This past week, my faith in inner city Jamaica was renewed when I met Norman Hamilton, a young Kingstonian who has made a job for himself in his backyard. Unfortunately I incorrectly identified the young man in Saturday’s Gleaner http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100717/news/news1.html but his story below gives me new hope for my country.
Young Kingstonian finds refuge in the backyard
Behind some rather plain looking zinc-covered gates on Lincoln Crescent, in inner-city Kingston, one young man has found a way to make a hobby and a desire to supplement his own diet, into a source of income for himself.
Two years ago, Norman Hamilton accompanied his mother to the Hope Road offices of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) “to get information about the back yard gardening programme I saw advertising on TV”. As a vegetarian, the 29-year-old Hamilton had already been planting a few stalks of callaloo behind the house to supplement his diet.
A construction technician with Level Two certification from HEART and a trainee photographer, he saw opportunities for expanding his garden and perhaps make some money in light of the downturn in the construction sector. These days, the farming has taken centre stage. Hamilton believes he has found his vocation in farming and has converted the backyard of the family home into a mini-farm.
Hamilton’s keen interest in farming plus a little help from RADA led to a surplus of vegetables and the rest is history. What began as a small project of a few stalks of callaloo and some pack choi, has grown into an income generating venture- a source of employment. Hamilton now plants peppers, yams and okras; has tried his hands at broccoli and a host of other produce, which he sells a few streets away at a weekly makeshift market. Other customers come to him.
The fruit trees that are now a part of his own garden are remnants of his grandfather’s farm, he says. Those ageing fruit trees his grandfather planted decades ago have been pruned and now provide an additional source of income in the form of breadfruits, ackees, mangoes and sour sop among others. He also keeps chickens and goats.
Hamilton’s interest in farming goes back to his childhood. He recalls the days when his grandfather operated a small farm in the backyard. “My grandfather had a farm here and another one down the road and even as a child he allowed me to plant whatever I wanted to plant,” he says.
Hamilton is a self-confessed “game-head and computer geek”, but even that is helping his farming. He has “seen many things he would like to try” in his garden and researches the techniques he uses. He has a compost heap, which, along with the droppings from the goat pen, he uses to “fertilize” his garden. He also pre-prepares the callaloo by “cutting it up” for those customers who prefer it shredded.
With lots of land to spare, the urban farmer wants to expand, but says, “right now, money is short”. When the Gleaner visited Hamilton’s garden, he was preparing a bed for the planting of additional seedlings “when I get some money or some more seeds” and had prepared planting material for his callaloo bed, a few feet away. He had also dismantled several crates that he will use to mend the fence that separates his peppers from the common areas of the yard.
Hamilton dedication to this project, has earned him the admiration of Brenda Green, RADA’s Home Economics/ Social Services Officer for St. Andrew. “He is enthusiastic and is doing well,” she says.
Ms Green notes, however, that many backyard farmers see their efforts destroyed by thieves. For Hamilton, however, thieves are not as big a problem today as they were in the past. He agreed that his five dogs might be a deterrent. According to the RADA officer, only a lack of funds is keeping Hamilton from greater success.