Good Jamaican: Agriculture in St. ElizabethPublished Mar 12, 2012
I had intended this article to be about the future of Agriculture in Jamaica. You see, last week Wednesday my brother and his family and me and mine made a 2 vehicle trek to Malvern, St. Elizabeth to visit my friend and colleague Kingsley. Kingsley has been a farmer for decades and in recent times, Kingsley has added to his agricultural endeavours in a really high-tech way. You see, Kingsley now cultivates crops in what we (ahem!) agriculturists refer to as a "controlled environment". You all (ahem again!) would be familiar with the term "greenhouse agriculture". Simply put, growing crops under cover allows you to control variables such as water and wind, offers a more suitable environment for controlling pests and diseases and allows you to also optimise plant nutrition. Sure there's a high initial outlay (relative to growing in the open field), and you have to use specific seed varieties and monitoring becomes a necessary science. But the results when you do get it right, is a higher yield per unit area, more predictable yields and improved quality. You can now operate your farm more like a factory floor, predicting and guaranteeing output. So yes, this was initially meant to be an expose on agriculture in Jamaica. But the more I reviewed our excursion, I became convinced that this was more about the soul of the farmer than his activities. What he has accomplished is more about him, than it is about the science and discipline of agriculture. Come with me...
So we set out from Kingston at 8:00am. Every time I drive out of Kingston I am impressed by awed by just how beautiful our island is. Uneventful is how I would describe the drive over. The view of the St. Elizabeth plains when you are descending Spur Tree took on renewed significance, as I said to my children: "We are most definitely heading straight into the heart of the bread-basket of Jamaica!".
Me being me, I asked for directions 3 different times once we made that left turn at the foot of Spur Tree. I could just see my brother rolling his eyes in exasperation, since I was the so-called expedition leader. Whatever. I am "directionally challenged" and lose my sense of direction at the drop of a hat!
Three hours later we arrived at Kingsley's house. By this time we were joined with another of Kingsley's friends from Kingston, Pat. He has a massive greenhouse in the front of his property. No...don't look for an actual greenhouse. It's really a metal frame overlaid with a combination of plastic and mesh, designed to allow for appropriate ventilation and light and for the exclusion of insects. In the event of a hurricane warning, it's apparently quite simple to remove the coverings and lower the plants. The frame should be still be standing after the storm.
Seedlings are planted in to pre-prepared bags of coir which are set up prior to planting, with drip irrigation lines appropriately placed. The fertilizer is mixed into tanks with the irrigation water and applied at pre-set intervals throughout the day. The net result is no water wastage and giving the plans exactly what they need in terms of food. Kingsley's set-up is well equipped with an automatic timer and pH and electrolyte meter to ensure that the water is of the right pH to allow for effective delivery of the nutrients. Farmers in this neck of the woods rely on rainfall for irrigation. Kingsley has added gutters to his house and his greenhouse to ensure that not one drop goes to waste. The water is stored in a combination of black plastic tanks and a pond that he excavated and lined.
The kids (and adults too!) had a great time harvesting the most beautiful tomatoes you've ever seen from Kingsley's greenhouse.
Some crops are also grown under a less strict regime: tunnel houses. The sides and front and back are open in this method. But drip irrigation/fertigation and covering on top, still afford some measure of control.
We ate pumpkin bread and drank carrot juice made by Kingsley himself! That is another article.
Apart from being totally impressed with Kingsley's efforts and his fantastic results, I left feeling that Kingsley represents all that is good about Jamaica and Jamaicans. He has carefully planned and invested. He has done his sums and the result is a thriving business utilizing the best of Jamaica: soil, climate and people, producing in a sustainable manner, produce that is wholesome. Kingsley is one of the hardest working people I know and his sons see this and emulate him. All is not lost in Jamaica Land we Love. What a great day!