Organic vegetables are in high demand due to safety concerns. Not too long ago all food grown in Belize was organic. With commercial growing came agrochemicals and concerns about the health of both the soil and the consumer. In recent times in Belize, the only way to assure that food is grown safely and organically is to grow your own.

Consumers worldwide have become increasingly alarmed at the incidence of agrochemical poisons in their food because indications are that it is the cause of increases in cancer and other serious diseases. There are many people who simply don't want produce that has been exposed to agrochemicals or other environmental toxins and GMOs.

Some people are turning to organically produced vegetables in Belize because they know that agrochemicals are often not safely used. Washing can't make vegetables safe because some of the chemicals are inside the produce. Belize, unfortunately, is not yet sufficiently monitoring the safety of the vegetables in the markets. There is no mechanism to guarantee that the farmer harvests and sells according to safe guidelines. How are consumers to find a nontoxic solution?

Greenhouse technology has recently made the commercial growing of organic produce easier and cheaper. In the last few years, small farmers have found they can grow certain vegetables more reliably under greenhouses, thus increasing their profits. These sealed greenhouses naturally decrease the need for agrochemicals and the result is safer produce. The recent availability of natural "green seal" plant medicines has also contributed to organic produce becoming a reality. Many farmers have readily embraced this 'natural' path due to their inherent suspicion of agrochemical poisons and their concern for their own families' health.

Consumers in Belize have come one giant step closer to having organic produce as the result of the initiative of a San Ignacio group. On November 10, the Maya Mountain Learning Exchange initiated a series of monthly symposiums on 'Wellness' at the Maya Mountain Lodge. The first 3 months are dedicated to "Finding Healthy Foods". The first session, attended by 50 consumers, producers, and health food venders, generated positive commitment by many of the participants to making organic produce available.

Participants immediately organized an organic market place where safe produce could be picked up as well as purchased. There is much enthusiasm for developing a larger buying group before the December symposium. After the meeting, a facebook page, "Cayo Healthy Food", was launched and received over 400 'likes' within 2 weeks. A facebook group and google group were launched to broadcast a weekly price list of available products so that consumers could order by email or telephone and pickup their order on Saturdays.

Inquiries and orders are now coming from as far away as San Pedro, Belize City, and Punta Gorda. The advice this Cayo group is giving to other areas is to copy their effort by organizing a buyers' group in their own area and sharing shipping costs. Demand may soon outstrip the supply because people are seriously interested in assuring safe food for their families. The farmers feel sure that any shortages will be temporary and that, given time, they can catch up with the demand.

An increasing number of farmers in San Antonio, Cayo, are now motivated to study and comply with Organic Certification. Their interest has been greatly influenced by the discovery of this new organic buyer market. They are already learning about new ways to control pests and fungus organically assisted by members of the Belize Organic Alliance (BOA), the Organic Unit at the Central Farm Agriculture Station, and others.

Certification is going to take time, but the producers are committing themselves to maintaining the integrity of their product by organizing an organic farmers' group and insisting that their members comply with safe practices for organic growing.

The Star