Carmeta’s Corner

This space was created to discuss and exchange ideas about promoting good nutrition, food security and related matters – Blogmaster

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  • AGRICULTURE BOOST

    Mon, 05/17/2021 – 5:00am
    Local multi-million-dollar greenhouse project reaping success
    By: Krystal Penny Bowen


    Co-Founder of Island Growers Caribbean, Ralph Birkhoff, is hoping to hire young people to work on the greenhouse farm located in St. Philip. The 5,000-square foot property is unique to the region and is energy and water-efficient.


    The multi-million-dollar climate-smart greenhouse is expected to produce a wide range of cold weather crops including lettuce, sweet peppers, and berries. The structure is the first of its kind to be hurricane-resistant and commercially insured.

    ONE Dutch Canadian businessman is transforming the agricultural industry by investing millions of dollars in greenhouse technology that can improve crop quality and variety in Barbados.

    Recently, The Barbados Advocate spoke to Co-Founder of Island Growers Caribbean, Ralph Birkhoff, about the project via the Zoom platform.

    Birkhoff explained his interest in food production in the region was stimulated by his personal experiences. The businessman highlighted that he found the produce in the Caribbean was different from what he was accustomed to in Toronto, Canada. Another issue for him was the high cost of fruits and vegetables on the islands.

    “[I] realised that there are some very serious challenges to agriculture in general in the region. [The Caribbean farmers] are quite successful in growing indigenous crops, root crops, and tropical fruits, but they have to import the cold weather crops,” said Birkhoff.

    He acknowledged that it is difficult to grow berries, tomatoes, pepper varieties in the region’s soil and climate.

    The Co-Founder of Island Growers Caribbean also noted that the most effective way of producing these types of crops is through protective agriculture or greenhouses.

    Birkhoff told this newspaper that greenhouse technology is not new, but the problem comes with durability and safeguarding the investment. He explained that his company solved these two problems.

    A year and a half ago, Birkhoff and his team built an engineered certified greenhouse, the first

    of its kind that can withstand hurricane-force winds of a Category 5 hurricane. They also constructed a structure that could be insured and Guardian Group is one of the first insurance companies to insure their greenhouses in the region. The fully insured Phase One greenhouse is managed by a long-standing Barbadian family of farmers, in collaboration with Island Growers and is located in St. Philip. The completed project will cost between 3.5 to 4 million US dollars.

    Latest technology, hydroponics and engineering

    Birkhoff said the fire-retardant, corrosion, pest, earthquake and volcanic ash-resistant structure is 5,000 square feet and uses a backup gas generator. Local engineer, Ralph Adams, was responsible for the foundation and structural engineering of the greenhouse farm.

    He added the greenhouse needs natural light from the sun to function. It will be expanded to 25,000 square feet in about six to eight months and incorporate solar technology (power and storage). The greenhouse utilises a hydroponics system with artificial intelligence (AI) customised for the subtropical region and it is more efficient in its energy and water usage.

    “[The AI system] controls all of the water temperatures, nutrient levels, the fertilisers and the air humidity and air temperature inside the greenhouse,” said Birkhoff.

    Another unique feature of the greenhouse is that it has a naturally aspirated system and there is no need for air conditioning, evaporative cooling systems or carbon dioxide (CO2) supplementation.

    “We are not competing with soil-based farming.

    Any hydroponics farm could outperform soil-based farming. But what we are competing with is other hydroponic systems to develop and come up with the best system for the Caribbean,” said Birkhoff.

    He stressed that this type of greenhouse has been tailor-made for the Caribbean, unlike other imported versions.

    Birkhoff also addressed the topic of praedial larceny and noted that the greenhouse will be using advanced imported technology to secure the property.

    The greenhouse is producing a variety of lettuce, herbs, microgreens (which are appealing to restaurant and hospitality industries), berries, tomatoes, and bell peppers. This type of farm is 100 per cent organic, USDA-certified organic farm (first in the region) and eventually, it will have Global GAP or Global Agricultural Practices certification. The latter is critical to helping local and Caribbean agricultural producers be more competitive globally and it is an asset many farmers do not possess in the Caribbean agricultural sector. GAP certification is the reason that many businesses import their food.

