Grow your own food where you are is the mantra by which entrepreneur and farmer Dasia Edwards lives. It is this mantra that inspired her to create her grow box and vertical garden, Jelani Ubi, and the Living Environment Arts Festival (Leaf).
“It’s important to grow your own food so you know who’s growing your food, what’s in your food, and where it comes from. It’s safer, healthier, and more importantly, you can have some more dollars in your pocket, and right now who doesn’t want to save money?”
Edwards said her specialty garden kits are designed for specific local dishes, as well as container gardens for families to grow in any available space. The grow kits include the salad garden kit, breakfast garden kit, steamed vegetable garden kit, pizza topping garden kit, and the cocktail garden kit.
She grows herbs such as basil and mint and a variety of peppers including jalapeño, sweet, pimento and chilli. Produce include lettuce, kale, cabbage, eggplant, bodi and ochro, among others. These kits include recipes, plants, seeds, soil, compost, seedling trays and plant pots made from biodegradable coco peat. Some of the grow kits also includes recycled pallets made into grow boxes. Jelani is her younger son's name, and ubi is the Igbo word for garden.
Her love for art and the environment also led Edwards to start Leaf, an environmental festival celebrating everything eco-friendly. She said the festival connects food and people to the environment, while promoting sustainable clothing, agriculture, and living.
“As a human that loves the earth and as a mother of two, I wanted to live a sustainable lifestyle that I can enjoy and which won't harm the environment. A great part of that included the use of eco-friendly products for everyday living, which was really difficult to find, especially in one location. That's where Leaf came in, a group of artists came together with inventors and other eco entrepreneurs and we had our first eco celebration in 2015. The idea was to create a space to connect people to the environment and share my love for the environment with them. As an artist myself I had to obviously include the arts, creating this fusion of fashion, food, art, technology, environment, and lifestyle.”
Edwards said the Leaf signature eco-friendly products started in 2019 with beeswax wraps, jute grow bags and grow boxes made from recycled pallets.
“The genesis of Leaf Garden Grow kits came while trying to figure out what to cook one day, using the ingredients I had with some plants I had growing outside. The idea to turn these from recipe kits to garden kits was so revitalising that my team and I had an impromptu meeting that day. During a conversation with the other directors Nkosi Husbands and Keron Badassie we came up with different recipe kits that were adapted to garden kits. These included the breakfast garden, steam vegetables/stir fry garden, pizza topping, junior growers, herb and seasoning garden, salad garden and most recently the cocktail garden kit. Later on in this year we intend to roll out the fruit smoothie garden, sips and dip garden kit.”
Edwards said the start of Leaf Tobago was carded for April 2020 but had to be cancelled due to the covid19 restrictions. She said although this was disappointing, the rest of 2020 was spent transforming the physical event into a virtual platform.
The 34-year-old, who was born and lives in Sangre Grande inherited her love of planting from her grandfather, who was a gardener by profession. As a teenager, she started planting on her own around the house and reconnected with gardening about two years ago on a part-time basis.
Edward’s keen interest in the Caribbean, its environment, and people, has resulted in her receiving several awards, including the WHYFarm and Digicel Community Award for the Agripreneur Mastermind Program. On International Youth Day 2021 Edwards was the only female farmer featured by the Local Economic Development Sangre Grande group. On August 14, 2021 she was one of three panellists featured along Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Minister Clarence Rhambarat, where she championed the cause for farming in small spaces and growing where you are by giving her experience of triumph through various personal and physical struggles.
Edwards has been involved in several initiatives, under the Ministry of Sport and Youth, including Istand, Youth Parliament, youth round table discussions, and youth co-ordinator for social programmes in the St Andrew/St David area and throughout the island. She was a mentor/advisor at the Queen's Young Leaders Network, and a Communications Committee Member at Caribbean Regional Youth Counsel.
She is currently a member of the Caribbean Youth Climate Change Network TT Chapter, a Junior International Chamber JCI member and the Project Chair for It's Time to Feed Myself, a project that shows challenged families how to cultivate and cook local meals using ingredients grown from their home garden.
Edwards is also a published writer, photographer, and poet. In addition, she has always been an environment activist, as even her spoken-word pieces were championing the cause for safer environmental practices.
Edwards said people have been responding positively to the grow kits as they relate better to growing food in small places.
“Most of us don't have access to large areas to grow our food. Most of us aren't privileged to have acres of land and with new technology and innovative farming methods, acres of land aren't needed to produce large amounts of produce. So growing food in our backyard, front yard, on the ledge in our front porch, an apartment balcony, the window sill, somewhere on our kitchen counter, and on one or two lots of land is slowly becoming the norm.
"It's something we have to do to keep our grocery bill as low as possible. So far, people love the idea of container farming, which is growing food in fabric grow bags, grow boxes, pots and so forth, and vertical farming which is basically growing food upright in stacked layers instead of the traditional horizontal or flat way, which allows you to grow more in a small space. However, the container farming is cheaper and easier to set up, so people gravitate to that one more.”
Her advice to young people interested in getting involved in agriculture is to just start.
“No matter the size of the space, there are innovative ways of deriving maximum benefit. Growing can bring about peace of mind while allowing people to earn an income.”
The project can be found on Facebook at Leaf – Living Environment Arts Festival or Instagram @leafest.