Fri | May 26, 2017

University grads find an innovative way to repay SLB

Published:Saturday | September 20, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Owners of Ideal Fresh Farm Produce (from left) Kamoya Robertson and Shelly-Ann Irving.-Photos by Tamara Bailey
Sweet Potatoes recently reaped and packaged for distribution. Contributed
A section of the farm of Ideal Fresh Farm Produce, located in Onslow, St Elizabeth.-Contributed
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Tamara Bailey, Gleaner Writer

They sat in their room in deep introspection; the reality of having just a short time left to complete studies and begin repaying student loans sat as a cloud over their heads. The time for innovation and hard work had come and the concept of starting their own business gradually evolved.

Twenty-three-year-old Kamoya Robertson and 24-year-old Shelly-Ann Irving were both aligned to families with farming backgrounds, so when the decision was made to start a business, venturing into the field of agriculture was a no-brainer for them.

"Our business is Ideal Fresh Farm Produce ... Where fresh produce is always a BIG DEAL ... We do farming of sweet potatoes currently and sell it to exporters and local farmers," said Irving.

But how did two university students without money or business experience reach the stage of creating this? The industrious two told Rural Xpress just how.

"We had heard so many stories of persons who were struggling to pay their loans and we didn't want to depend on a 9 to 5 job to repay ours, so when we came up with the idea, we immediately enrolled at the Morrison Entrepreneurship Centre (MEC) and pursued a course in entrepreneurship, while pursuing our degrees at NCU. The course, which lasted 10 weeks, required us to do a business plan, which we did. After course completion, we then entered the business plan into an advertised start-up funding from First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union, which I told Kamoya we would win - and as if it were spoken into being, we won for best business plan and received a cash prize of $300,000. Upon receiving the cash prize, implementation began," said Irving.

"We managed to secure two locations for planting in two other parishes - that is Onslow, St Elizabeth, and Hope Bay in Portland. With the help of individuals and institutions such as First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union, NCU, MEC, Mark Jones, my stepfather, Danny, my fiancé, Carey Kelly, my brother, Jordan Robertson, and Berrice Evans from RADA - our dreams are no longer locked away on pages, but we are continuing to realise them each day," added Robertson.

The team, which has already employed two permanent workers, say their endeavour is more than just the love for the field and the need to earn enough to repay their loans. For them, it's about nation building.

"As children growing up, we took pleasure in learning about farming tools, seeing tractors, and planting seeds even if they never came to perfection. We were children of the soil and we loved it. But we are even more grateful now for the opportunity we can afford others to get employment. In addition to our two permanent workers, we employ several other persons during times of planting, weeding/spraying and reaping. We strongly believe that it is through entrepreneurship that the economy of this nation will grow and be fruitful. So as entrepreneurs, we contribute to export (GDP) and create employment. Soon we will be a part of the manufacturing industry," Irving stated

As both 'gentlemen' farmers with full-time jobs, Robertson and Irving are committed to making the business work for the greater good.

"Each Jamaican has to see themself in Vision 2030 and contribute. The vision cannot move unless we as the people of this country take responsibility. It is also the responsibility of the Government to create the policies and make each environment favourable for development. We just need to work together, cannot sit around and await handouts. We all are responsible," said Irving.

rural@gleanerjm.com