    “Because of their franchise agreements, they are obligated, they must import the food from the US,” said Birkhoff.

    First harvest scheduled for July

    Birkhoff said that the farmers partnering with Island Growers realised that they needed to diversify their crops. He noted they originally grew sweet potato, cassava, sugar cane, but they wanted to grow cold weather crop varieties. The greenhouse farm will produce a variety of lettuce, watercress, kale, arugula, spinach, fresh herbs, berries, tomatoes, and microgreens.

    The head of the Island Growers Caribbean told The Barbados Advocate that his team members are currently installing the production system and the first harvest is scheduled for July. He extended an invitation to restaurant owners and business owners who are interested in the project to contact him directly. He said that the produce from Phase One has been pre-sold to several resorts and restaurants. The businessman said that the cost of produce should be lower than what is being imported.

    “We are certainly anxious to show everyone the kind of quality that we have, because it really will be outstanding quality fresh produce, all organic and very high nutritional content,” said Birkhoff.

    Island Growers Caribbean recruiting young people

    An excited Birkhoff also revealed Island Growers Caribbean’s efforts to recruit young people into agriculture again. He indicated that the company is working with the Barbados Employment and Career Counselling Service in the Ministry of Labour. Island Growers Caribbean is receiving job applications for the greenhouse farm.

    “We are trying to get young people back into agriculture and part of that will be a training and certification and recruitment programme that will expand as the farm expands,” said Birkhoff.

    The Co-Founder of Island Growers Caribbean, who is living in Tobago, said that he has worked several years in the Caribbean. His specialty includes business development and project delivery in utility grade and private sector renewable energy projects across the Caribbean, Latin America, US, and India markets. In 2020, Birkhoff, who also manages Alquimi Renewables, along with IslandAgTech and Island Growers Caribbean, won Best Agriculture Project at GTI Awards. GTI or Greening The Islands is an entity that focuses on the work of sustainable green and blue economies.

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  • Prediction: All Marijuana in three years.

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  • Agricultural push

    Mon, 05/24/2021 – 5:29am

    Significant strides are being made in the agricultural sector in this country, with more farmers being trained to ensure that the sector can continue to grow and steps are also being taken to facilitate the export of agricultural products.

    That’s according to Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Indar Weir, who said that in addition to training new farmers, his ministry has been promoting the use of technology in agriculture, to transition the sector from total open field agriculture, and identifying the crops that would do better from the introduction of technology. Weir added that his ministry also successfully launched a medicinal cannabis industry in January of this year, despite being in a shutdown, and is working on a new praedial larceny bill to deal with that worrying problem. In respect of the latter, he said in spite of some setbacks they are close to completing that legislation.

    His comments came yesterday evening as the Barbados Labour Party hosted a virtual mass meeting under the theme ‘Progress Amidst the Challenges’, to celebrate the party’s historic win in 2018.

    “Our work is certainly cut out, but what we have addressed are the critical issues, the major ones, and we still have many more to address. Certainly, my ministry met with several other ministers on Tuesday for us to address issues with sanitary and phytosanitary measures, so that we can make Barbados a world class producer, and be able to export fish and poultry, and at the same time create space for farmers when tourism comes back,” he said.

    According to Weir, while under the former administration agriculture had been ignored and neglected, the present Government has been hard at work ensuring that agriculture advances. So successful have the efforts been, he maintained, that the industry grew by 1.9 per cent last year, the only one to have grown in 2020.

    “The sector had 1.9 per cent growth, and here’s what we did to achieve that… The Government had to introduce a programme under the BERT programme where people would have been retrenched, and we had to find a way to facilitate an income and accommodate those persons. We at the ministry, my team and I, created the Farmers Empowerment and Enfranchisement Drive, which is now known as the FEED programme,” he said.

    He told the virtual audience that the programme, launched in May 2019, has to date trained in the first and second cohorts just over 100 and 200 persons respectively; and the third cohort, which started recently, has 300 participants. Weir said that they have not been able to train the numbers that were intended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said plans are therefore on the cards to ramp up the numbers.

