A Walk Up to Cochrane Dominica: Hot Farms, Warm Friends and Cool Mountains!

Jenny captures some of Dominica's verdant splendour during a walk to Cochrane from Springfield.

Jenny captures some of Dominica’s verdant splendour during a walk to Cochrane from Springfield.

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

A westerly view of high hillson the back road to Cochrane.  The Caribbean Sea is somewhere just beyond those massifs!

A westerly view of high hills from the back road to Cochrane. The Caribbean Sea is somewhere just beyond those massifs!

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!

Jenny pauses at four corners just below our destination.  While we were headed for Roots Farm, we wer also close to the road to the Middleham Falls trailhead.

Jenny pauses at four corners just below our destination. While we were headed for Roots Farm, we were also close to the road to the Middleham Falls trail-head.

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.

White cottony clouds shrouded the mountains in teh area around Middleham Falls, as seen from Karen's back yard.

White cottony clouds shrouded the mountains in the area around Middleham Falls, as seen from Karen’s back yard.

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

A Jaco Parrot perched above us as we tourd Karen's organic garden.

A noisy Jaco Parrot perched above us as we toured Karen’s organic garden.

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.

This lovely papaya tree in the Root Farm gardenseems to have perfect symmetry!  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

This lovely papaya tree in the Roots Farm garden seems to have perfect symmetry! Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

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

Holy Gteen Basil grows prolifically in the Roots Farm garden.  It is renowned as a botannical health remedy.  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Holy Red Basil grows prolifically in the Roots Farm garden. It is renowned as a botanical health remedy. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

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

Karen has a genuine love for her work and a firm belief in healthy environment and way of life, for the good of the planet and everyone who lives on it!

Karen has a genuine love for her work and a firm belief in a healthy environment and way of life, for the good of the planet and everyone who lives on it!

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.

 Foreground: Asian greens, Fennel, Sweet Peppers, Culantro, Basil Background: Shimonita Scallions, Basil (vartious types) Visible trees: Cherry, Carambola, Moringa, Sapodilla, Papaya

Foreground: Asian greens, Fennel, Sweet Peppers, Culantro, Basil
Background: Shimonita Scallions, Basil (various types)
Visible trees: Cherry, Carambola, Moringa, Sapodilla, Papaya

An Avocado tree in flower attracted bees and bananquits  to its blossoms.

On the Cochrane Back Road, a fragrant Avocado tree in flower attracted bees and bananaquits to its blossoms.

 

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

These jicama shoots hold promise for goodness to come!  I think Karen is the only person on Dominica who grows this tasty vegetable.

These jicama shoots hold promise for goodness to come! I think Karen is the only person on Dominica who grows this tasty vegetable.

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!

THis young pumpkin has a way to go before harvest.  I have seen Roots Farm pumpkins that weight more than 20 lbs!

This young pumpkin has a way to go before harvest. I have seen Roots Farm pumpkins that weigh more than 20 lbs!

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.

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Karen says this is a weed — likely Horehound Family, but I think it’s really pretty, even if it is not a flower!

Snake Gourd flower. Kind of cool!

A Snake Gourd flower. Kind of cool!

Pretty pineapples flourished in the Roots Farm garden in Cochrane.

Pretty pineapples flourished in the Roots Farm garden in Cochrane.

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

Karen and Jenny pose in Karen's back yard, with Morne Micotrin in the distance.

Karen and Jenny pose in Karen’s back yard, with Morne Micotrin in the distance.

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) figures prominently when the clouds lift, as seen from Karen's corner of upper Cochrane Village.

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) near Laudat figures prominently when the clouds lift, as seen from Karen’s corner of upper Cochrane Village.

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 .

 

 

 

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A Canadian Thanksgiving on Dominica, the beautiful and bountiful Nature Island

Anthurium lilies perfectly complement my celebration of Thanksgiving in Dominica.

Anthurium lilies perfectly complement my celebration of Thanksgiving in Dominica.

It`s a special weekend in my `home and native land.“ And although I am far from the `far north,`I am taking time to celebrate Thanksgiving,

Despite being a dark day, a beautiful rainbow touches Roseau, as seen from my porch.

A beautiful rainbow touches Roseau, as seen from my porch. I give thanks for the exceptional natural beauty found on Dominica.

Canadian style. For those readers who were unaware, this annual celebration of the harvest takes place on the second weekend of October, and is not to be confused with the larger festivities of the same name that our American friends celebrate on the last Thursday of November.  In Canada, the primary purpose of this holiday is as it says, to `give thanks“, in both sacred and secular ways. Thanksgiving was proclaimed an official holiday  in 1957, but has actually been celebrated  since the time when European explorers traversed the northern terrain in the 16th century.  It`s a weekend when families gather together and eat a huge meal (or more) in anticipation of the dark winter days ahead.  The harvest is now in and it`s time to savour it.

While I think of my brothers and their families in Ontario, my aunt and cousins in Nova Scotia and other friends scattered across Canada, I will be with them in spirit as I dine on a divine Thanksgiving feast that I have prepared at my home in Dominica. I also feel that it is timely to personally express gratitude for all the good things that life has to offer  me on the Nature Island, and to thank all the people in Dominica who have helped me in various ways, both personally and professionally.  I am also thankful for opportunities that I have had here that I perhaps would not have had in Canada.  My life is that much richer due to the fascinating people I`ve met and the adventures I`ve had on the Nature Island, many of which are documented in this blog!

