rastafari

Organic Island

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When we moved to Grenada in 2008 it didn’t take long to discern that the best produce was sold by roadside vendors. Our first week in our house we met Miss Annette at her stand on the Mont Toute Road. Gardeners ourselves, we found lots of common ground. She was never a voluble conversationalist, but engage her about her farming business and she would tell you everything there was to know. It was this way we came to understand how certain Grenadians make a living, but also to realize that for the most part the produce sold in roadside stands was grown organically.

The most evident reason for this is economic: pesticides/fungicides and chemical fertilizers are expensive. In the absence of modern industrial solutions to ancient agricultural problems however, Grenadian gardeners and truck farmers relied on tried-and-true pre-industrial methods to keep pests at bay or maintain the health and productivity of their soil.

Agriculture is everywhere on a small island, even at the bus stop by Grand Anse.

Yard fowl proliferate throughout the island, making a useful living for themselves on the fat bugs attracted by a yard full of delicious food while fertilizing & aerating soil as they go. Early-morning drivers often pass the gardener in his/her plot, taking advantage of the coolest hours to lend credence to the old saying “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” Manic pot-hounds or cunning scarecrows deter opportunistic avian thieves. The farmer could simply spray chemicals all over his/her garden and go inside to watch TV for the rest of the day, but to the Grenadian farmer such ideas are as alien and inconceivable as the endless flat fields of the American prairie.

As accidental as organic Grenadian produce may now seem, certain Grenadian agriculturalists pursue these methods the same way avowed organic farmers do: as a living homage to an ideal. Among the lane’s-end backwoods camps of Grenadian Rastas organic agriculture is practiced in accordance with and observance of a universal ideal.

In Rastafari : from Outcasts to Culture Bearers, Ennis Edmonds observed that according to Rastas “the entire universe is organically related and that the key to health, both physical and social, is to live in accordance with organic principles” (60). One need not rely on academic sources however to realize that Rasta culture urgently identifies and stresses the unity of mankind and the Earth. Popular attention is focused on Rasta rejection of material ways and cannabis consumption, but viewed as an ethic instead of a cultural oddity Rasta reveals itself to be as powerful a motivator for organic methods as the mission statements of any number of international organic colloquia.

Organic agriculture wholeheartedly accepts the notion that obsessive fixation on maximizing productivity and profit shortsightedly –perhaps even lazily– engages the job of farming. Like Rastas, organic farmers hold ever in mind The Bigger Picture: that everything we do happens within a closed system of responsibility. The science-driven organic farmer acknowledges the interrelatedness of environmental and biological systems and seeks to preserve them in their original balance by either by mindful, principled action or judicious non-intervention. The Rasta farmer seeks to align his every action with the principles of his religion, and so is prevented from using what he rightly perceives as poisons on an Earth he sees as the very tableau through which he lives an observant life of spiritual communion.

To my knowledge there is no formal alliance between Rasta agriculturalists and the organic farming movement, but there should be. To show the Rastas that they are already part of and welcome in a well-known and internationally respected community of agriculturalists, to bring new ideas about organic methods to their farms, to witness and document the methods they have developed to deal with the unique problems inherent in tropical agriculture…it is to facilitate the one-ness of man & Earth.

Cocoa pods merrily growing. Photo by flickr user Karunakar Rayker, appearing here under Creative Commons license

For that matter, there is no reason this message couldn’t resound among all Grenadian farmers & gardeners, close as their methods often already place them to even the strictest international organic principles. For most, it might require a few simple adjustments (e.g., removal of pressure treated lumber in/around the garden, filtration of greywater used for agricultural purposes) and then they get a bright ‘ORGANIC FARMER’ certificate to hang on their roadside stand or market stall.

The benefits of a certificate program are obvious. First, Grenadian and international customers alike can buy with confidence from a vendor displaying internationally-recognized symbols of quality. Second, it creates a gossamer layer of useful bureaucracy to gather and administer information about Grenadian agriculture. Third and finally, this information could lead to the creation of the world’s first ‘organic island’, taking cues from the ‘greening’ efforts of other nations in the developing world like the ‘Green Gabon‘ program or the now-legendary economic success of Costa Rica in ecotourism.

The ‘organic island’ –announced proudly to the world– is one of the few positive statements a country can make that can instantly attract the attention of the world’s press and the solidarity of every progressive individual who receives the message. No-one is offended. No vital agricultural sector is regulated out of existence. All you are really saying is that, as a nation, you are committed to the nourishment of all mankind. The goodwill and attention generated by such a move can only positively redound in the tourism industry: the cash engine of the Grenadian economy.