    “In order for us to be able to keep this programme going we have to make sure that farmers are producing as they are given land, and I am pleased to report that of the farmers that we have trained so far, spending less than $500,000, they have been able to generate $1.6 million in production last year,” he said.

    The agriculture minister went on to say that his ministry is working assiduously on the matter of water for farmers. He said that in addition to the work currently being done at River, St. Philip which will provide six million gallons of water, they are also addressing the issue of water availability at the Spring Hall Land Lease Project, with dams being created.

    (JRT)

    Source: BarbadosAdvocate

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  • PM’s caution on food choices
    All food is not good food, says Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley and the Caribbean cannot afford to continue spending hundreds of millions of dollars dealing with non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
    She was delivering a prerecorded message as part of a virtual CARICOM Regional Dialogue yesterday, held in preparation for the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit July 26 to 28.
    “We have a rich history of using ground provisions, eating fish and eating things that are generally healthy, but we became sucked in by the glamour and glitz of a world that wants us to eat processed foods and an oversupply of salt and fizzy beverages. As we seek to bring about food security for the region, it is vital that we remember to do it the right way . . . . We need to have food which will decrease the level of expenditure we are being forced to undertake to fight [NCDs] which are regrettably killing too many of our citizens,” she said.
    The keynote speaker was Guyana’s President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, who said Caribbean people could not continue to eat third-rate food when it could produce that which was first-rate. He added the region could grow its own healthy food but faced major issues such as climate change.
    Vital role
    Ali said organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) had a vital role to play in this effort, including the establishment of a climate change vulnerability fund.
    “IICA and the FAO has to be our partners in championing this critical fund for the Caribbean region . . . .
    “The preservation, protection and improvement of food systems are pivotal to the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). If the Caribbean is to remain committed to the SDGs, it will require greater attention be paid to its food systems, especially
    in terms of food security, combatting climate change and being able to mobilise financing for climate resilience in agriculture,” he said.
    Like Ali, Mottley said it was vital for international partners such as the FAO, World Food Programme and IICA to work with the region, and suggested they provide master class videos to advise, train and teach small farmers in the best ways to grow their crops.
    “Let us work together to make sure their successful crops will nourish our bodies and give us the right sustenance to live long, healthy lives, recognising at the end of the day, if we do not have good food and water, we have no life,” she said. (CA)

    Source: Nation

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  • @TheOGazerts May 18, 2021 6:42 PM “Prediction: All Marijuana in three years.”

    I hope not, because I just enjoyed a wicked soup with some black belly lamb and all the usual local ground provisions.

    Proper. Delicious!!!

    If anybody got a recipe for marijuana soup I beg wunna, please post it here.

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  • I agree with the PM. And we really need to learn again love to eat what we can grow.

    Left over soup for breakfast this morning. When did we come to believe that we have to eat cornflakes and pancakes for breakfast?

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  • @Simple Simon

    Nothing is wrong with eating cereal. It is more about what dominates our diets these days.

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  • Left over steamed pudding yesterday for breakfast. Sliced and fried warm in an oil smeared pan. My own sweet potato, thyme, marjoram, chives. Still working on the peppers but getting there. On Friday it was accompanied by pickled hormone and colorant free, humanely grown chicken from my cousin down the hill. My own cucumber and parsley. Still working on the lime, onion and of course, hot pepper. Getting there, though. Breadfruit from my cousin down the road. My own little tree has sprung up next to the sour sop tree. Going to have to move it.

    Eggplant parmesan with my own eggplant, plum tomatoes and basil.

    Soup with my own cassava, sweet potato, cabbage, carrot, celery, parsley, thyme, marjoram, sweet pepper and squash. Chicken from the cousin. Working on the yam and onion, of course. Cassava dumplings with local flour and sugar.

    Last week, spinach cakes filled with mashed sweet potato and a little salted cod with most of the salt removed. My own spinach, sweet potato, chives, thyme, marjoram. Eggs from my cousin down the hill.

    Pigeon pea rice with my own pigeon peas. Rice not from the USA but ALWAYS GUYANA. My own herbs. Stir fried chinese cabbage, radish, carrot, celery, cabbage, sweet pepper – all my own. No room for my kale.

    Tossed salad with lettuce, cucumber and tomato – all mine.

