The first installment in a yearlong expedition to uncover sustainable ecosystems.

Marijke Wilhelmus is a freelance web designer whose love of scuba diving as well as Hawaii and the Cook Islands spurred her to go on a yearlong trek around the world to discover examples of sustainable living and preservation projects in remote areas above and below the surface of the ocean. Seed asked Marijke to document her travels by sending regular dispatches relaying the different characters she’s met and innovative and practical ways of life she’s witnessed.

(Click on a thumbnail below to view a larger picture)

Long Bay, Jamaica

Pacoconut.jpg Uncle Pa cuts a coconut to retreive its milk.

Long Bay is a sleepy little seaside town in the northeastern parish of Portland, Jamaica. In the nearby hills southwest of the seaside, I met Uncle Pa, a 79-year-old man who is toothless but incredibly hardy. He has been going into the bush since he was a kid and, from the age of 19 on, he has provided sustenance from its vegetation for his 17 children. He knows every tree and shrub as well as the medicinal effect of every piece of bark, every leaf and every flower.

Pacharcoal.jpg Uncle Pa prepares charcoal in a make-shift forge.

He and his extended family live in a small house east of the bush where people continuously come and go. There is always food for every visitor, family or not. Around the house there are roaming chickens, a couple of goats, a pig and a designated area to make charcoal. Wild coffee beans and nutmeg dry in the sun, and little seedlings sit in old, rusty jars.

Early one morning Uncle Pa and I hiked out west through the lush valleys into the bush. I felt so fortunate to observe his perfect harmony with the environment around him. He wastes nothing: Even the peel of the oranges I brought were hung up in a small shrub to dry for his tea the following day. Uncle Pa only drinks “bush tea,” which is brewed from a variety of leaves he collects, such as soursop leaves.

Pagarden.jpg Uncle Pa’s garden in the bush.

The area Uncle Pa cultivates is several hectares wide. He continuously rotates his crops, so that a particular piece of land—less than half of a hectare (or 1 acre)—never gets used more than once, after which it grows back wild as a result of being untended. Intervening trees do not get chopped, and there are no straight rows. Rather, the variety of fruit born of Uncle Pa’s labor are mixed in with one another: bananas, plantain, sweet potato, cocoa, yam, pot chow, peppers, pumpkin, kalalou, okra, coconuts, sugarcane, papaya, breadfruit, soursop and cassava.

During the hurricane season he makes sure he has a supply of root crops so, even when everything is destroyed above the land, he has plenty of food protected and growing under the soil. His philosophy of life is simple: “I harvest a little, I clear a little and then I sit and watch a little.”

Contact Marijke Wilhelmus here.

Originally published April 4, 2006


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