After two years of ups and downs, Precious Produce Farms is finally beginning to come to life in Dorothea. The journey has been fraught with challenges - each tackled as it appeared and each overcome slowly but decidedly ... well, almost. Here’s the story.
Located on the north side of St. Thomas is a tiny plot of land that was chosen by the Department of Agriculture as the site on which I would be permitted to develop my farm. When I first saw the land I was excited but dumbstruck. There was nothing but bush and brush and acacia, known as “casher” as well as ketch-n-keep. Thorns galore! Like so much of St. Thomas, the terrain was sloped.
The department had the pigs removed, so on a sunny Sunday several friends, including farmers wielding machetes, shovels and pick axes descended on the tiny plot to begin the process of removing the unwanted brushwood. Among the band of volunteers was one of the first families of farming in St. Thomas, headed by Benita and Lucien “Jambi” Samuel. Jambi created a set of steps so that all who had assembled could access the land to begin the daunting challenge of whacking away at the brush. At the end of that session we had cleared a small portion of the overgrown brush and the potential of what was this tiny plot could begin to be seen.
After the land clearing began we realized that the site had no access to the water provided by the department to farmers in the area, although there was a pipe running through the farm that allowed farmers downhill and to the side of this plot to have water. So, without waiting for the department to correct the problem, plumbing materials were purchased and a department staffer installed a pipe from which water would flow when the crops were eventually planted.
Jambi recruited his stepson, Ahmad, and son, Lucata and together they cleared the site and began the process of building the terraces using rocks that were available on the site as well as blue bit rocks brought in from the quarry. The end result is the beautiful carving of a working farm out of very rough terrain. What amazed this writer and farmer was the manner in which Jambi approached the tasks at hand. The giant acacia trees which were thought to need a chain saw were dispatched with a hand saw, a machete and clippers. Jambi deftly and quietly took them out one by one.
After the land was cleared I was struck by the sheer beauty of the view, which looks down on Hull Bay. It also showed that there was more land space than originally seen. It was quickly determined that at least five terraces could be created. Each day it was exciting to watch the farm take shape. It remains an exhilarating journey.
Even the fruit trees on the property seemed to breathe easier after the brush was removed as they put out new leaves and fruit. The plan is to create beds for vegetables and flowers and along the western slope to create a small orchard to grow local fruits.
Jambi, who has had experience with such matters suggested that a valve be installed so that the flow could be limited for a short period while the plants were watered, after which the valve is left fully open and the water was allowed to flow unimpeded. This worked like a charm. Now, don’t get me wrong, the flow was still slower than you would imagine, but at least the watering took about 45 minutes as opposed to having to load up gallon bottles of water and truck them to the farm.
Lo and behold, the installation of the valve was questioned by the department's plumber who was sent to inspect the mitigating device. He explained that he fully understood the need for the valve, however, his supervisor ordered that it be removed. And removed it was.
Why then was this farm permitted to be developed if water couldn’t be provided? The plumber explained that the configuration and installation of pipes was done while this farmland lay dormant. Thus, no one was aware of the problem until PPF moved in. So as of today this beautiful, new and burgeoning farm has no access to the water which flows right through it every day.
Recently, two friends stopped by and wondered why they could hear the water flowing in the pipe but my hose emitted not a single drop. Simple! Not enough pressure. I know a little about soil-less farming, but waterless farming …never ever. My very small water tank will soon run dry and I will be up the proverbial creek. Hopefully my appeal to the Commissioner of Agriculture to allow the mitigation will be honored and water will once again be allowed to flow onto our new home in Dorothea. Or some other solution will be proffered and installed by the department - with dispatch.
If you’re in the area, stop by and say hello. We’re the second farm on the right going down the hill next to the location of the Dorothea fire station. Precious Produce Farms is up and growing….at least until the water in the little blue tank runs out.