Keith Wedderburn : Embracing 'unconventional methods of farming'
Third-place organic farmer in the recently concluded Denbigh Agricultural Show in Clarendon, Keith Wedderburn, said from as far back as he can remember, he has always had a feel for "something different".
It is not surprising that he was one of the top finishers in the Jamaica Diaspora Agriculture Task Force in their Champion Organic Farmer sponsored category.
Although he spent his formative years on his family's farm in Bluefields, Westmoreland, and had his interest piqued through his father and other relatives practising subsistence agriculture in the community for years, he said he never found the conventional ways appealing.
"I wanted to make a difference by being able to produce healthy food and at the same time being able to have others learning about it in a fun-filled way, in addition to sampling my produce, while compensating me for doing so," he told The Gleaner.
The St Elizabeth Technical High School past student said the catalyst for him in embracing organic farming came through being involved in community development and environmental preservation practices with the Bluefields People's Community Association for more than 25 years, and also a vegetarian for some 20 years.
"I consider myself a health/environmental-conscious person. It was, therefore, almost automatic switching to organic farming once I became aware of the advantages of this method, compared to the conventional method," he shared.
Unlike most farmers who ventured in organic farming and encountered challenges, Wedderburn said for him, it was a pleasure using what he's doing as a model to others in the industry, and also for food and economic benefits.
Comparing 'regular' farming to what he is engaged in now, Wedderburn said the biggest comparison is the effect it has on the land.
"Organic farming works to increase sustainability, biodiversity, and to encourage good soil and air quality. This is maintained by the use of natural growing practices, the avoidance of harmful chemicals, and the continued practice of crop rotation and other natural farming methods," he explained, even as he used the opportunity to encourage other farmers to make the switch.
"Agriculture has a direct effect on our environment, so understanding what goes into our agriculture is important. The more farmers that embrace this practice, the lesser the challenge of contamination from conventional agriculture," were his sage words.
Looking ahead, Wedderburn said his greatest hope for the industry is that greater awareness will be created on the overall benefits to be derived from organic farming.
Cognisant of the expenses associated with switching, he is making a plea for incentives to be provided for farmers wanting to convert from conventional agriculture, especially in light of the fact that farmers may be losing valuable earning/income during the conversion process.
Wedderburn also stressed the need for the Government to address the issue of land tenure for farmers using government-owned lands.
"This is so because while funding may be available for those small farmers, land tenure would certainly be a deterrent. Securing guaranteed markets, and making grants or loans at single digits available to these farmers would also be an asset."