    Proper local pork gravy with my own sage, dill and cherry tomato and other herbs.

    Cou cou made with my own okra and corn meal from GUYANA. Locally caught kingfish or dolphin.

    Banana bread with my own banana. Soon sour sop ice blocks and punch with my own sour sop.

    Washing down with my own coconut water.

    This is my recent menu and just some of what is planned for this week.

    P.S. My pancakes are make with local cassava flour and served with local pancake syrup. Soon with a little honey from my hive. Goes well with my own lemon grass tea. I am working on the ginger.

    Maybe I’ll learn to do mango chutney with my own mangoes and mango wine.

    Got loads of aloe so got to find a way to use that.

    Old almond tree firing up again. I thought she was past it

    No problem. Everyting irie!

    Now I am hungry.

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  • Ooops! Forgot my one of my favourites! Spiced beets a la Carmeta with my own beets!

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  • Did I post to the wrong blog? One of my posts is missing.

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  • @Donna

    It was diverted to the moderation folder for whatever reason. Now released.

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  • Very interesting

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  • I planted sweet potatoes, okras and pumpkin last week, and this week. I had to provide a little artificial irrigation last week, but there was a one hour rainfall on Sunday afternoon, and light showers every night since then so he sweet potato slips are beginning to hold up their heads/establish themselves. The cassava which was damaged by the volcanic ash–the damage was not apparent immediately–has never-the-less survived, and they are all producing new leaves now that is has begun to rain so I am hopeful. I will plant some carrots next week. I’ve planted some plum tomatoes and bok choi at home again, and the herbs from last year, parsley, garlic and sweet basil [although I may plant a new batch of basil] are still producing more that enough for me and my immediate extended family, 8 people in all. I still have some cassava flour and some frozen bok choi and frozen grated cassava left from last season.

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  • The one hour shower did wonders for my garden.

    Looking forward to regular rain as is forecast for this week.

    Finally conquered hot peppers on the third try. Growing them in pots of peat moss and shielding them from the high winds. Marjoram and thyme coming along nicely as well this time around.
    Must be careful not to over water. Finally found marjoram seeds. Easier to grow from seed, it seems.

    Most herbs, vegetables, root crops and fruits doing quite well except for the yam, the leaves of which kept getting black around the edges. I pulled it up. Still struggling with the zucchini plants and the fungus. Pulled them up too. Cauliflower and broccoli not bearing, . Didn’t do enough research on them before I planted. They are rather particular about their conditions. Onions didn’t thrive. Very small.

    My most annoying pest at present (apart from the white fungus) is the leaf miner, though the worms seem to be making a gradual comeback. There does not seem to be much you can do about the leaf miner. It tends not to kill the plant, just several leaves. I remove the damaged leaves every day.

    The pruning, manure and watering has the old sour sop tree awash with fruit. Going to try making punch and ices as my mother used to do. Mango tree is winding down. The fruit are really sweet, as usual. Got a great big hand of bananas to reap this week. Had a few honey dew melons but the sugar baby and cantalope are yet to be conquered.

    So, crops still to be conquered – yam, cauliflower, broccoli, sugar baby, cantalope, onion, zucchini.

    Not giving up.

    It’s been hard work growing without the rain.

    Next year, it is a BIG tank of rain water and drip irrigation for me. And plenty of mulch.

