Breakfast on the Farm - Mais hosts pre-International Chefs Day
Last Wednesday, a team from Nestle Jamaica and Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew Juliet Holness, and specially invited guests, made the trip to the quiet community of Quashie Gap, to Fitzroy Mais' Organic Farm.
Mais' farm served as the venue for a Breakfast on the Farm prelude to Nestle's observance of International Chefs Day, observed on October 20 around the world. This year, Nestle Professional in partnership with WorldChefs will celebrate under the theme - Foods for Healthy Heroes. One of the superfoods used to promote healthy eating habits and nutritious recipe ideas was strawberry. The strawberry crop at Fitzroy's Organic Farm provided the opportunity to showcase healthy meal options and have students see the fruit at various stages of development, and reinforce the message that healthy kids will grow up to be healthy adults.
It was a beautiful thing to one minute be caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Kingston Metropolitan area, and then in another be captivated by the cool, crisp air in the hills of rural St Andrew.
Fitzroy's Organic Farm tucked away in the Quashie Gap is literally off the beaten track and brimming with exotic crops. Many would not imagine strawberries and peaches to thrive in the heat of Jamaica's tropical climate but Fitzroy and 10 other rural farmers have made a livelihood from such crops.
And this was where a farm tour and breakfast for participants in the Nestle Healthy Kids Programme, took place.
Mais sojourn into farming
What most people would view as a catastrophic life experience, was the springboard for the 34 year old farmer's bright future. In 2012 Mais, then a delivery truck driver, was terminated from his job and had no prospect for another. The young father and primary breadwinner for his family was in need of a source of income.
Fitzroy, was determined that he was going to do farming to fill the gap. With no crop in mind, and no money, he took the took a leap of faith and cleared the family field to start his farm. Mais recounts that he was asked by a passer-by what he intended to plant on the lot and replied that he had nothing in mind. A proposal to plant broccoli proffered with the gift of some seedlings became the start of Fitzroy's Organic Farm. Ensuing months would see Mais tackling other high value produce including strawberry, becoming a pioneer in the fruit's local cultivation.
In 2016 Fitzroy was approached by East Rural MP Juliet Holness through the AgriHope Initiative to farm strawberries on a much wider and clearly more profitable scale. AgriHope is a $5.9-million initiative supported by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA). The initiative is positioned to advance agricultural production in East Rural St Andrew, by promoting the cultivation of high-value fruits and vegetables.
Mais has since received national recognition as Organic Farmer of the Year at the 65th staging of the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show earlier this year. He was proud to note, " I had the opportunity to host the Prime Minister's wife and Member of Parliament at my humble farm."
Mais and his colleague farmers are an example of how stepping out of the known and being willing to take risks can be rewarding. His participation in the AgriHope Initiative has brought many new opportunities that he did not envision for himself.