Community Gardens, Culinary Tour

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Community Gardens, Culinary Tour

Dominica
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Background
Small rural communities often remain in the backwater of national development efforts in many poor countries as the attention seems to focus on the ‘modern’ sectors of tourism and digital services. Giraudel and Eggleston, two small villages in Dominica are no exception.

Project

Three years ago a chance to break with this reality presented itself when Exotica was asked to develop a new product for offer to the cruise tourism sector. After six weeks of planning together with local community leaders the Community Gardens and Culinary Tour was designed. The project engages vegetable and flower gardening as the main experience where the visitor will be guided through the traditional farming methods by the homeowners and gardeners. There are opportunities for garden walks, fruit and food tasting as well as exposure to flower-arranging and entertainment by one of the last remaining traditional music groups on the island. The visitor is also given an opportunity to visit with a local wood carver to see him at work using local materials and tools. The tour then takes visitors to a small eco resort for a demonstration of the preparation of a local meal.

Key Considerations

This project is designed by the people of the community to make use of their expertise in gardening, craft, music and local cuisine. The community benefits directly by realizing additional income from traditional activities that make use of local resources, raw materials and expertise. The ongoing efforts at water and soil conservation are also part of the knowledge product that is shared with visitors. Local ownership of the process underscore a sense of pride, belonging, confidence and purpose for the community.

Lessons

There are lessons here for other communities wishing to engage the tourism and knowledge sectors on their own terms and in ways that ensure retention of benefits while encouraging reliance on local expertise and promoting protection of physical resources.

Your idea
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Street Address

Gommier

City

Giraudel

State/Province

Roseau

Postal/Zip Code
Country
Year innovation began

2006

Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of tourism management and impact on the destination

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Indicate sector in which you principally work

Conservation/Preservation organization

Geographic location

Rural, Mountain, Rainforest, Multiple locations.

Plot your innovation within the Mosaic of Solutions
Main barrier addressed

Corporate monolithic approach to tourism

Main insight addressed

Market authenticity

Innovation
What is the goal of your innovation?

Create opportunities for sustainable development of rural communities that integrate local expertise in gardening, conservation and culture into agro-eco tourism.

How does your approach support or embody geotourism?

Instead of importing the traditional model of tourism that replaces local activities with industry-designed packages that have minimal benefit to the local community , people of the community have designed and packaged a three-hour experience of their gardening, landscaping, conservation, craft-making, flower-arranging and music traditions as their own tourism product. Village authorities, women and farmers groups alongside hotel, heritage tour and horticulture businesses of the area now share in the management of this product and by common agreement, share in the financial benefits.

Describe your approach in detail. How is it innovative?

The owners of a small eco-resort, Exotica, were asked by a Tour Company to design a new tourism product for cruise visitors to the island. After discussion with the leaders of the leaders of the Flower Growers Group in the Village, Exotica prepared a draft of a “Community Gardens and Culinary Tour” that was then discussed by groups in the Village over a period of six weeks. Visits to the homes and gardens of the community revealed that the expertise and knowledge of the gardeners allowed each of them to be “tour guides” of their businesses. The strong tradition of use of local herbs and food crops in the diet opened up the possibility for a “show-tell-and-taste” component to the tour. The fact that one of the leading traditional musical groups in the island made the Village its home, also allowed for the introduction of this aspect of the culture into the product. The proximity of the community to the Morne Trois Piton World Heritage Site and the strong tradition of water and soil conservation by farmers in the area presented a unique opportunity and fresh imperative for connecting the tour to the role of the community in protecting the water, soil and biodiversity resources in the buffer zone of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Following presentation of the product to officials of the Tour Company and their client, the tour was filmed and presented in video at a conference of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. The new product, under the management of a Local Eco-tourism Committee was accepted and purchased by the Tour Company and starting in 2006, the Giraudel/Eggleston Community Gardens and Culinary Tour has been on the market.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

The experience of designing, presenting and managing this new product suggests that this approach can be replicated once the local knowledge and effort of groups of the area can be assembled around the task. More specifically, the potential for success and for replication in other communities depends on the presence of local “champions” who have embraced the cause of protection of the natural resources and cultural heritage of the community.
The partnership requires persons and groups with intimate knowledge of the history, resources and work patterns of the area. Skills are needed in presenting new ideas and managing discussions in non-confrontational ways as well as in the preparation and presentation of the community consensus to third parties

Impact
In one sentence describe what kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

The approach strengthens community capacity for protection of natural resources and survival of local knowledge and traditional production skills.

