Back to school for Plant Jamaica founder
JOHN'S TOWN, St Thomas:
IT'S NOT a regular school. It's classes for farmers, under a programme called One One Coco, a four-week intensive course in which farmers are trained in organic farming and permaculture. It is hosted and coordinated by The Source Farm Foundation and Ecovillage at John's Town, St Thomas.
"The nature of the course is to take 10-15 students through a process of understanding the natural world in their care. The course is intensive and lasts for four weeks. The Jamaica Sustainable Farm Enterprise Programme, Farmer to Farmer programme, brings US volunteers in to teach the course. These volunteers are seasoned professionals working in the organic farming and sustainable development industry for decades," Nicola Shirley-Phillips of The Source Farm said.
Among this year's 12 students is Andrew Bruce, founder of Plant Jamaica, a thrust to create sustainable farms on inner-city empty spaces in Kingston and St Andrew.
From Kingston, Rural Xpress journeyed to Source Farm, and that's where we spoke with Bruce about the progress of his initiative, and why he has enrolled in the course.
"The objective (of Plant Jamaica) is to empower people, show them that there are ways and other means to make a living (so as) to be resourceful and not to be wasteful of the elements in their area," Bruce said.
His first intervention was 'Life Yard' at 41 Fleet Street, Parade Gardens, of which he said, "It's an explosion of ideas. I'm empowering people. It's a feel-good project, and it's working ... . These sorts of things should be encouraged for people to start their own NGOs." He has now extended the programme to Holy Family Primary School, where he can get "impressionable minds" to be interested in their environment and agriculture, to be socially responsible citizens.
But Bruce's background is not in farming and teaching, so he has been doing research and attending workshops to develop a knowledge base. He had been to Source Farm before, so when he started the school project, he contacted them seeking advice. Source Farm visited the school, showed the participant what to do, after which the school carried out what was taught. But to be more effective, Bruce chose to enrol in the One One Coco programme.
"The One One Coco is a programme designed to teach students permaculture and organic farming practices. What is unique about this course (is that) it is the only one that establishes permaculture as the foundation and then teaches organic farming. Permaculture allows the students the access to knowledge of soil, zone and sector, how various energies operates on the land, natural systems and cycles and encourage an intelligent design on the land before a blade of grass is cut or soil is removed," Nicola Shirley-Phillips of The Source Farm said.
From the programme, Bruce said he has learned much, in addition to what he said he had known about organic farming. The permaculture sessions, too, were enlightening, especially how to make use of the rain and the wind. But more importantly, he said, "What I am here to do is to basically understand how to design the curriculum, and know the theoretical information ... so I am taking all of this information now. As soon as I am done, the curriculum will be set. I will teach the teachers and the children," he said. But it is not all about cultivation.
Bruce wants to introduce life classes and other activities such as dancing and music. Yet, it's also about getting funding for the project, which he wants to introduce in as many schools as possible. "I set these ideas out. I market them, and I push to get the money to be able to do these things, and the participants, and the resources," he told Rural Xpress.
Up to Tuesday, when Rural Xpress spoke with Bruce, he said everything that he needed, he had got from the programme. "I think that if I leave the programme now, I have got enough to be able to understand the observations and the patterns. I wasn't far off track, but I really did not know how to grow anything until I came here."