The Public Entity Saba continues to invest in agriculture 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. The Farm at Zion’s Hill and the Garden at The Level have been successful in growing produce. The hydroponics/greenhouse farm at Rendez-Vous will give agriculture a further boost once it comes online in 2020.
In the past, agriculture played an important part in the daily life of Sabans. Though it will not be as prominent as it once was, Commissioner Rolando Wilson and the Agricultural Department, headed by Randall Johnson, aim to keep agriculture going, and expand it where possible.
The largest government-owned farming plot is located in Zion’s Hill. Here, on a steep piece of land, workers Bruce “Junior” Hendrik Hassell (48), Orlando Hassell (26), Aneuris Hassell (28) and two others are growing crops for local sale. “We like working here.”
Sweet potato, tania, tomato, cabbage, corn, green onion, pepper, okra, eggplant, cucumber, green banana, papaya, watermelon, and different herbs: it is all growing here. “We carried up almost 100 pounds of green banana in one day this week and 75 pounds of tania,” said Junior Hassell. “The weight of the produce carrying it up the hill is challenging,” said Aneuris Hassell.
Farming is a way of life for Junior, Orlando and Aneuris Hassell. “I grew up with cattle and farming. Our grandparents and great grandparents were farming all the way up the hill to Sandy Cruz. I have some bulls myself,” said Orlando. “We grew up with it. I also do my own farming at home. Keep myself occupied,” said Junior.
Growing local produce is a win-win situation. “It is much healthier than the stuff that’s imported, and it provides work. Plus, it keeps you busy and out of trouble,” said Orlando. Aneuris cited several reasons why it is important, also for the young people, to do farming. “You can provide for your family. It is healthy. And, it is good for the community. Every island should grow its own food.”
Fertilizers are used as little as possible. Instead, cow and goat manure are used to enrich the soil. Natural neem oil serves to keep insects at bay. The produce is sold through the Big Rock and Unique supermarkets, and also at the market once a week outside Breadline Plaza. The left-over leaves and bush go to the animals. “We leave nothing to go to waste,” said Randall Johnson.
Irrigation takes place with a system of pipes that carries down the water using the elevation from the large cistern next to the building on the side of the road. So far, the Farm has been able to manage the current drought. An issue is the goats that sometimes get over the fence. The Farm, built on leased land, has been in existence for some three years. “It took us a while to start up. We started on the upper part and expanded down the hill,” said Johnson.
Social work place
The Garden at The Level serves as a social workplace. It is part of the Saba Reach Foundation and is subsidized by the Public Entity Saba. “We grow as much produce as we can, all organic, while at the same time providing a safe working place for persons with a distance to the labor market. This is our main goal,” said assistant garden manager Maarten Plante-Van der Horn. Eight clients are in the program: three full-timers and five part-timers. Care coordinator Lonneke Schut provides support to the clients. Alexander Hassell (61) is The Garden’s most senior worker. He has been there since January 2007. “I really like working here,” said a very friendly Alexander. “I am here every morning. My main work is composting, which is my specialty.”
The Garden mainly produces vegetables, herbs and some fruits. It was originally built by people from Cuba as an organic garden. “We use no pesticides and only organic fertilizers. Finding organic solutions is a challenge, but Sam Frederick, our garden manager, has a lot of knowledge and many ideas. Companion planting is a good example. The concept of companion planting is to place the plants in such a way that they strengthen each other,” said Plante-Van der Horn.
An irrigation system is being constructed. The water comes from the cisterns, including rainwater that is collected from the road. “The drought is a challenge,” said Plante-Van der Horn. Large, long compost bins are used to create new, rich soil, mixed with goat manure from the goat pens in the neighborhood. The sides of the bins will be raised in the near future through a DOET Oranjefonds project to increase the effectiveness of the composting system.
Once per week, The Garden does home and office deliveries for a small contribution. The products of The Garden are also sold at the “market” every Wednesday morning in Windwardside. The products are very popular because they are fresh, locally grown, have a great taste and are organic. At the same time, people support a good cause.
Commissioner of Agriculture, Social and Labor Affairs Rolando Wilson explained that the third agriculture project, the hydroponics farm and greenhouses on Mount Scenery, should be ready in 2020. The plan has been laid out and the project will go on bid shortly. The land is being prepared. This is no easy task because the land needs to be flat, and the area is located on a slope with a lot of large rocks. “But it is good soil, ideal for farming,” said Wilson.
Initially, three greenhouses will be constructed, of which one will be for hydroponic farming. In the hydroponic greenhouse mainly lettuce and herbs will be grown. The other two greenhouses will have soil on the floor to grow vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers. “This is a more controlled way of farming in an enclosed area,” said Randall Johnson. The land has been purchased with funds from the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality LNV.
Commissioner Wilson said the Public Entity Saba remained committed to investing in agriculture. The benefits of agriculture are multiple and that is why it is important to keep investing, he said. “It means healthy, fresh food for our people. It provides employment, honest earnings that make people feel proud.” The commissioner said he was impressed with the produce despite the long drought. “That is thanks to the hard work and creativity of the farmers.”
Government and the Agricultural Department have put a lot of effort in stimulating farming, said Johnson. “We assist local farmers with water, water storage, seeds and fencing, but we also help cattle owners who keep goats, bulls, chickens and pigs with food and water.” He said getting a constant supply of animal food was a challenge. Having a dry storage area would help to solve the issue of storing sufficient animal food.