Describe the degree of success of your approach to date. Clearly define how you measure quantitative and qualitative impact in terms of how your approach contributes to the sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How does your approach minimize negative impacts? 200 words or less

After three years of presenting this innovation to the market, the gardeners, musicians and food caterers of the village have become acutely aware of the value not only of their ‘hard’ product but of their knowledge and experience. Several have become articulate spokespersons for the approach at national meetings addressing prospects for community tourism. The current National Plan and the National Budget Address, includes direct reference to this initiative as a potential model for developing responsible tourism and the regional private sector tourism organization, the Caribbean Hotel Association, has received a presentation on the integrated approach to tourism that is a hallmark of this innovation.
The upcoming 2008 National Flower Show that is staged in Giraudel and Eggleston expects to showcase this innovation as a tourism activity available to residents as well as visitors. The engagement of homeowners in landscaping and protecting hillsides along the road to the two villages is planned as an extension of the conservation component of the innovation for this year’s Flower Show.
In three years the direct financial benefit to the gardeners, musicians, craft workers, food caterers and homeowners in the area is approximately US$30,000.00.
Arrangements for starting a community development fund financed out of these earnings have been finalized.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

The sites visited are home gardens and the guides to those sites are the homeowners themselves who open their kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms to the visitors. Whatever work is being done on the day of the visit is shared with the visitor. The pace of the tour is kept slow in order to allow for individual attention to inquiries. There is a two-way learning process between gardeners and homeowners. There are opportunities for tasting the local fruits, beverages and prepared food and learning how they are handled.

The tour has constantly been rated by visitors as providing the highest satisfaction amongst all tours on the island and the secret is the opportunity presented for the visitor to become a part of the local experience, to feel at home and to learn about how we live and work.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your innovation, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

The product is the result of direct engagement by groups of the community in the design and delivery of the tour. The local Authority, the Village Council, provides a communication point for the project and the Clerk of the Council is one of the focal points for contact with the project. Members of the Flower Growers Group comprise the frontline presenters of the tour along with local craft workers and musicians.

The Botanical Center in the heart of the village which is maintained by voluntary effort of members of the community is an expanding herbarium of local plants that will be the centerpiece of the next phase of the project. Gardeners not now directly engaged with the tour are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to become frontline presenters.

Describe how your innovation helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area’s cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues. How do you motivate them to act responsibly in their future travel decisions?

The training provided to residents on the history, geology, botany and agriculture of the area allows presenters to engage in a holistic dialogue involving issues of biodiversity, climate change, culture and farm production. Knowledge of the nearby World Heritage Site and its implications for conservation of the soil and water resources of the area allow for discussion of the role of local communities in preserving natural heritage.

The challenge of getting young persons to embrace this holistic outlook is often discussed with visitors many of whom are also attempting to raise their children to be sensitive to these same issues. It is emphasized that small islands need help in protecting their highly vulnerable marine and terrestrial space and visitors are asked to carry that message home, to write messages of support to local tourism authorities and, to return to Dominica for a longer stay.

Sustainability
Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? What is the potential demand for your innovation?

The combination of continued sweat equity of villagers and other stakeholders with the cash earned from the organized tour is assurance of the long life of this innovation. The growing interest of other communities in applying this model to their own areas suggests that this external endorsement of the effort will be encouragement for continuing and expanding the initiative.
In the face of the continuing decline of farm income and the emergence of tourism as an option, there is evidence that innovations like this which can build on the traditional farming and heritage knowledge to create authentic community tourism products will have increasing relevance for Dominica and other small islands worldwide. In addition to encouraging continuation by the local community, this unfolding need for innovations that work ensures future demand for the project stakeholders as trainers and advocates for this sustainable agro-eco community tourism strategy.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

To date, the initiative is completely financed by the stakeholders’ contribution of time, knowledge and materials. Construction costs of a small botanical interpretation center has benefitted from a grant of US$30,000 from a European Commission-financed sustainable tourism project with the Government of Dominica. The facility was built with a 30% sweat equity input from the community and will be incorporated into the innovation next year for the first time.

There is as yet no central budget as stakeholders continue to contribute to meeting all costs associated with presentation and management of the tour. The Flower Growers Group provides Coordination services, the local Community Hall is used as a place for meetings and training, individual homes are used as training sites and local persons are the trainers. There are no paid staffers as all the work on the innovation continued to be voluntary.

To date, the annual revenue generated by the innovation was US$10,000.00 in year one and approximately US$7,000.00 in year two. The third year of the project will be completed in May of this year and earnings are expected to be close to the first year’s figure.

What is your plan to expand your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

The plan is simply to invite others to visit the area and to take the tour as a learning/training experience. The innovation has been and will continue to be presented to audiences here and overseas as an emerging option for community agro-eco tourism. It will be useful to document on video the experience as seen through the eyes of the local stakeholders as well as visitors so that the message can be transported further afield.

The comments of visitors, community development specialists, policymakers, and others on the prospects for such an innovation would be important to document and share as part of the continuing search for strategies of sustainable livelihood.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

At the local level, the main barrier to the growth, expansion, dissemination and use of the unfolding lessons from such an innovation is the absence of a clear national policy and plan for development. This means that there is no context within which this innovation fits. The resulting isolation and disconnection from the agriculture, culture, education and other sectors sharply limits the prospects for expansion and application of the lessons from this innovation.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell your story.

