Earthbox Project in St. Lucia: Planting the Seeds of Hope

One of Global Volunteers’ most successful projects on the island of St. Lucia is the installation of Earthboxes throughout the village of Anse La Raye, a small fishing village with approximately 3,000 residents. Since 2012, volunteers have ventured out to share a spade and a bit of sun with their new island neighbors, and planted nearly 150 Earthboxes for members of the community.

Although basic in concept, the Earthbox is an advanced gardening technology. The box’s construction consists of the durable plastic box, an aeration screen, and a water collection tube. Volunteers fill the container with growing medium and plant the seedlings of four plants: cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and peas. Together, these vegetables will produce approximately three to four times as much produce as they would in a dirt garden with the added bonus of requiring much less work and water than traditional gardening.  One to two children or one adult can be fed their necessary nutrients for a year from the box’s harvests—making it an important technology in improving the health and nutrition of local families.

To truly understand the importance of this project, however, it is necessary to know a bit about the history of St. Lucia. Like many of its neighboring islands, St. Lucia’s tropical setting makes it ideal for growing certain fruits and agricultural commodities, and it became a major grower and exporter of bananas during the mid-20th century. Large-scale, multi-national corporations like a Dole Food Co., Chiquita Brands International, or the United Fruit Company owned and operated large banana plantations on islands in the Carribbean. In St. Lucia, Geest, an international fruit importer, was responsible for the island’s banana production. The business success of these companies meant both the politics and economies of the local communities in which they worked were beholden to the production of bananas. The companies forced out other competing industries, and although these companies were generating substantial wealth, many companies chose to reinvest gains into the company instead of in the local communities.[1]

When geopolitical trends began to change nearly 40 years later, however, the fruit companies were forced to loosen their control on the islands. The number of banana plantations decreased in number, but they left behind tracts of land wasted from the process of mass-producing bananas.[2] After so many years of dominating the local economy, the banana companies had left few people able to afford purchasing the land, as well. Many chose to live in towns like Anse La Raye and now have little to no space for gardening or vegetable cultivation—meaning that, though they live in a tropical setting conducive to self-sufficient food

production, the local people have little opportunity to supplement the traditional diet of carbohydrates and protein with fresh vegetables.

Enter the Earthbox. Requiring little to no space, almost no maintenance, and very few inputs, it is an ideal technology for the Anse La Raye families to be able to grow their own food. With an Earthbox, families are able to introduce vegetables into their children’s lives at an early age, and with it, the vitamins and nutrients essential for growth and development. Across the village, Earthboxes can be seen on patios, porches, and even roofs with different varieties of plants as families try new combinations of vegetables each year. The boxes do need to be replanted each growing season, and for this, Global Volunteers’ Earthbox Coordinator, Lisa Laurencin, and Country Manager, Chemida (Chem) Popo-Cox, can be great resources. They retain the knowledge of how to plant and care for an Earthbox and lead the volunteers in box maintenance and distribution projects. This year, Chem is excited to have a new shipment of the boxes’ growing medium so that volunteers can help with the planting. She says that every week she has at least one villager stop her and ask if they can have an Earthbox for their own home, and she is happy to tell them that they are on the way!

Thanks to donors and volunteers, St. Lucia’s Earthbox program is alive and well.