agriculture’s openness and embrace of organic and natural farming techniques.  Organizations such as the Jamaica Environment Trust add to the public’s understanding of the importance of making environmentally sound choices as individuals, households, businesses and as a country.  Being in Vermont exposes me to a culture that takes organic farming for granted.  It gives me a sense of what the future in Jamaica could be. 

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