As I write this piece, Tropical Storm Gonzalo is in the area, but the sombre weather does not deter my excitement about the  home-cooked meal that awaits me. Of course, in Dominica, with its rich volcanic soil and temperate climate, the harvest is endless!  Part of  the fun is the enjoyment of different types of produce in different seasons.  For example, in the rainy season (now) avocados are found in abundance.  However, free range eggs are harder to find because the hens prefer a little drier ground for their laying endeavors. Suffice to say that it would be extremely difficult to starve on Dominica!

I coudn`t wait long once the pumpkin pie came out of the oven, as you can see.  The gluten-free flour made tasty pastry!

I couldn`t wait long once the pumpkin pie came out of the oven, as you can see. The gluten-free flour made tasty pastry!

An added perk, which is a bonus to me due to  numerous food sensitivities, is the establishment of a “health food“ store on Great George Street in Roseau.  It`s called Fresh Vitamins and apart from  stocking a variety of supplements, they sell gluten-free flours and dairy-free products, among other healthful items. This year, I baked my pumpkin pie with gluten-free flour (a mixture) and rice flour.  The pastry turned out well, although the consistency is a little denser than with regular flour.  I substituted almond milk for dairy. I really like the flavour!  But I do confess to using Libby`s pure canned pumpkin.  The local variety of this gourd is lovely and sweet, but I find its texture is stringier than northern varieties and can be too wet to bake well.  Yes, I have tried it before!

Roots Farm is always my first stop at the Saturday Roseau Market. Their delectable produce is beyond compare!

Roots Farm is always my first stop at the Saturday Roseau Market. Their delectable produce is beyond compare!

When I shopped for produce at the Saturday Roseau Market, I was delighted with the abundant finds.  My first stop was the stall of Roots Farm, where I found a selection of greens, as well as buttery lima beans, the best bananas  and the uncommon fruit called mangosteen, a treat from organic farmers Karen and Roy.  They are very serious about their sustainable farming practises and I always enjoy their nutritious offerings to the max.  You can read about their successful venture here. Then I purchased other  local fruits and vegetables from trusted vendors who offer the freshest produce at the best price.  I always appreciate tangy watercress from the river banks in the island`s interior, and I like to sample different `provisions,` that is, starchy root vegetables.  For my T-Day  (Thanksgiving) dinner, I chose very sweet  sweet potatoes.  I also found some young beets, which are not so common on the tables.  I also picked up a package of hibiscus flower sepals, to make a spicy red drink called sorrel, with fresh ginger, bay leaf, cloves and cinnamon sticks.   This particular ` red flower`seems early this year. Perhaps humid rainy weather is too its liking!

This variety of sweet potato is so creamy and buttery that it melts right in my mouth!

This variety of sweet potato is so creamy and buttery that when baked, it melts right in my mouth!

These mangosteens are an uncommon fruit on Dominica.  I was thrilled when Karen from Roots Farm offered me this naturally sweet treat.

These mangosteens are an uncommon fruit on Dominica. I was thrilled when Karen from Roots Farm offered me this naturally sweet treat.

The Nature Island`s offerings never cease to amaze me.

The Nature Island`s offerings never cease to amaze me.

The variety of fruits found on the Nature Island is astounding!  Here is a sampling: clockwise, from left, organic bananas, pineapple, papaya, avocado and mango.

The variety of fruits found on the Nature Island is astounding! Here is a sampling: clockwise, from left, organic bananas, pineapple, papaya, organic avocado and mango.

The Saturday Roseau Market is a cornucopia of fresh seasonal produce from around the island

The Saturday Roseau Market is a cornucopia of fresh seasonal produce.

The local chicken was seasoned and sauced with my own mixture of ingredients found on Dominica.

The local chicken was seasoned and sauced with my mixture of ingredients found on Dominica.

Locally-made pepper sauce, honey, thyme, parsley, green onion, lemon are all found on Dominica.  I just added a little olive oil to the seasoning  mix.

Locally made pepper sauce, honey, thyme, parsley, green onion, celery and lemon are all found on Dominica. I just added a little olive oil to this home-made seasoning mix.

I was lucky to buy the last locally grown chicken in the cooler at the Whitchurch IGA grocery store in Roseau a few days ago. They are small and tasty, even more so (I think) because I stuff them with herbs and coat them with a little olive oil, lemon and salt.  I wrap the sweet potatoes in foil and roast them while the chicken cooks.  The lima beans, carrots and arugula are steamed lightly.

It may not be a traditional Canadian Thanksgiving dinner, but it`s a  Dominican feast, for sure!

My Canadian-Dominican Thanksgiving feast.  I am going to make short work of it right now!

My Canadian-Dominican Thanksgiving feast. I am going to make short work of it right now!

Before I `break bread“ and partake of my delectable meal, I once again give thanks for the goodness that grows so easily on the Nature Island and for the numerous opportunities I have had to grow as a person here.  `We are indeed blessed,`to use a local common expression.

As for the calories sustained, an abundance of walks and hikes are planned for the near future.  You`ll read about them soon.

I give thanks for the countless gorgeous sunsets over the Caribbean Sea that I see right from my porch!

I give thanks for the countless gorgeous sunsets over the Caribbean Sea that I see right from my porch!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all, wherever you live on the planet!