Over the past 35 years, I have worked with small farmers and farm workers in several Caribbean and Latin American countries as well as West and East Africa, developing ways of combining strategies for food production, environmental conservation and institutional capacity strengthening with issues of heritage, culture, family and community. This journey was started because my professional training as a soil scientist and agricultural economist taught me that the real impediments to food supply, wealth creation, stable communities and just societies were not technological. I understood then and believe even more now, that the real path to sustainable living is empowerment of local communities based on recognition and respect for their local knowledge and expertise, the true building blocks of sustainable living.

When I had the opportunity to become a Minister of Government in my country Dominica, first in 1979 and again in 2000, I was reminded that “nothing grows from the top, down” and that the failure of local, national and international governance structures to be guided by that simple fact is at the heart of much of the continued poverty, food deprivation, instability and social and environmental degradation that we see.

I am fully convinced that since “the chain is as strong as its weakest link” real change comes only when we invest in strengthening the weakest links, our abandoned rural villages and communities. It must be the mission of those engaged in the ’modern’ service sectors like tourism, to note the lesson of the chain and recognize the need to build these sectors on the basis of partnerships with the rural/agricultural sectors of our countries.

The levels of knowledge and skill that reside in these abandoned communities wait to be placed at the service of the people who dwell there as well as the others in the towns and cities of the world.

Dominica is a small island that has had the fortune of avoiding the environmental degradation that has visited many other places and where the strength of local community participation and empowerment remains a common practice. I truly believe that projects like this Community Gardens and Culinary Tour which arise from the community have the capacity to show the way.

We all have a decision to make. We can continue along the path of imitating the ‘development’ strategies still promoted by the international donor and financial community and face the prospects of more conflict for dwindling resources, accelerated climate change, exploding poverty amidst food scarcity and war within and between nations. Or, we can decide that this is the wrong path and look to innovations from the local communities that have managed to survive in the midst of global chaos. We can accept that there is local knowledge that can ensure adequate supplies of quality food for all, preserve and protect vital water and soil resources and raise the esteem of local knowledge and experience to its rightful place among the more acknowledged bodies of knowledge sitting the Universities libraries of the world.

We can start each time as we did in Giraudel/Eggleston, with an idea that challenges us to inventory our strengths, apply them to the task of making things better for ourselves and sharing that knowhow with others who wish to escape the treadmill of supervised poverty that is the lot of so many. The simple truth is, “the people know how” and we remain confident that one day we shall be able to take that to the bank.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.

Atherton Martin is a citizen of Dominica and a Cornell University-trained Agronomist and Agricultural Economist. He worked for years as an organizer of agricultural producer cooperatives and small farmer associations in the Caribbean.
Atherton has served twice as Minister of Agriculture in the Government of Dominica. He also served several terms as President of the Dominica Conservation Association and the Caribbean Conservation Association. As leader of a group of consultants he helped prepare the first Integrated Development Plan (IDP) for Dominica.
In 1996 he completed construction of “Exotica” a small family-owned agro-eco Resort in Dominica, where the focus is organic production of fruits and vegetables, nutritious eating, wellness, community and, soft adventure.
In 1998, for his work in protecting the Central Forest Reserves of Dominica from copper mining, Atherton was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for Islands.

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Background
Small rural communities often remain in the backwater of national development efforts in many poor countries as the attention seems to focus on the ‘modern’ sectors of tourism and digital services. Giraudel and Eggleston, two small villages in Dominica are no exception.

Project

Three years ago a chance to break with this reality presented itself when Exotica was asked to develop a new product for offer to the cruise tourism sector. After six weeks of planning together with local community leaders the Community Gardens and Culinary Tour was designed. The project engages vegetable and flower gardening as the main experience where the visitor will be guided through the traditional farming methods by the homeowners and gardeners. There are opportunities for garden walks, fruit and food tasting as well as exposure to flower-arranging and entertainment by one of the last remaining traditional music groups on the island. The visitor is also given an opportunity to visit with a local wood carver to see him at work using local materials and tools. The tour then takes visitors to a small eco resort for a demonstration of the preparation of a local meal.

Key Considerations

This project is designed by the people of the community to make use of their expertise in gardening, craft, music and local cuisine. The community benefits directly by realizing additional income from traditional activities that make use of local resources, raw materials and expertise. The ongoing efforts at water and soil conservation are also part of the knowledge product that is shared with visitors. Local ownership of the process underscore a sense of pride, belonging, confidence and purpose for the community.

Lessons

There are lessons here for other communities wishing to engage the tourism and knowledge sectors on their own terms and in ways that ensure retention of benefits while encouraging reliance on local expertise and promoting protection of physical resources.