On this point everyone can agree. The truck farmer is given means to burnish his/her professional reputation and gain access to tried-and-true organic methods from gardeners the world over. The Rasta farmer finds the same opportunities, but more importantly the reassurance of witnessing the propagation of an ethic of supreme importance to him. Even the larger-scale sugar cane operations –most likely to have the capital to use non-organic methods– benefit from their transformation into a premium product: one that continues to satisfy local demand but sells at higher prices in the world market. It bears mentioning that other products made with organic cane (e.g., rum) can also transform into and market themselves as premium organic vendors. Given how few changes most Grenadian farms would require to fully adopt organic standards, there is no reason the average consumer would see prices at the markets increase. Ultimately, 90% of the plan is informational: talking to local producers, lining up their support, then shouting the news to the world.

“Ever conscious of God we aspire, build and advance as one people.” To me, no readily-accessible goal lives up to this motto like the ‘organic island.’

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10

Ever conscious of God, we honor him by preserving and supporting His creation. My question –my proposal– is this: can Grenada aspire to and build a national treasury of public health and international goodwill? Does Grenada believe –as the Rastas and organic farmers do– that to mindfully adhere to a principle that benefits all mankind is to advance…to proclaim that Grenadians are one with all the peoples of the Earth?

The Grenada Chocolate Co. LTD – Solar-powered, owner-operated, organic chocolate: from cocoa pod to bar. Inside this building one man’s ‘crazy dream’ became the island’s premier gourmet export. It can be done! Note the solar oven and prodigious photovoltaic capacity in the front yard. Photo: 2008.
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Reggae Covers: Gene Rondo – Ramblin’ Man (The Allman Brothers)

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I was looking forward to a Jamaicanization of these familiar lyrics from The Allman Brothers1973 hit and got mesmerized by the guitarist’s attempts to match the effortless, right-on-time six-string chops of Duane Allman. Released in 1975 this cover breaks little new ground, but is an unaccustomed entry from the world of Southern rock & jam bands. Gene Rondo –born Winston Lara in Greenwich Farm, Kingston, Jamaica in 1943– is best-remembered for his recordings with the duo Gene & Roy, for his mid-career acceptance of Rastafari, and for a lifetime of good works.

My father was a gambler down in Georgia,
And he wound up on the wrong end of a gun.
And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus
Rollin’ down highway 41.

Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man,
Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can.
And when it’s time for leavin’,
I hope you’ll understand,
That I was born a ramblin’ man.

Reggae Covers: Culture – Down In Babylon (Pete Seeger-Where Have All The Flowers Gone?)

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A familiar melody with all-new lyrics topical to the Jamaican experience, Kingston, Jamaica’s Culture here offer a plaintive analogue to the Pete Seeger original.

Where are all the Rastaman,
That used to be down here in Babylon?
Where are all the Rastaman,
That used to beat their drums? Oh yeah.
Where are all the Rastaman,
That even used to till the soil?
And preach to us for awhile,
Down here in Babylon.

Where are all the Rastaman,
That used to walk the woods?
And have a little talk now and then,
Even as we should, oh yeah.
Where are all the Rastaman,
That used to build our schools?
And teach the children rights,
Down here in Babylon.

…and teach the children rights,
Down here in Babylon.

Where are all the Rastaman,
That used to stand upright?
With their staff in their hands,
Preaching to the leaders.
Where are all the Rastaman,
That used to till the soil?
And feed our nation, Lord,
Down here in Babylon.

And teach the children rights,
Down here in Babylon.

And lead our nation, Lord,
Down here in Babylon.

Tony Rebel – If Jah

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An impassioned ode to Rastafari, on whom Manchester Parish Jamaica’s Tony Rebel surely relies.

If Jah is standing by my side
Then why should I be afraid
Of a pestilence that
Crawleth by night?

Bob Marley & the Wailers (feat. Bunny Wailer) – Pass It On

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A kind word from Bunny Wailer, speaking from and to the heart of Rasta consciousness:

What your hands do,
It’s your own eyes that see,
So won’t you judge you’re actions
To make sure the results are clean.
It’s your own conscience that is gonna remind you
That it’s your heart and nobody else’s
That is gonna judge.

Be not selfish in your doings,
Pass it on
Help your brothers in their needs
Pass it on
Live for yourself – you will live in vain
Live for others – you will live again
In the kingdom of Jah Man shall reign
Pass it on…

What’s in the darkness
Must be revealed to light
We’re not here to judge what’s good from bad
But to do the things that are right
On a hot sunny day
Under the shadow is rescue
But as the day grows old
I know where the sun is gonna find you

Be not selfish in your doings,
Pass it on
Help your brothers in their needs
Pass it on
Live for yourself – you will live in vain
Live for others – you will live again
In the kingdom of Jah Man shall reign
Pass it on…

The original Bunny Wailer version is also choice.

Sly & Robbie – Jah Easy Dub

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I don’t often post dub, but there’s something curiously melodic about this one…something hypnotic in the little shifting organ figure… Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare right on time as usual. Riddim!

The Congos – La Bam Bam

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Mindblown at work! Mighty in its mellowness!

For thirty pieces of silver they sold Jah Rasta,
and why did they do that?
Ooh yeah…what a la la bam bam bam…