The Garden of the Nation

Published in PURE LIFESTYLE Magazine 2012

By Sanny Ensing

Visiting the Solidarity Rastafari Organization gardens in Bellevue, St.Maarten is like going back in time. Interns and volunteers are busy planting, seeding, pumping rain water from one cistern to the next and pruning and harvesting the vegetable plots. As we walk up to the little wooden building, ‘the centre’ of farm life, a parrot’s cry announces the arrival of RasJahBash, the founder of the organization and the visionary of the organic gardens. It is tranquil here at the farm; a breath of fresh air in this Northeastern Caribbean cosmopolitan (and hectic) island life. It’s a glance into the island’s past and truly ‘back to nature.’

RasJahBash explains that in 2006 a meeting was held with Louis Constant Fleming, senator on the French side of the island, and a piece of land was requested to safeguard agriculture on St. Martin. On February 6, 2007, a date significant to the Rastafari organization as it celebrates Bob Marley’s birthday, the farm was inaugurated. JahBash: “We want to farm organically and at the same time provide a platform to institutionalize the gardens within society. We do this by offering internships and eco-education to schools, churches, physically and mentally disabled and linking up with the tourist bureau. We sell our products to restaurants, individuals and passers-byes and we like to welcome everyone to come and take a look at what we do here in the gardens.”

When the farm was started in 2007 the Solidarity Organization gave themselves seven years to get the gardens and the various projects surrounding the organic farm up and running. Now in their fifth year they have realized a lot of their goals already. JahBash: “We have 200 to 300 fruit trees and innumerable variety of organic vegetables and root vegetables growing and ready for sale. We have interns and we teach children about organic farming. Most importantly we have convinced many people that agriculture is possible here on the island and beneficial to everyone.” He expands on his future goals and he says: “We usually have an agricultural fair once a year but are aiming for three to four a year, and we also want to establish a restaurant that is open day and night and various boutiques, like an arts and craft shop, a clothing boutique, a spot that sells dry fruits and nuts, one that sells photos, cd’s, dvd’s and literature and an island artists gallery where you can buy local portraits.”

Think carrots, turnips, radish, yams, potatoes, cassava, dasheen, fig, mango, sour sap, cherries, genips, cashews, star fruits, star apples, carambola, kale, avocado, sapotia, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, arugula, tomato, tarragon, basil, mint, oregano, cilantro, chives, celery, lavender and much, much more, the gardens are plentiful. RasJahBash explains that they are also good for one’s mental health. “Today gardens are no longer part of our life but they are so important. They give us joy and food. They relax us and are spiritual therapy for the human.” This here is the garden of the nation.”

The garden founder is one of four volunteers who work at the farm, and not just a man who works in nature; he embraces nature in mind, body and spirit. “The life we live has to be in balance with nature,” he explains, “we need patience, and the garden teaches patience. We need to learn not to point fingers when we suffer and here we realize that we can’t point fingers as we are up against nature. We learn how to be faithful, to take care of something that you value. We see that unity is important, everybody plays a part to make up a whole and we learn not to be hostile to animals. The garden teaches us to be friends with the critters we encounter as they are here to help us and preserve us and make sure that we eat well. So we just plant, harvest and move around them.” Jah Bash looks up, laughs and says: “That is why I talk to trees and to the vegetables. They give me food, medicine, shelter, clothes and they pay the bills!”

The farm leader also teaches and guides those that are in need of direction, “I assist those that come to me for help.” He looks straight across the workspace and says: “Words are important. Today we want to go before the word but it is the word that tells us what we get.” He gives me a little exercise and says: “Think of ten words that you use in your daily life and that are negative, and look for their opposites. ‘I hate’ then becomes ‘I love’ and ‘I am tense’ becomes ‘I am relaxed’, ‘I am irritated’ becomes ‘I am happy’ and so on. Then write down the negatives and try not to use them for ‘say’ a month and to replace them by their opposites and positives.” Jahbash explains that he likes to teach and that he also teaches bible stories, history and medicinal plant use. “We can help each other,” he says with a big smile.

As we leave this idyllic oasis, this gift to the nation, this garden of plenty – the parrot croaks at us ‘Jah love’ as RasJahBash gives it some love and kisses. It is truly a magical spot – a seeding ground for the body and the mind.
So make sure you visit the Solidarity Rastafari Organization Farm in Bellevue. They are open every day of the week. There is no sale of fruits or vegetables on Saturday though the farm is open that day from 2.30pm to 6:00 pm for visitors, and “come early, like at 8:00, 9:00 or 10:00, if you want a good selection of fresh stuff,” advises JahBash.