From your farm to your fork…

Rebecca Harper says she saves $20,000 a month on her grocery bill and makes another $8,000 to $10,000 a week farming from 1,000 square feet of land.

She uses hydroponics — growing plants in water after her husband did some research and used his expertise from the construction business.

“We figured we could grow our vegetables using hydroponics,” she said. “We went through the grocery to check what we bought and could grow ourselves.”

She grew cucumber, fresh herbs, such as basil and mint, lettuce, pumpkin, tomato, and sweet pepper.

The roots on produce such as the basil and lettuce stay and are planted without soil.

“It stays fresh for longer and the nutrients are sustained because it’s alive,” Harper explained.

The basic thing to do when you are planning to plant for your household is look in your refrigerator and check what you eat, she said.

Adding that you should research the time frame they will take to grow the fruits and vegetables, then source the seeds.

“The main thing is to grow what you eat, rather than eat what you grow,” Harper said.

There are certain things that you can’t grow, such as imported items like strawberries, but you can buy those with your savings and earnings.

After selling to supermarkets and chefs for some time, the director of Family Garden, who commercialized her home garden, is in the process of getting good agricultural practices (GAP) from the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ).

Harper is also working on getting Hazard and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification, which will allow her to export.

Myers Arlington in St Elizabeth said he is saving up to $15,000 a month farming in his backyard.

The neighbours get their share, but he doesn’t sell his produce, excepting the one time he sold some pumpkins for $6,000.

Using about a quarter acre (11,000 square feet) of land, Arlington cultivates pak choy, lettuce, pumpkin, callaloo, mangoes, nutmeg and banana.

“I had no intention of farming when I came here,” the returning resident said. “But I maximised the space I had.”

He advised all households to plant in order to cut their expenses. Arlington suggests that backyard farming be taken seriously. According to him, he has vegetables all year round.

Agriculture assistant at the Rural Development Agency (RADA), Mark Harvey said the agency gives training at no cost.

“We take you through the process from start to finish,” he said. “From the farm to the fork.”

Not every household can apply greenhouse farming so RADA gives suggestions on what can be used to grow the fruits and vegetables.

“We work in the urban areas too, even with a townhouse, we can help you produce,” he said.

The innovative Harper of Jack’s Hill in St Andrew said she uses grow bags, which are ideal when there’s not enough soil or space.

“You can start with five to 10 grow bags,” she said. They are sold at hardware and gardening shops.

Grow bags can be used to plant vegetables that take a long time to produce such as sweet pepper, tomatoes and zucchini. It can also be used to plant green, leafy vegetables.

The farmer doesn’t use soil because of the inconsistent food it produces.

“You may get a good crop the first time around, but on the second try, you don’t,” Harper said.

With the hydroponics, the farmer can know the types of nutrients that that the plant is getting. With soil, however, you will have to do soil testing.

It may seem that the Harpers spend quite a lot of cash with the systems that they use, but the farmer said she uses one-tenth of the water that a regular farmer does because she recycles the water.

On top of that, she uses solar energy.

What’s more, she doesn’t spend on pesticides; in fact, she’s not keen on its use.

Instead, they use marigold to attract ladybugs, which eat the black buds that feed on the vegetables.

When the time comes to turn your backyard garden into a business, marketing officers at RADA will help with marketing, acting as a middleman between yourself and the buyer.

The agency also provides training for backyard farmers with excess fruits and vegetables, who want to make jams and jelly to sell.









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