Nadia Fomai with some of Vaiea’s little farmers
“Eww! Yucky!” the child shrieked, jumping to avoid an earthworm. His friends laughed at him. Another shriek erupted from a different corner of the garden when a caterpillar was discovered.
These were familiar scenes when Nadia Fomai and the children of Vaiea village on Niue Island began setting up the prettiest of backyard gardens, using recycled materials, compost, and fermented fish blood.
The children, 23 in all, are aged between 5 and 12 years. At least three afternoons a week, they run to the gardens, eager to learn all about plants, soil and all the creatures that live in it.
The idea for the project came with a drab meat dish Nadia was cooking one day. “There were no vegetables, no variety that is. We only had bele and we were eating it all the time,” she said. Bele or Abelmoschus manihot is a leafy plant found in many Pacific countries.
“It’s quite expensive to purchase vegetables from the shops so I thought we could start planting other types besides the local variety because Niue has a great climate for planting.”
“I decided to include the little ones so they would know about the importance of having healthy, nutritious meals, and to inspire them to love gardening, getting their hands dirty in growing plants and having a healthy food supply.
Instead of being screaming when they find earthworms, the children now compete to get earthworms for their plots, as Nadia has taught them the importance of worms in keeping the soil healthy.
Nadia also explains the difference between organic and chemical farming methods. “I tell them organic farming is safe because I believe there’s no more harmful chemical left in the vegetables at the point of eating,” she said.
Nadia’s garden lessons are supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the Capacity Building for Resilient Agriculture in the Pacific Project, under its nutritional gardening for families activity.
The project is implemented by the Niue Organic Farmers Association and POETCom, which is the regional peak body for the organics industry. The Pacific Community (SPC) houses the POETCom secretariat as part of our support for sustainable agriculture and food security solutions in the region.
In the Vaiea garden, cabbages and lettuces bloom out of pallet slats, while scoops carved out of empty bleach bottles are used to dig small holes for planting. “While they learn about organic gardening and being kind to nature and the soil, they are also taking on recycling ideas.”
The next step is applying organic fertilisers and pest control methods. “I’ve been experimenting with fish blood for fertiliser. It has worked perfectly on my flowers, and will too on the vegetables,” Nadia said.
“When the men in the community return from fishing, I offer to clean the fish so I can collect the blood. It stinks really badly so I ferment it away from the community. After several days, the smell dies down. It’s worth the effort!”
As well as learning and having fun, there is another bonus for the children. “The vegetables they plant they take home and in this way we help families eat healthy, nutritious food,” Nadia said.
- Three times a week, children in Vaiea village are learning about growing vegetables.
- Organic farming and fertilisers are used, including locally-harvested fish blood
- Store-bought vegetables are expensive and the children take home their produce for all the family to enjoy