The focal point of Plenty Belize’s current work is its multi-faceted GATE program. GATE aims to create a replicable model of local sustainable livelihood and environmental benefit based on organic school gardens. Why? There are any reasons, but we can sum them up in the following three areas:
Environment: Properly developed and maintained organic gardens contribute to environmental protection. Organic gardens build and replenish the soil fertility of a plot of land, which increases the land’s ability to produce over many seasons. This can reduce the need to clear new lands for agricultural crops, which helps preserve the rainforest. Organic farming has been shown to protect biodiversity at every level of the food chain, from bacteria and plants to earthworms, beetles, birds, and mammals. By working with nature to build healthy soils, the runoff of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is avoided, thus protecting our river and marine environments as well. All these factors are especially critical to preserving the environmental health of rainforest regions.
Food Security and Nutrition: Sustainable agriculture like organic gardens can also decrease malnutrition and poverty levels by increasing the amount of nutritious foods grown locally for consumption and sale and reducing costly chemical inputs for farming families. Thirteen of the GATE schools currently use the produce from their school gardens in their School Feeding Program, which provides nutritious lunches and snacks for the students.
Education: Organic school gardens provide a unifying theme that teachers can use to teach the standard Belize curriculum. The GATE Program encourages the use of the gardens and school kitchen to teach not only about agriclture, nutrition, and the envionment, but to teach math, science, English and other core subjects as well.
The GATE program started with four school gardens in the Toledo District villages of San Jose, Golden Stream, San Pedro Columbia, and Laguna in early 2002. Since that time other communities (for a current total of 38 primary schools) have joined the program. The growth of the GATE program to date has been initated by the schools and communities themselves. Plenty Belize provides each school with: regular extension support; tools, seeds, and other supplies; classroom activities; educational support to teachers in integrating the gardens into their curriculum; teacher training workshops; environmental education; educational materials; encouragement to start home gardens; and nutrition and food preparation education. Plenty Belize staff, local partners and volunteers provide this support at each school on an ongoing basis. Overall, the GATE program aims to use and develop locally available resources so that the program can successfully continue into the future.
While spearheaded by Plenty Belize, the GATE program is a collaborative effort of many people and organizations – The District Education Department, the administrations of the Methodist and Catholic schools, PTA members, villagers, teachers, principals, students, local NGO partners, donors, and many individuals. The efforts and resources of these varied people and organizations are coordinated and managed by Plenty Belize.
Donations to this program are greatly appreciated, as funding is needed to continue providing support to the GATE program this year. Ultimately, the goal of GATE is for all 53 primary schools in the Toledo District to have a sustainable organic school garden program.