You may be aware of the Paint Jamaica art & social intervention happening in Kingston’s inner cities this summer… As part of the project, the team discovered an incredible phenomenon known as “Life Yard”. If you’ve been to an inner city in Kingston, you are probably well familiar with the signature sight of zinc fence and wooden shacks. However, as the saying goes: “never judge a book by its cover“- and that’s exactly what Life Yard embodies so well.
It all starts by an encounter with Shane -one of the Life Yard members- who shares some details around a farming project. I’m curious to know more and guided towards a green zinc fence (picture above). The choice of colour should had been an indicator of what was to come ahead… but difficult to imagine anything more then further zinc fences and piles of bricks when one is in a Kingston ghetto.
But I was in for a surprise- a big one.
Behind the zinc green fence was a farm…green, vibrant nature that seemed to miraculously appear from nowhere! This space is bigger then what I imagined, and each step revealed a pleasant surprise.
Amidst the luscious trees, we spot other faces- and eventually meet all the people who make up the Life Yard collective. Some of them are holding a conch shell, a fire is being started and a moment of silence falls upon us. The group gather around the flames to blow into the shells, and for a few minutes, it feels like peace on earth… albeit we are standing in an inner city community that is politically divided and where it is not uncommon to hear gunshots- but the Life Yard crew have chosen to make a different kind of sound as they blow into their shells and celebrate the nature surrounding them. Clearly, there is a certain wisdom among this group and my curiosity takes over- we need to sit down and talk. My questions start rolling in…
Life Yard epitomizes the idea of self-sustainability and chasing an alternative kind of richness- the one that exists in nature.
“We all grew up here in this same inner city and always loved farming. When times get rough- like now- ‘eat what you grow, grow what you eat’ makes the most sense. We try to be proactive and self-built”.
I ask what they’ve planted on the farm?
“Here we grow everything from corn, callaloo, okra, plantain, ackee, pumpkin, breadfruit, coconut, apple, scallion, pineapple…and more”. I am in awe as I try to match each plant with the produce.
“You don’t need money to plant a farm. It’s not about the the money- just work with the earth. For example, we keep seeing everyone collecting plastic bottles… but what about mango seeds?”
Life Yard continue to explain that a shift in focus needs to happen: “Too many of the youths have got caught up in the fast-food/processed food lifestyle. Furthermore, our country has over invested in tourism and music… what happened to agriculture?”
In addition to planting their own food, Life Yard also do their own cooking and most of them are vegetarians. Diet aside- this group of men also value an overall healthy lifestyle. In their opinion, the biggest villain has got to be alcohol, “alcohol is the worst thing the youth are consuming today- it does so much damage to their body…and their minds”.
Food aside, Life Yard further share that “Man cannot live off bread alone. We also need spirituality and knowledge”. Clearly, there is a lot of spirituality and knowledge among this group.
This fascinating dialogue with the group leads me to one concluding thought. In life, one always has two choices and inner city communities can often be hotbeds where the youth may be encouraged to make the wrong choice of gang life and crime. Yet Life Yard were able to find an alternative simply by looking at the ground they stood on. All it takes is a seed, patience and a solid consciousness to plant an incredible farm in a Kingston ghetto… as such, they are able to support themselves and the neighbourhood.
Most importantly however, Life Yard should be applauded for their inspirational efforts and for breaking down (unfair) prejudice towards inner city communities.
If you are heading to Kingston and interested in discovering the Life Yard, please e-mail us at [email protected]
If you are interested in this feature, please contact the Real Jamaica team! Thanks!