Grow your own food

I serve on the outreach committee for the Cayman Island Climate Change Panel and so on daily basis I try and educate the public about sustainably on a global scale, but particularly how it affects the Cayman Islands and how we can work together to become less wasteful and more sustainable for future generations.

I am truly saddened how, within two generations, Caymanians have seemed to have lost their birthright skills to survive on the small islands that we call home and are totally dependent on either the government or imported goods.

I am amazed on a daily basis what we import into these islands in the way of food. I was in a fast food restaurant a few months ago and casually asked if they import their hamburger buns and to my surprise the answer was yes. So I asked in another store about their dough and the answer was also yes. I wonder what they do to the dough and bread to make it last for over a week at least before use and if that can really be good for us.

Last month I was in a supermarket and I made a joke about some cakes, which looked fresh but were imported, even after a nuclear war these cakes would still look fresh. When one lady laughed and said she likes to bake fresh – using cake mixture. Why oh why has the world forgotten to create food from basic ingredients? Cake mix is fine ground flour and chemicals with fancy packaging with value added cost.

I understand that the Cayman Islands imports over CI$100M of food annually and with the cost of fuel increasing, this is only going to increase the cost of living here thus affecting our national security due to our dependence on imported food. This is a tropical island where for the cooler six months a year food could be grown here on a much larger scale than present. This would increase the money in the economy instead of exporting it and allow new employment opportunities for Caymanian youth, if they were willing to work outdoors for a living. The other benefits would be fresh food, which is better for the human body and well as lowering the cost of living.

This got me wondering how much of the population eats processed food and how much eats fresh food. Once again it comes down to education and do people really care what they eat. Do people realise that their increasing waistline has anything to do with the food they eat and the lack of exercise? Fifty years my mother taught art in an inner city school in England and when asked the children to draw fish they drew rectangles as fish because they had only seen fish fingers. If we asked our children to draw where their food came from what you they draw? Packets from the supermarket – If you asked them to point to a cow and show you there the different cuts of meat come from could they tell or could you tell me?

In the UK there are sections of land called allotments where people, who have no gardens, get rent a strip of land from the state to grow their homegrown vegetables. There are waiting lists for up to 10 years in some areas, yet in Cayman where the food is more expensive and the weather is better, there are no allotments and only excuses for not growing their own food. The White House in Washington used to have 20 per cent of its gardens set up for growing food along with cattle and sheep.

Imagine if we could produce 20 per cent of what we eat here how many jobs could be created and sustained? Imagine $20M injected in the local economy annually. In the US a 150-square-foot plot of raised bed can recover around $600 of food per year that could be done here with excess traded with friends and family for other crops or sold to the supermarkets.

There is a system called Permaculture although this system has been used for thousands of years; the phrase was recently coined by an Australian in the 1970s. This basically means permanent agriculture or the use of nature to improve the land to make it more fertile and keep it that way so crops are more plentiful. It was used all around the planet and involves planting plants to capture the wind and rain, to add missing nutrients to balance the soil via crop rotation and composting.

I hear the cry is that we have no land here in Cayman all the time; well every subdivision has a piece of land for public use, which is usually not used. This could be turned in to allotments for that subdivision. Residential houses only can be built on 25 per cent of the land according to the planning laws in Cayman; that leaves 75 per cent space for growing plants. There is nothing stopping you growing in the set back and building a compost heap.

By growing shade trees around the perimeter of your lot you will slow down the winds and create cooler areas where plants will grow better out of the direct sun. Collect water from your roof with tanks and then use this to water your plants without using potable drinking water. At the end of the season dig up the plants and put them into your compost heap. Also any non-meat organic wastes from your kitchen can go into the compost heap instead of it going to the landfill and reap the rewards for yourself.

Clear the land and compost the clippings to create bio fertilizer for your next season’s crops. Ask friends who keep chicken and cattle for their manure to improve your soil. Collect rainwater or drill a well to water your plants to reduce your costs to water your crop. The use of drip or subsoil watering cuts down on the quality needed due to reduced evaporation and get the water to the roots.

If you live in an apartment then just look up on the web “container growing or vertical growing” and you will see with only a few square feet of space how you can grow food. Once you taste the flavour, you wonder why you never did this before.

Caymanian farmers are the friendliest people you are likely to meet here and will help answer your questions if you are genuinely interested in farming in Cayman. Along with these farmers there appears to be an undercurrent of more people becoming interested in small holdings and their benefits, which is great to see. From personal experience, we grow pounds of fruits and vegetable every year and along with keeping chickens we have fresh eggs and meat, with enough left over to sell.

A suggestion – Social Services should make people who need subsidies from the government attend the UCCI/ Department of Agriculture courses on how to grow their own food and be encouraged to empower themselves to become less dependent on the state. If you are unemployed, then start growing food and get a Trade and Business retail license, which cost $200 per year, and start to sell freshly grown food to your neighbours and friends and help Cayman to become less dependent on imported food. There are great opportunities out there that with some hard work in the sun could be the new employment stream that everyone is looking for.

Sam Small

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