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Plans for a Community Garden taking shape in Indigo Bay

1._Team_on_site_in_our_new_teesBy Lisa Davis-Burnett

When land is at a premium, economic considerations tend to dominate. Development generally means build! Build at all costs, grow your business exponentially and always keep your eye on the bottom line. Sustainability is a common buzzword but in reality, it's rarely even on the list of "things to get done." It takes an unusual commitment to break such an ingrained mindset.

It was almost four years ago that WEEKender visited the then quite new Indigo Bay development in Cay Bay. Project manager Steve Smith explained then his vision for a community that embraced the green spaces, not just as visually attractive landscaping to enhance the buildings, but to be a truly functioning and balanced environmentally sustainable green zone that would benefit the people of the community. Big talk, I thought, but would it really happen?

Stopping by for a follow-up visit last week showed that the garden's plans are continuing and several dedicated specialists are working hard to make it a reality. The key team comprises landscape consultant Mike Butcher, permaculture designer Lori Morris, and community garden consultant Elaine Christopher. Up to five other workers are investing their time and energy on a daily basis to plant, water, dig, build compost bins, and generally do all that needs to be done. The dream is to create a producing organic food garden that will showcase to the larger community what is possible. The garden property at Indigo Bay has 57 acres with which to work, and four natural fresh water ponds provide a habitat for birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians.

The Indigo Bay Community Garden is a joint project being undertaken by Cay Bay Development, Good 2 Grow and the Sint Maarten Community Gardens Foundation (SXM CGF). It is the first community garden of its kind in the region, combining permaculture design and aquaponics to create a productive edible landscape with the feel of a botanical garden.

Elaine is the Managing Director of Good2Grow which started a community garden last year in the Lowlands and has already had booming success. Members pay a monthly fee and receive boxes of organic produce from the garden weekly. Gardening gurus, volunteers and hardworking professionals are all working together to create the grand vision of healthy locally produced veggies for the community. This is now the model for the Indigo Bay project.

The mission of the garden is to implement sustainability practices, promote quality food production, support the local economy, build community ties, enhance the landscape and provide related educational programs in St. Maarten/St. Martin – Plenty of ambition, but they know it's possible.

Permaculture

The word Permaculture comes from the meshing together of two words, permanent and agriculture. It's all about long term sustainability and balance. Permaculture design will enable the Indigo Bay Community Garden to produce a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

Basic permaculture principles include the building of soil fertility and management of surface water, which will increase biological diversity and, together with careful aquatic planting, provide habitats for the many fish, birds and other wildlife that are beginning to colonize the areas in and around the fresh water ponds that are situated within the development.

Lori explained, "Permaculture is a set of ethics employed to design a system that takes care of the earth and all its earthlings. To do that, we bring together different natural systems, such as organic agriculture, natural energy, natural water and natural waste management systems. The ultimate goal is that your landscape will produce more energy (in the larger sense of the word) than it consumes, and then you have sustainability."

Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a system of agricultural production that incorporates the farming of fish and the growing of plants in water. The fish provide all the nutrients required by the plants. Aquaponics uses less than 10% of the water required for conventional growing as the water is constantly recycled and both fish and plants are harvested for human consumption. In keeping with the overall vision for the Indigo Bay development, solar, wind and water energy will be harnessed to provide power where it is needed, although this will be minimal.

Indigo Bay is planning to house their aquaponics garden in a geodesic dome, the freshwater ponds already on the property will house tilapia fish and four water tanks will be nearby to help control pH, aeration and other factors.

Pioneer Planting

Another aspect of the garden's design will be the incorporation of methods known as Pioneer Planting. This means introducing sturdy plants that are well suited to the climate, including legumes, trees, shrubs and ground covering ivies. Legumes are especially important because they can add nitrogen to the soil through their roots.

Through a process called chop and drop, the plants create their own mulch. Microclimates will develop around the plants, supporting their nutrition needs, and thus the garden becomes more like to sustain itself in balance.

Volunteering

The Indigo Bay Community Garden is the second in the newly formed SXM Community Gardens Network. This island wide organization currently provides opportunities and resources for students of the Learning Unlimited and St. Dominic's schools and operates a vibrant and regular volunteer program.

The Community Garden has partnered with SXM Doet and will be hosting a large volunteer event onsite at Indigo Bay on March 20 and 21. Volunteers can register to participate through sxmdoet.com.

Vision

This effort is taking shape slowly, but things are being done to make it last a long time. The momentum is gaining speed. Most developments do the landscaping in a few weeks and only worry about how it looks, but this garden has to function and produce using natural sources of energy. They want to design and build a landscape using permaculture principles that are aesthetic, sustainable and productive and that contribute to an enhanced experience for Indigo Bay residents, visitors and the community at large.

The Indigo Bay Community Garden will be open to the public and anyone who would like to may purchase the organically grown produce via a small shop and "pick your own" areas. Visitors will be guided through the food forest via paths and walkways. Local artists will be invited to exhibit sculptures within the community garden and outdoor activities, such as yoga, will be held. There will be feeding stations at the ponds where visitors may interact with the fish and waterfowl, and fishing will be permitted within designated areas. Attractive landscape features and seating will be incorporated into the design to provide the visitor with peaceful retreats and viewpoints from which to admire the bay and the innovative geodesic dome that will accommodate the heart of the showcase aquaponics installation.

In addition, they plan to host a Permaculture Design course at the Indigo Bay Community Garden when the aquaponics systems are fully operational and the edible landscape begins to take shape. Students will have the chance to learn how to create their own sustainable gardens, and get their hands dirty as they learn.

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