By Claude Gerald
Fourteen years on from my last visit, Beresford Allen’s concept of sustainable agriculture remains a sound model of growth and development in these perilous times that Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean (SIDS) experience.
This issue is raised in this column in defiance of a centrally leading official on a ZJB’s wake-up show who offered that food production on Montserrat is not a viable concern, enforcing a long held DFID view of erasing agricultural pursuits, favouring food imports instead.
When viability is premised on unclear terms, the listener is bound to speculate. If it is cost based, a close examination of factor costs is needed as many of the new technological inputs are inappropriate and lead to further costs escalation to the detriment of sustained livelihoods. If it is a thoughtless idea imposed from the financial masters we ought to dismiss such as pure hogwash.
When farmers allow the superlative wisdom of the creative power of natural processes to lead and guide, rather than seek to impose and to ‘manage’ nature, they are ideally placed to make solid dividends all round.
A nation that abandons the soil is a nation that reeks of a large common sense deficit. Food production is soil based and every soil type is amenable to improvements to increase productivity to suit the various agronomic causes of man. Many parrot the myth that land in the North is devoid of substance to support agriculture, desirous of discrediting the North as the geological origin of Montserrat and its rich history of earning from sugar and cotton exports along with the provision of local food needs, inclusive of organically grass fed livestock, which particularly continues.
Beresford Allen of St. Peters is showing that one-half acre land, next to his home, filled with bush and rocks, situated on a precipitous 45-65 degrees slope, that discourages the faint hearted, is no match for a determinedly creative soul, intent on working with nature to establish a multi-fruit orchard, interspersed with various vegetables and decorated plants to boot.
Until it was destroyed by an unknown disease, his citrus crop was the best established since Cyril Taylor of Town Hill, outside Plymouth, prior to volcanic troubles. Frowning on ‘wasteful and useless’ technical assistance received, his application of native knowledge has resurged the crop close to its near former self. He grew most varieties of citrus known to us and many other exotic fruits to create a colourful paradise, simulating nature at its best. And his selection of the best stock to form the next generation is a sound philosophy in many of his enterprises.
Unemployed persons such as Beris, could seek to make a sustained living from adding value to what he has by investing in innovative ways to realize real gains from trading in fruits and vegetables. Attracting a certain productive mindset to agriculture is a challenge in a world that distances itself from the land. Those who think and act like Beresford Allen, can in fact contribute significantly to the larger economy of Montserrat, in areas of fiscal containment, economic growth and job creation.
Agriculture as the mother of all sciences holds the distinction of being the first occupation of man. A return to the land is imperative for our survival as the further man removes himself from the land, the further he has gotten from the creative processes with their perfect paradigm for living wholesomely.
The central wonder of Beris, a fifth generation Irish descendant whose ancestors were first domiciled in Rendevouz before lower St. Peters, is his manipulation of a hillside, which without contouring would have caused the careless visitor to topple headlong into a ravine hundreds of yards adrift from his home base. It is the application of his mind and his hands which is the stellar quality that is to be exampled.
The energetic slimly built Beris, effusing a gentle confident persona explained that he has scoured and removed every rock and used them in erosion prevention. Starting at a chosen level downhill, he pulls soil to the stones or large tree barrier to create a platform and repeatedly tosses vegetation from any given source there, as he works upwards. This would breakdown into compost and humus to provide a suitable niche for his fruit trees without excessive reliance on artificial fertilizers and pesticides.
The stones are painstakingly but attractively packed with concrete footsteps to make descent easier. With stones exhausted from the area, he employs the use of old galvanizes backed by abandoned steel to contour when needed. Back of the galvanize he would decorate with flowering plants to create a visual appeal to viewers who may find the galvanize unattractive. There is much stability even if the galvanize weakens over time.
With continuous vegetative recycling each contour is a haven for soil improving insects, worms and micro-organisms that provide a steady reservoir of nutrients to his ravenous fruits and vegetables. Continuous out of season bearing is guaranteed as water holding capacity is strong even in dry season. In addition, Beris employs lunar science, as he believes that the moon is intimately connected with nature’s laws and perhaps a chief determinant of life patterns and our ultimate welfare.
Beris, a credible wood carver himself, estimated the ages that a particular blue berry tree and a rare but huge Mamey Sapote were over three hundred years old. His estimate is based on the lifespan of his deceased mother (Dear) and his grandmother (Dear’s mother). The nutrient packed super food, the blue berry tree is popular in the vicinity and is one revered in the literature of natural foods.
His farm is nestled between a thick assortment of secondary growth forest, with similar styled vegetation on the other side of a deep ravine all with perfect view of the blue Caribbean Sea. Beris’ unique approach to working with nature can be a real source of attraction to both visitors and locals, who wish to feel a connection with nature.
A connection more intimate than most people would like to admit. Man came from the soil. The physical elements in the soil are all present in the body of man as ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground…’ (Genesis 2:7)
When we follow the precepts of Beresford Allen we will discourage the cultural and officially sanctioned divorce from the land as a worldwide principle.
This could well ramify into alleviating many of our climate change problems that have their origin, not in the confused official line of the greenhouse gas, global warming and similar theories but rather in our collective neglect and shallow respect, appreciation and love for the physical Creation.
In this way, Beresford Allen is a trendsetter and a wanted man.
Claude Gerald is a social commentator on Montserrat. Reach him at email@example.com