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Turner Innovations - reaping success from the backyard

Published:Friday | January 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Allison Turner talks about the machine (seen behind her) used to prepare sorrel.
Allison Turner preparing sorrel.

Turner Innovations Limited is the recipient of the 2015 Gleaner Honour Award (Special Award) in the category Science and Technology.

Six years ago, husband and wife Oral and Allison Turner were relaxing at home one evening, thinking about a way to make life easier for sorrel farmers.

Oral, a trained welder and farm store operator, was spurred into action after one of his customers visited him at his store and told him that he was about to abandon a field of sorrel because it would be too expensive to reap.

Allison recalls her husband toying with several ideas and, at one point, he was having sleepless nights. Unknown to her, he had run an electric line into the garden and was toying with a new invention. The sorrel-harvesting machine was in its embryonic stage.

"After about three months, I was in the kitchen and he came in and said, 'Look, I have done it!' He had the sorrel flesh in his hand and the seed in the other," Allison said.

But after having made this invention, Oral covered it with a blanket, wrapped it with duct tape, and left it sitting in the garden for two years.

However, following a conversation with a friend, the Turners soon realised they may have been sitting on a goldmine all along. The duct tape was peeled off, the blanket lifted, and Turner Innovations Limited was born.

The one-of-a-kind machine feeds picked sorrel buds into the funnel-shaped invention to tear the calyx away from the seed, separating the two.

Turner Innovations Limited is this year's recipient of a special award in the category of Science & Technology in The Gleaner Honour Awards. The company is being recognised for its invention of the Sorrel Harvesting Machine and its potential impact on the expansion of Jamaica's sorrel industry.

Typically, farmers employ labourers to hand-strip the buds at harvest, or a broken umbrella stick is used to push the seed up and through the base of the bud.

The Turners have so far created a small factory space at their Comma Pen, St Elizabeth home to commercialise the machine they invented, using $3 million in funding secured from the state-owned Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ).


'Next amazing thing'


Allison said that former agriculture minister, the late Roger Clarke, had viewed the machine and was blown away. He would eventually pave the way for them to get funding from the DBJ.

"He came down, took one look at the machine and said, 'This is the next amazing thing.'"

In addition to DBJ funding, the company secured funding from First Angels Jamaica, a network of mainly Jamaican companies and individuals, that finances promising start-up companies and projects.

Turner Innovations is contemplating a mobile service to harvest sorrel on farms around Jamaica, based on orders of 1,000 pounds or more. They project that the sorrel-stripping machine can handle 2,000 pounds of sorrel in half-a-day using one operator instead of the average 10 people that a sorrel producer would use to strip 1,000 pounds in a day.

"What we are doing as a company is showing that there is creation, and it can come from your back garden, and you can become wealthy," Allison said.

Allison claims that the decision by the DBJ to launch a grant fund facility aimed at driving innovation is a result of the success of Turner Innovations. The funding facility, known as Innovation Grant from New Ideas To Entrepreneurship (IGNITE), aims to support the creation and growth of new innovative firms in productive sectors.

"We have set the path now in Jamaica for other innovators to come forward and get grant funding, to be able to develop and take their business to the next level and put us on the map for something away from sports and singing. What that is going to do, in effect, is increase our income, and help a variety of people in different areas," Allison said.

"People are watching us, they are watching our journey, and they are being inspired as we go along."

However, the Turners recognised recently that they had a bit of a journey to go before the machine would be accepted by farmers.

"The machine is not where we want it to be. It works; it is doing a great job. We can use it for ourselves at the moment, but for the farmer who needs it, it is not where they need it to be," Allison said.

An engineer is due to visit from Canada to suggest ways in which the machine may be improved. Turner Innovations has said that when the invention is perfected, they may license it to a manufacturer which would reproduce them for use in the 22 countries around the world that now grow sorrel.

In the meantime, the Turners have resorted to drying sorrel from their garden, packaging it and are now in the process of getting it on supermarket shelves and on the export market.