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Reaping fruits of hard work

Sharat K Verma


Her story is an apt example that hard work definitely bears fruit...and vegetables . If everybody does what she has done, all countries would be self-reliant as far as production of fruits and vegetables is concerned. Her villa's kitchen garden in Al Waab Oasis in Doha has nearly two dozen varieties of vegetables and fruits. It is a result of her continuous hard work for the past five years.

Meet Paige Tantillo, a certified permaculture designer, master gardener and a kindergarten teacher. Forty-three-year-old Tantillo, who hails from Chicago in the United States, defied all odds to set up her kitchen garden in a totally new climate, completely opposite to that in her native country.

When she arrived in Doha with her husband Michael Tantillo who works as business development manager with a technology company here five years ago, she started setting up her garden. Today her garden has dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables including bananas, papaya, fig, lemons, pomegranates, tomatoes, peppers, onions, kale, lettuce, carrots, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, amaranth, calendula, basil, coriander, parsley, and many more. She always keeps experimenting with new plants to see how they grow. Besides the backyard of her villa, Tantillo has grown fruits and vegetables on her rooftop too.

Asked when she started growing fruits and vegetables, Tantillo said,"I have been a gardener life-long, and have gardened in every house I have owned. As soon as we moved into a villa in Doha, I started a garden. I was fascinated with the new things I could grow. It was a totally new climate for me opposite of Chicago's, and I looked forward to learning about new plants I could grow and how to grow them without chemical fertilisers."

Her kitchen garden, which Tantillo says is more than a hobby to her, has been able to save a lot of her money."We definitely save on items such as papaya, kale, and organic foods (which tend to be more expensive in the stores). We freeze or give away what we don't use. For example, we have frozen more than 100 bananas on two separate occasions and utilised them for cakes and smoothies."

On being asked how much time she devotes daily on her own garden, Tantillo says,"I spend anywhere from between half an hour to two hours daily to maintain my garden. One of the main tenets of permaculture is that once the garden is set up, it maintains itself and requires less intervention over time."

Her husband, Michael, has been a great support for Tantillo."My husband has carried many bags of soil to the rooftop to help get our rooftop garden started. He also has a good eye for items that can be reused that we find in the trash, while we are walking our dogs. For example our chicken coop is constructed entirely of found materials (old bed frames and discarded wood fragments)."

About the seeds and other requirements for her garden, Tantillo said,"I try to use local seeds if possible and I have brought some seeds from the US that work under similar conditions. One of the things that I teach people is that they make sure to collect seeds from plants that have grown well because those are the strong seeds and will have greater chances of success in the next planting."

So how did it start?"The idea struck me when I moved to Doha and noticed very few people growing anything, let alone fruits and vegetables. There is still a lack of edible garden spaces, especially in local schools," she said.

"My husband secured a job before we came to Doha five years ago. When I arrived, I noticed there were not many green spaces for children to learn and be in a more natural environment. I made it a goal to work towards creating these spaces by designing and implementing an educational garden," she added.

"I felt the there was a chance that schools would be interested in teaching how to grow food as it is a very good way to get children involved in every aspect. I was working on a small project and had the good fortune of meeting my current boss and everything took off from that chance meeting," says Tantillo.

She says the principal of her school believes in what she is doing and has given her complete control over the curriculum as it relates to the school garden."Last year, we began implementing a garden programme and added chickens to the school space. I really enjoy watching the students spend time in the garden and with animals. One of my favourite exercises is to teach students that the seeds inside a fruit or vegetable can make a plant."

Has anyone been inspired by her garden and her skills?"Yes. I can think of a few people who have been inspired and have started planting gardens in their house. Several neighbours come to me for advice and have since set up their own gardens. My great hope is that I have inspired the youth and community I have worked with and continue to work with," Tantillo said.

So what's the next step?"I plan to complete my school garden and I am also providing guidance to another school for their own educational garden. I continue to advise privately as well. I hope the longer I stay the more gardens I will be able to create. We are also planning on purchasing a farm this year, where I can put things together on a larger scale so that our family can be as self-sufficient as possible," she said.

Prior to coming to Doha, Tantillo received a Master Gardener certification from University of Illinois Extension in Chicago. Shortly after arriving in Doha, she travelled to Jordan to become certified in permaculture. This new methodology has been the driving force behind her new vision for change. Combining both organic philosophy with sustainability, permaculture strives to provide abundance in an any environment.

She was excited to apply the permaculture techniques she learned to the challenging growing conditions in Doha. With a combination of her new knowledge and prior skills she developed her kitchen garden as a test, which includes grey water recycling, composting, and chickens to provide a food resource. Her main objective is to achieve as sustainable a lifestyle as possible in her urban space.

Tantillo believes that permaculture is a discipline that everyone would benefit from and she is constantly seeking ways to be more sustainable and to share that knowledge with others. She is especially passionate about passing on this information to children of all ages.

Her message for the Doha citizens:"Don't be afraid to try new things. Doha offers you a unique opportunity to grow many things with its 7-month-long growing season. If you take an extra step and involve your children, you will create a lifelong gardener, who will know where his/her food comes from


Excellent report on a creative lady from Chicago. Cheers.  

Rajesh Bhambi :
Aug 18 2015 6:23PM

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