On Monday morning, October 23rd, 2023, representatives from Disney Cruise Line (DCL), the Agricultural Development Organization (ADO) – [a non-profit launched early in 2022, focused on building up The Bahamas’ food security], and the One Eleuthera Foundation’s Center for Training and Innovation (OEF/CTI), were at Preston H. Albury High School (PHAHS) in Rock Sound, South Eleuthera – to kickoff the beginning of a partnership between DCL and the ADO to positively impact the agricultural programs at four schools in Eleuthera and one school in Abaco, through a Micro Gardens and School Farming Project.
The project is a continuation of work being done by the ADO in schools across The Bahamas. In this most recent partnership, DCL donated nearly $100,000 to support the Eleuthera and Abaco schools initiative, and OEF/CTI will bring its technical expertise and guidance in hydroponics and other farming methods to the program.
“This is the kick off event – at the first of five schools that we are partnering with, along with the Agricultural Development Organization (ADO) to bring farming and agricultural education to higher heights in our schools,” said Joey Gaskins, Disney Cruise Line’s Public Affairs Director for The Bahamas and Caribbean. “We’ve done a similar project at the Ranfurly Home in Nassau, which was actually our first at this. We believe that schools are an important place where Bahamian young people can be successful … So, we can create diverse opportunities for them to experience different things – especially things that align with our four pillars of corporate social responsibility – culture, conservation, community and economic opportunity, then we are doing the right thing.
When asked about the details of the DCL agricultural partnership, Mr. Gaskins explained, “This year we have given just about $100,000. We asked the schools, ‘What is it that you need to make your agricultural programs better?’, and we supplied those tools… and infrastructure, but we will also ensure that the schools have resource officers and the human resources to help these young people understand and learn about agriculture… At the end of the day we are funders. We know that the experts are in schools, and they are at the Agricultural Development Organization. So, our job is to facilitate getting those experts and the resources that our schools need to the people who need them.”
The five schools to benefit from the program include, Preston Albury High, Central Eleuthera High, North Eleuthera High and Harbour Island All-Age School, in Eleuthera, and Patrick J. Bethel High School in Abaco.
When asked about ADO’s role in the partnership with DCL, Philip Smith, Executive Chairman with the ADO, stated, “We are very excited about partnering with Disney to make this initiative come through… We spoke with Mr. Armaly [PHAHS agriculture teacher] and all the other agriculture teachers from the other schools, and we asked them what is it that they need for their program. Whatever they said they needed, that is what we got for them. This was thanks to Disney’s generous donation… We purchased those materials, and we shipped them over… They would have received those supplies two weeks ago… I hope going forward we can get Disney to continue with the partnership. I think, in order to take it to the next level there will probably be some other things that we should do.”
Commenting on the overall importance of the micro-garden project, Chairman Smith added, “There are four pillars – school farming, community farming, backyard farming, and then of course, commercial farming. I think that what you see in The Bahamas now are most of the farmers being over 60 years old. So, it’s very important, to make this sustainable – to have young people getting involved and becoming interested in farming.”
Principal Kenneth Roberts at PHAHS, welcomed the partnership of DCL and ADO with the school, saying, “Disney will be sponsoring our agricultural program, and they are here today to see how we are going, and how we are getting started… We got some soil, seedlings and tools, and for our next step we will start on hydroponics and drip irrigation… Once upon a time The Bahamas was basically able to feed itself, nowadays we are net importers of food. Food security should be high on our agenda. So, it is something we are working towards, and hopefully we can get some students in the program who would consider agriculture as a career.”
The Agriculture Science teacher at PHAHS, Mr. Perez Armaly, who began work on the school’s farm and garden area when he arrived three years ago, said that getting funding during that time for the school farm program has been challenging. He expressed his elation and gratitude for DCL’s generous support. Explaining what he hoped his students would gain from a robust farming program, Mr. Armaly said, “First, I want them to recognize the need for the country to be able to feed itself. Secondly, I need them to know the importance of discipline and hard work, because we are preparing the students for life. And by implementing more business activities, such as engaging in the One Eleuthera Farmer’s Market – they will see the exchange, and how hard work pays off.”
The visitors to the Preston Albury High School, along with students in the agriculture program, on the Monday, engaged in three different activities, including the preparation of seed trays, to begin the germination of some of the newly acquired seeds; the building of two raised seed beds – advantageous, said Armaly, in containing and retaining nutient rich soil for their plants like beets and onions, along with providing ample root depth to grow; and finally, planting four trees, including coconut, and mango – to demonstrate the proper method of transplanting fruit trees for the benefit of the students.