On a beautiful March day during Dominica’s ‘dry season’, Jenny Spencer and I took a long uphill walk from Springfield Plantation to the mountain village of Cochrane. I had arranged a visit with Karen Sutherland of Roots Farm so that we could have a good look at her nearby organic garden. Jenny is a volunteer researcher from the Zoological Society of London who is assisting the local Forestry and Wildlife Division with efforts to save the critically endangered mountain chicken (Crapaud) frog. She was curious to discover the origin of some of the delicious produce that she had enjoyed during her sojourns on the Nature Island and I was happy to take her there!
We set off in bright early morning sunshine and steadily climbed a smooth but steep back road located a short distance west
of Springfield. In days gone by, I had walked on this road and its connectors to the Middleham Falls trail-head, which is situated above the village of Cochrane. During that era, I could hike directly to that beautiful cascade and back to Springfield in about five hours return. Of course, it is shorter and more easily accessible from the Laudat area, but I’ve done it recently from that side. I think that I should go there from Springfield again very soon, and take Jenny along for the fun! Maybe I can convince Karen too, however, I know that it is not easy to take a day off from all that is required for the smooth manual operation of an organic farm on a tropical island!
As we trekked upwards from the edge of the rainforest at 1,200 feet to our destination of 1,600 feet, we paused in a few places to take in the wondrous sights around us: mountains in all directions, swathed in all shades of green contrasted perfectly with the stunningly blue sky and cottony clouds on that lovely day in paradise. After about 45 minutes, we approached Karen’s home and surrounding garden. She noticed us on the nearby track, and ran out to meet and greet us, with a big smile and a warm hug for each of us!
We chatted in the shade for a few minutes, met the farm dogs and then walked around the corner of her house to admire the awesome view before us. While the mountains were shrouded in clouds at that moment, the cool breezes that blew directly from the pristine Morne Trois Pitons National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) immediately refreshed us. Karen pointed to an area at a higher elevation where her partner Roy and a worker were toiling in another section of their farm. In the wind, she said she could hear voices coming from that direction.
From there, we commenced our garden tour. When Karen started to tell us about the prolific plants and trees around us, we were interrupted by squawks and
shrieks overhead. We looked up and Karen pointed to a Jaco (Red-Necked Amazon) Parrot, perched on a leafless (seasonal) tree a short distance away. She told us that this endemic bird and its numerous feathered friends had made plenty of noise lately. She suspected there was a special reason for the ruckus, possibly mating season, but we would have to confirm that with a Forestry Officer. In any event, Karen said it was entertaining to observe their antics, despite the clamor. This particular breed, whose numbers were once declining seems to be making a come-back, which is certainly an encouraging sign.
We admired a beautiful papaya tree in the brilliant sunlight, while munching on an assortment of basils, which thrive in this mountain garden. As we carefully walked through it and Karen pointed out various plants in various stages of growth, she picked various leaves
for our taste enjoyment of this particular herb. We savoured several flavours from some basil varieties: Cinnamon, Holy Green, Holy Red, Malaysian, East Indian, Lemon, Thai, Anise and even Blue Spice that tastes like bubblegum! I definitely got my quota of daily greens during that garden tour!
As Karen shared her phenomenal knowledge about plants, it was apparent that operating a small organic farm
without machines or chemicals of any kind is definitely very hard work. Even though Karen was dealing with a back challenge that day, she never stopped moving while she took us around the plot.
Sometimes, she harvested a long bean, occasionally, she pulled a weed, once, she righted a plant that had toppled. But it was clear that she truly loves what she does and I and many others on Dominica are so grateful to partake of the pure fruits of her labours! She also seems
to have some fun experimenting with plants that are not endemic to Dominica, such as strawberries. I bought a plant from her several months ago, and even though I live almost at sea level where it is much warmer, it is actually bearing fruit! Her seeds are organic and non GMO, of course!
Her pumpkin variety is sweet and flavourful. Many people rave about its wonderful taste!
I simply marveled at all that she and Roy had done as I admired the abundance that surrounded us at Roots Farm garden that fine day.
Interestingly, when queried by Jenny, Karen did mention that she has seen worrying changes in the environment over the years as evidenced in a number of ways on the farm.
She mentioned that plants may flower more quickly, and are then too young to have the foliage to support their flower/fruit/seed production, as one concern. Karen also noted that there is typically no longer a clear distinction between the wet season and the dry season in Dominica. This makes it very difficult for farmers to plan what to plant when, as some crops need to mature in dryer weather. “If [the] historical probability of dry weather is no longer valid, there is a risk for the farmer of losing that crop,” which results in greater total risks (financial, logistical, emotional, etc.). Her examples suggest to me that climate change/global warming is having an adverse effect on the planet, no matter where one lives. That pronouncement certainly gave me food for thought as I reflected on my lifestyle and its (hopefully mostly beneficial) impact on the earth.
After a couple of hours of reverie in this delightful place, Jenny summed up our experience at Roots Farm this way: “Every minute in the garden was awesome – the plants, bees, parrots, sunshine and fresh mountain breeze – no wonder the Roots Farm produce tastes so good!”
We parted company with Karen after a brief meditation facing those incredible mountains in Dominica’s interior. While walking down the Cochrane Back
Road en route to Springfield, we shared our mutual feelings of respect, admiration and appreciation for Karen and Roy’s exceptional efforts to promote and realize organic agriculture on the Nature Island .