Lorna Binns: The tour guide
ORACABESSA, St Mary:
Former National Commercial Bank employee Lorna Binns is a delightful and informative tour guide who has provided bespoke excursions of the Sun Valley Plantation in Oracabessa, St Mary, since 1993.
Her unique expeditions, which begin every day at 9 a.m., take visitors on a leisurely stroll through historic lands that have been producing tropical fruits, flowers, and plants for the last 275 years.
According to Binns, the 34-acre plantation, which is a 10-minute drive from the luxurious Golden Eye Resort, is an organic testament to the magnitude of Jamaica's agricultural heritage.
She told Rural Xpress earlier this week: "Sun Valley is part of an old estate that dates back to 1741, which was owned by an Englishman, Daniel Munro. During the time of slavery, he had a workforce of 166 African slaves used to cultivate sugar cane and produce wet sugar for export.
"Munro also established a successful cattle ranch, but sold the property in 1811 to another Englishman, Charles Beckford Long, who continued with wet sugar and cattle before moving into rum.
"Although the English brought indentured labourers from all over the world to Jamaica, after slavery was abolished in 1838, it was hard to get labour on the island. So they gradually phased out sugar cane and replaced it with banana, which didn't need as much labour."
For more than a century, the property continued to cultivate bananas for export, and in 1966, Binns' father-in-law, who managed the property at the time, acquired 60 acres for himself.
Her father-in-law and husband, Nolly, expanded into copra, chicken, and pig farming, but the family was forced to refocus it energies following a series of natural disasters in the 1980s.
Binns explained: "Banana and copra were big industries back then, but in 1980, Hurricane Allen devastated the north coast and we lost all our bananas. We replanted and went back on the export market, but when Hurricane Gilbert devastated the entire island in 1988, we lost all our bananas again, and our main chicken house with 25,000 birds.
"My husband decided not to go back into chickens, but to continue exporting bananas, and things went well for a while. However, the prices started to go down with the Free Trade [agreements], and then there was a prolonged drought that started in 1993.
"In the early 1990s, we found that coconuts were profitable and stopped exporting bananas in 1996. But commercial interest rates were really high in the mid-1990s: 61.5 per cent on an overdraft, and interest rates averaged at 58 per cent for about 10 years. Eventually, we had to stop exporting and in October 2000 sold 26 acres of land to clear our bank loans."
Binns started hosting the tours with her sister 23 years ago and noted that although business was initially slow, things have picked gradually over the years.
"She said: "I enjoy doing the tours because you get to meet some really interesting people, and I've learnt a lot from them. Sun Valley is a great place to come if you're interested in history or want to know about the medicinal uses and nutritional values of fruits, plants, and things like that.
"We get lots of groups of schoolchildren who are learning about plants, and foreigners like to come and see the different flowers we have and sample some Jamaican foods, so we give them a little taste."