Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
GLENGOFFE, St Catherine:GRATEFUL HILL Primary School's self-reliance programme has been growing from strength to strength.
The thrust includes the cultivation of several crops and vegetables as George Moodie, principal, continues to provide balanced meals for students of the institution located in Glengoffe, St Catherine.
The effort was boosted in July last year when the Jamaica 4-H club donated 300 chickens to the programme.
"Raising our own poultry saved us $117,000 for the months of September to November last year," an upbeat Moodie shared with The Gleaner.
The school now has another set - 200 chickens - ready to provide meals for the students during the Easter term. There are also crops, including broad beans, cow peas, red peas, corn, and sweet pepper on the farm.
"We started feeding ourselves cucumber at the start of this school term. We have also planted some carrots," the principal said proudly.
Of course, the cultivation of long-term crops is also part of the programme, and parents and community members have been donating seeds and plants to help with this process.
"We are putting in some long-lasting crops such as lychee, June plum, and cherry for our children who will attend the school in years to come," he said.
The focus is not just on providing nutritious lunches for the students: "The school also operates a breakfast programme. We prepare hominy corn, cornmeal porridge, saltfish fritters, and boiled eggs. We want to expand our poultry farm, so we are making a new coop so that we will be able to rear chickens for lunch and layers to provide eggs for breakfast," he noted.
Construction of the new chicken coup has begun, however, Moodie has indicated that he needs assistance to complete the project.
"We need some mesh wire and a few hurricane straps to complete it. We are appealing to corporate Jamaica, or any individual who can, to help us as we work even harder to become fully self-reliant," he pleaded.
Pointing out that a large number of the 200 students, at the institution, which also includes an infant department, are from a poor socio-economic background, Moodie said the self-reliance programme had been yielding rich rewards.
"We are able to at least one Friday in each month, and this is a result of the savings from our poultry bill, give each child, as well as each member of staff, a free lunch."
Furthermore, he said he would be embarking on a drive to establish a special book project in the 2013-2014 academic year to assist needy students.
"We are also thinking of using some of the money we save by rearing our own chickens to start a special book fund because almost half of our students are without their complete set of books."
Like academic excellence and healthy eating, for Moodie, the students' involvement in agricultural activities is critical.
"We make sure that all our students are involved in our backyard garden," he said. " Our aim is also to make all students who pass through this institution understand the importance of agriculture, so each teacher, with her class, is assigned a small section to plant, and they choose whatever they want to plant," he explained.
It's an initiative the students have welcomed. Twelve-year-old Kristoff Smellie, head boy, who has not yet decided on his career, believes farming can help them to become independent.
"I've learnt how to use the hoe in the field, and I learnt how take care of the chickens, like giving them water and feeding them. Farming is vital because without farming, we wouldn't have some foods to eat," he told The Gleaner.
Thirteen-year-old Damion Brown is the student farm manager.
"I am responsible to make sure everything is OK on the farm. This teaches me to be a responsible person," he beamed.
The principal is appealing to past students of the institution, established in 1870 and relocated to its present site in 1938, to give back to their alma mater.
"I want to make a special appeal to the past students of this noble institution to find your alma mater and make a donation. We will even accept a dollar because every mickle makes a muckle," he said.