Being an eternal optimist, I am inclined to believe that we would have opened our eyes, even a little, to the bare facts that have been laid before us as a result of the present pandemic. The ways in which we have been forced to feed ourselves during the long period with no restaurants and fast food outlets to indulge in is perhaps of the greatest importance; after all, we work to eat. At its most basic: no food, no life.
Food security may be overlooked by the general public because “normally” we do not have to think too hard about it.
Food shortages in TT are rare and we are used to seasonal foods, although the large supermarkets have lulled us into thinking that everything is always available. At one of last week’s Ministry of Health’s media conferences we were reassured by the Minister of Trade, Paula Gopee-Scoon, that TT enjoys food stability, with stocks to last two to three months and another two months’ worth on the way here.
She also encouraged us to think about supplementing our diets and deepening the stability, even though our external food supply chain is robust, with our own home-grown foods.
Maybe while we had a bit more time to spare at home during the lockdown we thought about the foods we could not have and were moved to plant a seed or two. I know unexpected national supply chains have been emerging during the pandemic, with home deliveries of locally sourced fresh agricultural produce gaining popularity because of convenience and competitive pricing.
Some of the offerings claim to be organic, but eating organic food is very expensive and in the absence of any national agency to authenticate the veracity of growers’ claims it is hard to prove locally grown foods are the real McCoy.
I am always a bit ginger about local ground provisions and green vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce. because our farmers seem intent on not following manufacturers’ instructions on how to use pesticides and herbicides. Official reports have repeatedly signalled that local produce is overloaded with harmful substances.
We must also consider the poor regime we practise in environmental welfare, poisoning waterways and the soil through the improper management of industrial and household waste. Before we can have full confidence in the local supply chain, a lot of pretty basic work has to be done. It is not as easy as just buying local.
I was speaking to one supplier of a weekly food basket of local fruit and veg, who is part of an organisation educating farmers in the use of harmful chemicals. It is not easy to achieve success. I know. My own father tried in the 1950s and 60s, but not enough seems to have improved.
My supplier refuses to call anything “organic” except when she knows exactly how it is grown. Well, I can vouch that not a single insecticide or pesticide touches the occasional papaws, bananas, oranges, mangoes, tomatoes, coconuts and the array of herbs that grow in my garden. Last week I picked the first ever bright-yellow star fruit – five inches long – from a small tree at the front of my house. My mother’s roucou tree is legend and our fever grass, grown from a clump gifted by a friend, is constantly in use, as is the abundant and pristine chandon beni.
I believe I heard Ms Gopee-Scoon encourage us to plant in pots on our patios. She said not everything has to go into the ground. And she is right. We do not need a large garden in order to enjoy our own produce, and from my experience you can eat truly organically and cheaply.
The dry season has been harsh and with the water shortage my lawn is near dead. I am planning now on only partially replanting it with lawn grass and giving up one-fifth of it to planting food. What we plant would need to like some shade and a degree of dryness, but I am encouraged by the fact that one does not need a lot of room to reap a half-decent crop from the appropriate plant. I won’t be able to supply the shops for retailing, but it would be enough to make a small difference to my pocket and a more impressive addition to my diet.
The lawn expert who will help me with a new weed-free lawn (I hope) only uses non-synthetic feeds and practises vermiculture. Intriguingly, he showed me a bag of what he called “worm poo” which he gets from his own worm farm. Essentially, he feeds his earthworms a diet rich in natural ingredients such as grass clippings, dry leaves etc, which they break down into vermicompost to provide a highly nutritious, natural plant food. Check out the Facebook page Trinidad Worm Farm.
I feel inspired to make my own little contribution to the restoration, improvement and maintenance of greater ecological harmony and to eat better while doing it.