Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
CENTRAL VILLAGE, St Catherine:THEIR MISSION is to be a model and beacon of hope for other youth in the community while working to eliminate the stigma attached to Central Village.
It's a task the Andrews Lane Youth Development Farmers organisation - funded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) Inner City Basic Services project - has undertaken since 2009, when the organisation was formed as part of an initiative to engage at-risk youth .
"I wish that many of the youths, or even the older ones in Central Village, would take a page out of our book and start a project to do something positive and try to take away themselves from crime and violence," group member O'Neil Shepherd told The Gleaner.
As part of the initiative, youth in the community undertake civic projects that enhance the aesthetics of their community, and assist in providing temporary employment.
The farmers in the age group 17 to 35 cultivate a variety of crops such as sweet pepper, sugar cane, pineapple, cabbage, okra, cassava, banana, and plantain.
"This area, where we started the project on, was a rubbish heap and we cleaned up the place. We sell the crops. What we don't sell, we give to members of the community who are really in need of them," explained Shepherd, a 34-year-old mason.
"Twenty youth, predominantly unemployed males, took the initiative to clear the dump site and approached JSIF to assist with transforming the area into a community backyard garden," Mona Sue-Ho, social development manager, JSIF, told The Gleaner.
She added: "For 2012, the farmers have ventured into producing sweet pepper and Scotch bonnet pepper seedlings, and they have also diversified their offerings by having available ornamental plants for rental."
Farm manager 22-year-old Navada Cameron aspires to become a certified chef and electrician, but his lifelong dream is to become a soldier.
"The youth love the farming thing. As we doing little work over here, you see the whole a dem a come help, and it's a good thing," Cameron told The Gleaner.
Some members of the group have also benefited from training conducted by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority.
"I learn how to mix the soil with the peeling skin and manure to get the soil fertile," said 20-year-old Brokley Smith.
For him, the initiative has been inspiring.
"Tru we have the farm, it occupy me time and keep me busy, and I learn a lot of things about farming, and I really feel motivated," said Smith.
Shepherd pointed out that the farm served as motivation to other members of the community.
"Some people who never had a backyard garden start planting crops now," he said.
Shepherd's wish is to acquire a bigger plot of land to expand production.
"We would like to put in a fowl coop, a pig pen, and even raise some goats," he said
The group has also established a mini-park, adjacent to the farm, that facilitates social interaction in the community.
Joan Powell, who has been living in Central Village since 1980, commends the group for its venture and welcomes the facility.