Touts regenerative organic model as the starting point for VI agriculture revival
Nestled in Cooper Bay, Turnbull Estate, Tortola in the Virgin Islands, for the past 10 years, ‘Good Moon Farm’ has been churning out hundreds of pounds of fresh produce every month, in a land where the majority of its food is imported.
At the helm of this initiative is a world-renowned artist and sculptor, Mr Aragorn Dick-Read, who is also a Virgin Islander with a passion for sustainable agriculture and growing his own food.
According to Aragorn, he believes the VI should venture down the same path of sustainable and regenerative agriculture, having once been completely self-reliant in its history as a Territory.
A long history of farming
Agriculture is a very important subject right now in the Virgin Islands, Aragorn told Virgin Islands News Online in an exclusive interview, adding that has come from a culture equation that is in a way now "fulfilling itself.”
“The fact that the BVI hasn’t prepared itself for this situation with COVID-19 is a consequence of events that happened from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It’s not necessarily something that can be attributed to any particular politician… it’s a false belief in the security of modernity.”
He said the VI was led along the road to completely ignore the fact that the Territory was not providing for itself, whereas in the past, he said the Territory supported itself completely and independently with just a small population of about 16,000 people.
Now, Aragorn said due to globalisation, since around the 60s, the Territory has been importing food in a misguided approach towards feeding the population and this approach, he says, is not the fault of a single individual, be it colonial or local; rather, a shift in the global landscape.
Shift in self-sufficiency
“The shift happened with the blind faith that we put into the modern international globalised society, whereas the BVI was doing very well as an agrarian society that was living off the land and off the sea for nearly 150 years before the whole concept of modern supply chain came into place,” he said.
The division and distribution of the land, he said, also contributed to the current agricultural faith of the VI, since the land became move valuable as colleterial then it did an as an agriculture base with regards to borrowing money.
"As soon as you value your land as a viable economic asset more than it is as a sustenance of life asset, then you turn your back on the land and you cash it in to enter into the materialist culture you can obtain through cash,”
“So what COVID-19 has done is kind of pull back the curtains on that whole concept of accumulating material wealth and not having food as a consequence.”
Life as a farmer
Aragorn noted; however, that he has always been around food in the VI since his parents had a shop in Road Town and so he never turned his back on the land.
He said he also felt the need to venture to Guyana and other places across the Caribbean to learn more about organic farming from the local indigenous Amerindian populations.
“When I was in Guyana, I was working a lot with the Amerindian people there… the Caribs and the Arawaks and all of those people. I worked a lot with the Carib community throughout the whole Caribbean.”
At the local farm, Aragorn said they utilise regenerative organic agriculture, “It’s basically using old techniques but modern non-chemical, no fossil fuel-based additives. So we are using compost, manure, the lunar planting cycle and we are actually regenerating old plantation areas, such as hillsides, terraces,” with no chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
In addition to Amerindian farming techniques, Aragorn said practices by the indigenous Virgin Islands community during the Territory’s food product era is also utilised to grow food on the hills of Good Moon.
He said some of the agriculture yields at the Good Moon Farm includes vegetables and several spices such as ginger, turmeric, lattice, spinach, cassava, sweet potatoes and more ground provision.
In addition, the farm also produces fruits like mangoes, pineapples and bananas and several other fruit varieties.
According to Aragorn, the biggest challenges include sourcing water and maintaining the nutrition in the ground in terms of soil fertility.
Regenerative organic approach
“We’ve been planting and getting a lot of food out of this, so our focus right now is keeping up the soil fertility. We’re using manure from different other farmers such as chicken and cow manure.”
Aragorn said, apart from institutional Government support with his network of about 15-20 farmers, they are completely self-sufficient.
“Most of the elected officials are not coming from any kind of agricultural background, which again is not their fault. They are educated and intelligent and cosmopolitan people, but they are more trained in the arts of banking and accountancy and media and they are not trained in the arts of the grassroots culture.”
He said VI’s agriculture development should not be about greenhouses or hydroponics, as they are not viable with climate change and increase hurricane activity.
Aragorn also noted that with those methods, there is a dependency on imports of chemicals from foreign markets, which should not be the case to produce food locally.
Greenhouses and Hydroponics outdated - Mr Dick-Read
The Virgin Islander said especially for the Caribbean region, “You’re much better off to have increased the attention to organic and regenerative agriculture… to expect to feed the population with a set of greenhouses and hydroponics farms right now is foolishness.”
According to him, those methods are also risky for this generation and climate, because they rely on electricity whereas there could be long periods of extended blackouts as with the case of hurricane season.
“Come a hurricane, come an earthquake, come another COVID-19 disaster, I can still grow food, but if you set-up a big greenhouse and if you rely on importing chemicals and fertilisers and if the greenhouse blows away, your money is wasted,” he said.
Aragorn said during the COVID-19 lockdown he was able to supply and distribute an estimated 300 boxes of food to easily feed approximately 300 families.
Ahead of the lockdown that came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were widespread concerns of the VI not having enough food for the Territory. "If there were 20 more farms like mine, we would be in a very better position than we are right now," he said.