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HomeNewsArchivesJune's View: From the Farm (Rebirth of a Farm Pt. 2)

June's View: From the Farm (Rebirth of a Farm Pt. 2)

The task of moving rocks is not for the faint of heart.After the land was cleared in order to establish Precious Produce Farms (PPF) in Dorothea, and it was determined that five terraces could easily be accommodated on the site, another labor-intensive part of preparation began: construction of those terraces.
But first the contour of the land had to be determined so as to mitigate erosion and runoff after heavy rains now and in the future. This is where the guidance of USDA District Conservationist Rudy O’Reilly was invaluable.
He showed master farmer Jambi how to determine the lay of the land using equipment which he provided. There was clearly not a straight line from west to east, but rather dips and turns around the steep slope which made for an interesting challenge.

The terracing began at the lowest portion of the farm and moved up hill. Since there were lots of rocks on the property, those were gathered and piled at least a foot-and-a-half high in some places to achieve the desired height. Each terrace needed to be at least five feet wide with a one and a half to two feet of space beyond the bed to be used as a walkway or path.
And so began the tedious job of carving out the soil. What emerged was a slightly sloped bed that looked ready for planting. The process of building the rock barriers was arduous. Rocks had to be chosen that would fit snugly together so that the barrier was strong and impenetrable. It was like building a jigsaw puzzle. When all of the rocks on the site had been used, it became necessary to purchase rocks from the quarry. This was a fascinating exercise.

I learned that there are trained technicians who know how to carve and cut the rock from the quarry to fit any job. After selecting the sizes, shapes and tonnage needed, the technician had the load piled onto a heavy-duty truck for transportation to the farm. When the rocks arrived at the farm, they were dumped in the driveway; and this is where sheer brute strength moved them into place to form each terrace. After a small mishap, I was banned from helping with this part of the process.

With help from Ahmad and Lukata, Jambi created the masterpiece that has emerged as the five sculpted terraces on the PPF in Dorothea. When those were completed, Jambi found yet another small space to construct another tiny terrace in which I sowed seeds of Asian cucumber and Charentais melons. The harvest that was enjoyed this summer still resonates on the tongues of those who were fortunate enough to taste the fruits.

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The major challenge on the farm remains a steady and reliable source of irrigation. However, the farmers in surrounding plots and a few loyal volunteers have proven to be invaluable in mitigating this challenge. The first solution was to fill barrels and gallon bottles with water from my home cistern and transport them to the farm in the bed of a friend’s truck. This was ridiculously difficult and time consuming.

Surveying the land to create the terraces.Then the farmer directly adjacent to my plot rigged some hoses to extract water from the dam directly above the farm. This solution worked for a while, but has its own challenges. Almost three months ago the Department of Agriculture sent a crew to place piping inside the farm along the western fence, which will purportedly be connected to the dam. However, like waiting for Godot, we wait for the connection to be completed.

Accessing water from the dam, which is filled almost to capacity after the heavy rains, would help all of the farms below PPF by providing an alternate water source. And since the DoA only has a very limited capacity in the few water tanks at the Dorothea Fire Station site, this would ensure that as long as the dam contained water, we could all have access to this invaluable resource whenever we chose.

As it stands I have instructed my plants that they must drink all that they need when it rains or Monday to Friday between approximately 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. since this is when the tanks are turned on to feed the pipes flowing through our farms. There is sometimes water on a Saturday but never on a Sunday or a holiday from DoA.

Alas, plants need to be watered seven days a week. There simply has to be a better way to ensure that farmers have enough water consistently to irrigate crop farms and provide water to livestock farmers, as well.

On a slightly different note … After seeing my name prominently displayed on a list in the main office of the DoA’s office in Dorothea, several persons offered their congratulations. Although I was notified in late in 2009 that my proposal was funded at $2,000, to date I have received no such funding for the USDA Specialty Crop Block grant (SCBG), which was received by the department over a year ago to the tune of $163,000.

In my last inquiry to the department at the end of July 2010, I was again told that a site visit was necessary before I would be allowed to proceed with clearing the land (not in Dorothea) to be used for this project. I requested a date for same, however, nothing more has been communicated. But here is the back story, which speaks to why some farmers are frustrated with the DoA.

In July 2009 local farmers were given less than a week to submit their proposals to the Ag Department in order to participate in the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant 2009. Among the handful who even got the information about the request for proposals, very few were able to submit an application before the deadline.

I found out about the grant from someone who isn’t even a farmer but who had been invited to submit an application. In October 2009, DoA was awarded $163,000 to fund two projects. One was to further develop the local specialty crop industry through an increase in the marketing efforts of Virgin Fresh produce and the other was to develop hands-on orchard fruit and leafy green demonstration models on all three islands. The grant cycle is for a period of three years.

If other awardees have received funding and are proceeding with their projects, I am unaware. In anticipation of the visit, the site has been cleared several times. However, I am still awaiting the site visit. Meanwhile, the USDA 2010 Specialty Crop Block grant process has begun nationally, and all those farmers who were unable to participate in the 2009 grant should be allowed the opportunity to get in on this year’s cycle. I remain doubtful that this will happen. If we are really serious about supporting farmers and building the agriculture sector of our community, we simply must do better than this.

June Archibald owns and operates Precious Produce Farms with locations in Dorothea and elsewhere in St. Thomas. She may be contacted at june.archibald@gmail.com or source@viaccess.net.

