Tue | Jun 2, 2020

Carolyn Cooper | Time to teach children to plant seeds

Published:Sunday | March 29, 2020 | 12:30 AM

There are so many lessons children need to learn that don’t require a smartphone, tablet, desktop computer or even pen and paper. By example, their parents and extended family can teach kindness, patience, discipline, gratitude and many other essential qualities that will endure for a lifetime.

These days, as parents struggle to homeschool their children, one of the long-lasting lessons they can teach is how to cultivate food. Many children assume that food comes straight from the market, grocery shop or supermarket. They don’t seem to realise that much of the food they eat grows from a tiny seed. It’s the end result of a long process of agriculture.

Children brought up in rural Jamaica usually know how to make the connection between eggs and hens; milk and cows; seeds and trees. They often have practical experience feeding livestock, weeding gardens and reaping fruits. Not so their town cousins! Children raised in uptown gated communities or downtown open yards often share a common ignorance about the value of land and, particularly, its use for the production of food.


Once upon a time in Kingston, many households had a little vegetable garden. No matter how small the yard, there were callaloo beds, pumpkin vines, beans running on the fence, peas, tomatoes, okra, mint, fever grass – a lickle of dis an a lickle of dat. And children learned how to care for the plants. It was part of their regular duties.

Old tyres were often converted into beds for vegetables. There’s a hot debate now about the safety of food grown in tyres which contain chemicals and metals that may cause cancer. But some environmentalists say it’s only when a tyre is burned that toxic materials escape. And there are so many tyres being burnt at dumps anyway, it make sense to recycle them for some productive purpose.

But even if we don’t resort to tyres, town children with limited access to land can be taught to do small-scale farming. All it takes is a container, some dirt, water and a seed to get going. Children learn patience and discipline as they look after their seed. And when that little plant pushes up out of the soil, it’s such a miracle.


Some urban communities are keeping alive the tradition of cultivating food at home. The Life Yard eco-village on Fleet Street in downtown Kingston is an excellent example. The first time I visited the yard, I was overwhelmed by the creativity of the Rastafari youth who had cultivated such a lush garden in the heart of the city.

Rastafari have long taught us the science of ital livity and the joys of farming. And not just ganja! The Pinnacle community established by Leonard Howell in the1940s was a model of industry. Located in the hills of St Catherine, Pinnacle gave economic opportunities to those who had fled the concrete jungle of Kingston. It is a terrible tragedy that the thriving community at Pinnacle was destroyed by the forces of Babylon.

Rastafari were seen as a threat to the residents of Sligoville. In 1941, the police raided Pinnacle and arrested 70 people. But not Howell! Over a week later, he was arrested at midnight and, after trial, was imprisoned for two years on a charge of assault. Presumably, it was in self-defence. The colonial authorities kept up their malicious attack on Howell and Pinnacle. In 1954, the productive community was destroyed by brute force. That brilliant experiment in self-reliance through agriculture was aborted.


Another important lesson children need to learn is the art and science of composting. Instead of throwing away plant scraps and increasing the volume of waste that goes to the dump, we should all be composting. We’re wasting valuable resources that could be turned into nutrients for the soil in our kitchen gardens. But in an age of fast food when so many people don’t seem to have the time to cook, much more do gardening, talk about composting will, most likely, fall on deaf ears.

JP St Mary’s has created a beautiful ad with industrious workers, fertile fields, fat pineapples, rich green bananas and this upful message: “We believe that given the right opportunity, everyone has a chance to be great. It’s not just the quantity of the food we produce, but the quality. It’s not just the land, or the planting of the seed, but the pride and joy of the nation we feed. ‘Jamaica land we love’ is the value and standard to which we hold true. We are JP St Mary’s and we are fresh from the farm to you.”

It’s not only children who must learn how to plant seeds. We need a food revolution in this country. Farming is the root of national development. We have to wean ourselves off imported food, some of which has been locked up in warehouses for years. Certainly not fresh from the farm! Our farmers are providing real food and healthcare. We should big them up. And try a lickle farming for ourselves at home!

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.