Tuesday, Jun 2, 2020

Going bananas

Like most Bahamians being locked down, I am really getting my faith and fortitude tested. But we know this is the best thing for us if we are to stop the spread of the coronavirus in The Bahamas.

I decided to keep my sanity by starting a backyard farm. The garden/mini backyard farm now consists of a fairly small vegetable garden, which is almost in full bloom amongst my existing flowering plants. I am pleased to say that within a few short weeks during the curfews and lockdowns, my back and front yard gardens are budding and blooming beautifully alongside my flowering plants.

Thus far, my garden project – which I began at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak – is almost in full bloom with tomatoes, cabbages, lettuce, watermelons, pumpkins, okra and peppers, just to name a few of the plants now sprouting and growing nicely throughout my new “food garden”.

I am also putting together a herb garden which will include basil, rosemary, cilantro, mint and thyme, just to name a few. It is quite remarkable that I was blessed with a brand new set of garden tools before The Bahamas was hit by the new coronavirus.

My new hobby at home in many respects makes me reflect on how far we have to go as a nation to become more aware of the lack of food security that we face during this global pandemic. I look forward each day to spending a few hours cultivating my little backyard garden, which I hope will continue to thrive during these trying times across the islands of The Bahamas.

The front yard, which for many years had been the home of my beautiful flowering plants, now shares that space with 20 newly dug holes that now consist of 20 banana and plantain trees. Yes, you read that right: 20 brand new fruit-bearing trees, and with some luck and some good fertilizer, they will flourish in my new food garden.

Most Bahamians will agree that our locally grown bananas taste far superior to the Chiquita bananas that we continue to import, to the detriment to many of our local banana farmers. Our Bahamian bananas may not be as “pretty” as its cousin the Chiquita banana, found in our local food stores, but I think it is about time that all of our local produce be made readily available at all of our grocery stores and that we, as a multi-island nation, support all of our hardworking farmers in The Bahamas. It is essential to our survival as a people and a nation.

I visited the Newman Farm on Cowpen Road last week, once the emergency order was amended to allow farms/nurseries to open for a few hours during the day, as we begin phase one of reopening the economy.

Newman and his wife have just under four acres of land located off Cowpen Road, and have over 1,000 banana and plantain trees on their farm.

It was quite a sight to see and behold the countless rows of native Bahamian bananas trees on almost every inch of their property. Newman said that he and his wife have absolutely no problems producing and supplying his produce to his patrons, clients and customers.

During my short visit to his farm, Newman gave me a simple and concise rundown about his business and explained that with the help of a part-time laborer, he manages his small farming enterprise, producing lots of fruit for his customers.

He did point out that it would be a great help if the government provided him a few more acres of land and a bit of fertilizer, which does not seem to be a huge request, especially during these extremely difficult times for many farmers across the Bahamaland. Newman has been extremely successful in growing bananas on his small four acres. I can only imagine what would occur if he and others like him were afforded the land on which to produce locally grown fruits/vegetables. Just imagine how much foreign currency our country could save by buying Bahamian bananas instead of importing from Chiquita!

In addition, if we can plant several hundred acres of Bahamian bananas, we may never have to import the likes of Chiquita to our shores again and if we can do it with bananas, we can certainly do the same with our native pineapples. There is a myth that our islands were the very first to ever grow pineapples and they were shipped to Hawaii. We all know how successful they became due to the export of Bahamian-grown pineapples!

I will admit, I am a novice backyard gardener – a silver lining in many ways due to the global coronavirus pandemic – however, I do believe that as a people we must pay attention to food security and do our part to support our local farmers. In turn, with a little bit of farming “fine-tuning”, we hope that our farmers, in conjunction with our food and grocery stores, work together to showcase local produce in the best possible light and presentation. This would make Bahamian produce more attractive to the eye as we stroll through our locally-owned food and grocery stores. If we all work together and buy local produce, we will all win at the end of the day.

• William Wong is a two-term president of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation, two-term president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association and a partner at Darville-Wong Realty. E-mail: williamuwong@gmail.com.

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