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The task of moving rocks is not for the faint of heart.After the land was cleared in order to establish Precious Produce Farms (PPF) in Dorothea, and it was determined that five terraces could easily be accommodated on the site, another labor-intensive part of preparation began: construction of those terraces.
But first the contour of the land had to be determined so as to mitigate erosion and runoff after heavy rains now and in the future. This is where the guidance of USDA District Conservationist Rudy O’Reilly was invaluable.
He showed master farmer Jambi how to determine the lay of the land using equipment which he provided. There was clearly not a straight line from west to east, but rather dips and turns around the steep slope which made for an interesting challenge.

The terracing began at the lowest portion of the farm and moved up hill. Since there were lots of rocks on the property, those were gathered and piled at least a foot-and-a-half high in some places to achieve the desired height. Each terrace needed to be at least five feet wide with a one and a half to two feet of space beyond the bed to be used as a walkway or path.
And so began the tedious job of carving out the soil. What emerged was a slightly sloped bed that looked ready for planting. The process of building the rock barriers was arduous. Rocks had to be chosen that would fit snugly together so that the barrier was strong and impenetrable. It was like building a jigsaw puzzle. When all of the rocks on the site had been used, it became necessary to purchase rocks from the quarry. This was a fascinating exercise.

I learned that there are trained technicians who know how to carve and cut the rock from the quarry to fit any job. After selecting the sizes, shapes and tonnage needed, the technician had the load piled onto a heavy-duty truck for transportation to the farm. When the rocks arrived at the farm, they were dumped in the driveway; and this is where sheer brute strength moved them into place to form each terrace. After a small mishap, I was banned from helping with this part of the process.

With help from Ahmad and Lukata, Jambi created the masterpiece that has emerged as the five sculpted terraces on the PPF in Dorothea. When those were completed, Jambi found yet another small space to construct another tiny terrace in which I sowed seeds of Asian cucumber and Charentais melons. The harvest that was enjoyed this summer still resonates on the tongues of those who were fortunate enough to taste the fruits.

The major challenge on the farm remains a steady and reliable source of irrigation. However, the farmers in surrounding plots and a few loyal volunteers have proven to be invaluable in mitigating this challenge. The first solution was to fill barrels and gallon bottles with water from my home cistern and transport them to the farm in the bed of a friend’s truck. This was ridiculously difficult and time consuming.

Surveying the land to create the terraces.Then the farmer directly adjacent to my plot rigged some hoses to extract water from the dam directly above the farm. This solution worked for a while, but has its own challenges. Almost three months ago the Department of Agriculture sent a crew to place piping inside the farm along the western fence, which will purportedly be connected to the dam. However, like waiting for Godot, we wait for the connection to be completed.

Accessing water from the dam, which is filled almost to capacity after the heavy rains, would help all of the farms below PPF by providing an alternate water source. And since the DoA only has a very limited capacity in the few water tanks at the Dorothea Fire Station site, this would ensure that as long as the dam contained water, we could all have access to this invaluable resource whenever we chose.

As it stands I have instructed my plants that they must drink all that they need when it rains or Monday to Friday between approximately 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. since this is when the tanks are turned on to feed the pipes flowing through our farms. There is sometimes water on a Saturday but never on a Sunday or a holiday from DoA.

Alas, plants need to be watered seven days a week. There simply has to be a better way to ensure that farmers have enough water consistently to irrigate crop farms and provide water to livestock farmers, as well.

On a slightly different note … After seeing my name prominently displayed on a list in the main office of the DoA’s office in Dorothea, several persons offered their congratulations. Although I was notified in late in 2009 that my proposal was funded at $2,000, to date I have received no such funding for the USDA Specialty Crop Block grant (SCBG), which was received by the department over a year ago to the tune of $163,000.

In my last inquiry to the department at the end of July 2010, I was again told that a site visit was necessary before I would be allowed to proceed with clearing the land (not in Dorothea) to be used for this project. I requested a date for same, however, nothing more has been communicated. But here is the back story, which speaks to why some farmers are frustrated with the DoA.

In July 2009 local farmers were given less than a week to submit their proposals to the Ag Department in order to participate in the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant 2009. Among the handful who even got the information about the request for proposals, very few were able to submit an application before the deadline.

I found out about the grant from someone who isn’t even a farmer but who had been invited to submit an application. In October 2009, DoA was awarded $163,000 to fund two projects. One was to further develop the local specialty crop industry through an increase in the marketing efforts of Virgin Fresh produce and the other was to develop hands-on orchard fruit and leafy green demonstration models on all three islands. The grant cycle is for a period of three years.

If other awardees have received funding and are proceeding with their projects, I am unaware. In anticipation of the visit, the site has been cleared several times. However, I am still awaiting the site visit. Meanwhile, the USDA 2010 Specialty Crop Block grant process has begun nationally, and all those farmers who were unable to participate in the 2009 grant should be allowed the opportunity to get in on this year’s cycle. I remain doubtful that this will happen. If we are really serious about supporting farmers and building the agriculture sector of our community, we simply must do better than this.

June Archibald owns and operates Precious Produce Farms with locations in Dorothea and elsewhere in St. Thomas. She may be contacted at june.archibald@gmail.com or source@viaccess.net.