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Urban garden growing out of a youth soccer camp in Site Soley.

Food Voices: The Interviews

Daniel Tillias Urban Farmer
Site Soley (Cite Soleil) of Port au Prince, Haiti.

Daniel Tillias is an Urban Farmer in Site Soley (Cite Soleil) of Port au Prince, Haiti.Site Soley is known as the worse slum in the Americas, but through organizing, they have been ale to turn open spaces into gardens to feed the community.

For us, urban agriculture was a way to address the big picture problem, which is we cannot keep eating everything that is imported. We cannot keep having in our mind that it is too difficult to grow something in Haiti. We cannot support the idea that it has to come from the States to be good. Farming can be an alternative toward the improvement that this country deserves and needs.

The original program was to create a peace environment with kids that were exposed to the violence in Site Soley, which was known as one of the most violent neighborhoods. The media, many people and NGO’s in Haiti, see the place as “no more chance.” It is a red zone for them. We wanted to start something where we empower the energy of the children to something different. We started a soccer team in 2007 when it was really tense in Site Soley with gang activities and armed groups, fighting against each other. There has definitely been a reduction in violence since we started the projects. It is working.

We extended our work to more education. More education means why does the team have to eat only spaghetti that is imported from the US? Only milk that is coming in a box? Only juice that is imported? We could grow our own greens and have a team that is really strong because of eating local food that has all the nutrients and all the protein that the body deserves. And then we were like, let’s move on something bigger. Why don’t we start our own garden?

The idea with the agriculture started after the earthquake and the gardens have helped people cope psychologically with the earthquake. One group that was very involved with the garden is a group of disabled and elderly people. I could see a lot of happiness every time they could see that they were teaching something to the kids who did not know much about this. This really helped in terms of the stress they were exposed to. This group was coming together not only because there was nothing for people after the earthquake, but because there were elderly and could not stand in the line and the disabled were accused of being a witch. A witch is Haiti is seen as really bad. The disabled people were accused of paying for sins. They were not getting much from the distribution after the earthquake. The fact that they actually could have some value teaching other people really helped them with the stress, but also with the self-esteem.

The community garden – the site where it is located, is somewhere that used to be a dumping area. People would just use it for sanitation, littering, throwing trash, sometimes even human waste. It was a real mess. The fact that we could turn this as a small community garden, many people in the neighborhood said, yes, we can do the same thing across our tent, across our camp, in our backyard and it duplicated everywhere.

We are now working to develop this new idea, the Green House, because many of the kids tried to develop their own garden, but really don’t have the space. We have adults who come and say, when I used to live in the mountains or in the rural areas, I used to be a farmer and I like what you are doing, but I don’t have enough space or the seeds. The idea is to have it going so strong that people would come and get more knowledge and tools and resources to develop their own community garden. We have seen it happen spontaneously. Even across the community garden, a little boy has seen the garden and said, okay this is a community garden, but I want my own garden. He did. Across the street he has created a small garden with corn, potatoes.

The Green House would be something to start in Site Soley, which is something very significant. When it starts in this place, it creates an open mind on possibilities to be effective everywhere, because for a long time, Site Soley has been seen as a place that nothing is possible. The Green House is about giving a chance to more people to know more about agriculture by giving them access to seeds and a little green house where they come to either buy very cheap or receive the seeds to start something in the backyard. It could be a used tire that we can fix and can sell or donate to families who do not have the space to grow something. More important than this Green House project is to develop this idea that Haiti can produce something valuable.

Unfortunately, people in Haiti will say they don’t eat corn, but they would welcome a box of corn flakes with some milk. They would say, they don’t like something, but when it comes in a can from the US, they enjoy it. We believe it is something that has to do with education. This is something the Green House will do. Give some simple recipes for soup with greens, beats, carrots, cabbage, that is more nutritious than a spaghetti meal or something they normally import from the US or the Dominican Republic.

The big dream is to have something like that in every main intersection in Port au Prince. Someone can stop to have a fresh juice instead of a sprite. They can stop and have a natural fruit from Haiti. The idea is to provide all kinds of education by telling them all the nutrients they can get from a glass of juice or from soup, so people can go and do the same at home. 

It is important for people in North America to know that Haiti can feed itself so they can support the Haitian farmers in the struggle to have enough and grow enough for Haiti.