Guest Column by Lucy Fleming
The Lodge at Chaa Creek, Belize
Here at Chaa Creek we read with interest the recent Green Globe Global News Weekly report from Belize’s Gaïa Riverlodge titled “Green Gardening Secrets.”
First of all, our gardening hats are off to Gaïa for their efforts and for sharing their secrets. Anyone who has attempted truly green, organic gardening knows the challenges and frustrations involved, especially in tropical Belize, where weeds and insects thrive more robustly, it seems, than those plants we wish to cultivate.
But organic gardeners also know the satisfaction and feelings of success when the crops come in and you realise that you’ve put food on the table without damaging – and in some cases actually benefitting – the environment.
What struck me about Gaïa’s report was the fact that more and more resorts are tending their own patches and walking the talk when it comes to eco-tourism. Early on my husband Mick and I thought it ironic that eco-resorts were serving food that was grown, produced and packaged far away, using practices that were often environmentally unsound. Mick decided to take matters into his own hands by looking at sustainable ways for us to grow some of Chaa Creek’s food.
The advantages are obvious – reducing food miles and the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers while serving guests fresh, healthy produce. Less obvious, however, was how we would go about it. Even though we started Chaa Creek as a farm, our attention in recent years was focussed more on hospitality than horticulture.
Fortunately, the answer was right before our eyes, and had been there for thousands of years before we arrived in Belize.
The Maya concept of agriculture was by nature organic and highly efficient, and Chaa Creek is surrounded by the remnants of ancient cities and vast suburban areas where a large populace managed to produce sufficient, healthy food for centuries.
We decided to investigate.
The first step was to hire a Maya family to get the garden started, and thus began a mutually rewarding relationship with people and land that continues to thrive today.
I won’t attempt to go into all the details here, but suffice to say growing a portion of Chaa Creek’s food worked, and worked very well. Today Chaa Creek’s Maya organic farm is an onsite attraction that produces a regular supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. Along with some thirty sheep, half a dozen goats and numerous chickens, the farm provides supplies for our restaurant, the downtown Guava Limb Café and local families while providing employment for seven Maya farmers from San Antonio village.
One of the benefits that come from maintaining a commitment to true eco-tourism is that you embark on a lifelong learning adventure, and this has certainly been true for us in many areas, including agriculture. Mick has become an avid, knowledgeable and enthusiastic organic gardener keen to pass his knowledge onto the many guests, students, local villagers and farmers who visit the garden.
More good news is that our guests respond enthusiastically to our farm-to-table dining, taking comfort in the fact that the food on their plates is ethically grown and healthy. One of our popular family-friendly kids’ activities is a Garden Safari that has youngsters visit the farm where they learn about things like recycling while taking part in traditional Maya farming. Seeing them beam with pride when their harvests are served during the family meal that evening is another one of those intangible benefits of educational eco-tourism.
While our Maya organic garden and farm-to-table dining has become a distinct part of Chaa Creek’s appeal, it is not something we wish to hide under a bushel basket, as it were. In fact, we encourage other resorts to investigate and try it themselves – seeing organic gardening become a resource for other resorts and an attraction for their guests, with farm-to-table dining and the reduction of food miles as just some of the benefits, are things we’d love to see spread throughout Belize and indeed the world.
And for anyone interested, feel free to stop by Chaa Creek – chances are you’ll find Mick and myself out in the furrows and more than glad to show you around.
As they say, from little seeds…