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  • Slashing Caricom food bill ‘possible’
    REDUCING THE CARIBBEAN’s food import bill by 2025 is possible.
    Chief executive officer of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) Dr Gavin Peters believes more must also be done to improve the quality of the food produced in the region.
    He made these points yesterday during CAHFSA’s inaugural symposium where he urged more CARICOM countries to ensure that their pesticide control units visited markets regularly to test the pesticide levels in fruits and vegetables.
    During the online event, he said they were seeking to reduce the region’s estimated US$6 billion food import bill by 25 per cent, which would amount to about US$1.25 billion.
    CARICOM member states hope to reach this target by 2025.
    “We are saying if we are to reduce the food import bill, we have to produce the food safely along the value chain, applying the technology that we know and the good agricultural practices that can guarantee that when the food is produced, it can be traded easily without any issues. I firmly believe we need to focus on this area.
    “There are residue levels, be it chemical or microbiological . . . and in how many
    countries do your pesticide control boards or departments go to the markets, collect a sample of our fruits and vegetables, and have them tested for residue levels?” he asked.
    Guidelines
    “Maybe one to three do that, but this should be the norm among the region and our agricultural-producing countries and this is what CAHFSA will endeavour to emphasise,” Peters said.
    Peters, who was recently appointed as CEO of CAHFSA, said those measures, setting guidelines to improve and maintain good sanitary and phytosanitary practices would make up their mandate over the next two years.
    “At every turn we will promote food safety because it is linked to every aspect that we do. Everything we do comes back to food safety; it impacts at the national level, our budgets as it relates to health, some of the diseases we grapple with and it relates to how we produce our food, so promotion of food safety would be a very important aspect of our work.
    “So we will work to implement the guidelines to produce safe, quality products if we are to be successful in reducing the food import bill,” he added. (TG)

    Source: Nation

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  • Just had my first pomegranate off one of my trees.

    Delicious! EVERYTHING I grow is delicious just like the food I ate as a child.

    Don’t know what these people do with their crops but I was thinking my sense of taste was going early..

    Now I know it was the crops. Tasteless!

    I wonder what causes that.

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  • I planted my second crop of bok choi this weekend and have one mustard bush left. I kept one rapini for seed and planted some sweet potatoes in their place. I had to replant my okras. We got some cold weather after I planted and they froze and rotted. This weekend I planted the Indian extra long variety and some red ones. The red ones turn green when cooked but are pretty in the garden, like sorrel. My Irish potatoes are flowering so in 6 weeks I can start eating them up. Ihad to replant my pole beans, the chip mounts and red squirrels feasted on them. They are now up, so I am happy. My garlics and Mediterranean onions are about 3 ft. tall. I cut the scapes off the garlic on the weekend and have been eating them. I put some in the batch of seasoning I made this week. My ginger is not doing well. The ground is too cold. I will continue to plant it in pots. The apple tree is laden so too the berry bushes. The asparagus is finished and I bought 5 roots to plant in some bare spots in the patch. I am also starting some seeds in a pot but it takes 3 years before you can harvest any and then only those spears larger than a lead pencil. these roots are two years old, so I can harvest next year.

    I have 5 pumpkins from last year left. I have banana leaves and grated coconut in the freezer. I bought some sweet potatoes today and am planning a batch of conkies.

    The Caribbean pumpkins did not do well because of the cold snap. So I replanted butternut. The callaloo is thriving as well as the rhubard. I made three small rhubard pies tonight and already ate half of one. I am giving two to my toy boy for his Dad who is now in a retirement home. He has a one bedroom apartment with kitchenette and separate living room. He has friends there who were RCMP as well so his social life is not bad but he misses the house.

    It is sugar apple season. We get them from Brazil. Sweet for days. I saw them last week and so far have only managed to get 4. They cost 4.99 at one store and 3.99 at another. They don’t last, you have to buy multiples when you see them and refrigerate. I got a breadfruit yesterday. That thing is so sweet it reminded me of the graveyard breadfruits my grand mother used to pick from the Nichols Cemetery in Hillswick. I ate it with olive oil and pepper sauce. Refuse to spoil it with gravy or meat. hahaha

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  • Planted some pumpkins on Wednesday.
    Planted 400 feet of carrots today, two different kinds.
    The yams are beginning to sprout.
    All of the plants are happy about the rain which occurred before daybreak on Thursday morning.

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  • Looks like we three are all doing very well!

    Not a whole lot of visits to the market!

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  • More wonderful showers!

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  • I hope you ladies did not get any damage. Up in St. Joseph a veranda roof was blown off and banana trees fell.

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  • The houses that were damaged probably were not in good condition to begin with.

    I found a few green mangoes on the ground. That was the extent of my “damage”.

    Picked the mangoes up and googled what to do with them.

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  • Thanks Dame. But no damage, except that a few cassava plants that are now leaning this way and that.

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  • More wonderful showers! My plants are going to look really good in the morning.

    Actually found a small cantalope yesterday. Of the melons, there is only sugar baby left to be conquered!

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