It's sweet and sour in Summerfield
Absalom Hutchinson, who feeds sugar cane into his diesel-powered juice extractor in Summerfield, Clarendon, was incorrectly identified as Leopold Maye.
Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
FOR 18 YEARS, Leopard Maye has been producing wet sugar from a small boiling house in Summerfield, Clarendon, under conditions not far removed from those that existed during the days of slavery. Strewn about his property are broken wrought-iron cauldrons and redundant cane-crushing contraptions, including the first mill that was spun by horses.
The only modern touch is his diesel-powered cane-juice extractor, which the former welder himself had set up.
"The mill currently in use bears testimony to Maye's mechanical acumen and ingenuity. The comparatively massive press/juicer was acquired from a going-out-of-business cane farmer. The size of the flywheel clearly indicates that it should be connected to the driving mechanism by a four-inch-wide belt.
"However, Maye's driving mechanism is a two-stroke engine cobbled together from a little tractor. And so, instead of a four-inch-wide belt, there is the ordinary black half-inch belt that you will see if you look into your car's engine. Ignition is effected in the old-fashion way, by use of a drawcord to get the pistons moving," is how Dr Bert Fraser-Reid, a Jamaica-born United States-based chemist, describes Maye's juicer.
But eking out a living by making sugar was the farthest thing from Maye's mind when he was a youngster learning the art from his father, who was taught by Maye's grandfather. He said he was simply having fun. So, off to school he went to learn welding, eventually becoming a certified welder. However, while working in a garage, he realised that there were too many welders around, and was thus inspired to try something that most people were not interested in.
Sugar-making went to Maye's head, and that was it. He bought the horse-powered mill and set up upon his venture. Yet, the first attempt was a colossal disaster as what he made was 'tie-teeth', a tarry semi-viscous substance that could stretch for miles without breaking. He had forgotten to put white lime into the syrup to keep the crystals apart.
Having learned his lesson, the second attempt turned out very well, and now he not only produces wet sugar, but 'sugar head' (a level after wet sugar), cane-juice wine, and tamarind/wet sugar mix. These are sold throughout the Jamaica Agricultural Society branch network.
Fraught with challenges
Maye's products are quite tasty, but his operations are fraught with challenges which leave him sucking on sour grapes sometimes. The nature of his discontent is his inability to expand his sugar-making business because of limited financial resources and exorbitant interest rates on loans. The little profit that he makes goes back into personal and operational expenses, but as he sat in the old truck that he uses to fetch cane from as far away as 15 miles, he said, "I won't give up. I am not giving up."
Maye has a market for his products, but sometimes he cannot fill orders since he doesn't have the capacity to do more. Some of his clients reside abroad, and they rely on him for regular supplies of the nutritious organic sweeteners. Locally, many people depend on him for the wet sugar to use in the making of buns and bulls, and when there isn't any available, problems.
But, it's not all about personal gains for the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) volunteer, who sits on the Clarendon RADA Advisory Board. Expansion, to him, also means providing employment for other people, in a community where job opportunities are scarce. He already employs five, who, he said, are not paid on time sometimes when the cash isn't flowing.
"This project has the potential to generate work for people, but sometimes I feel so tied up ... I am so limited, that I can't help more of them," he lamented.
On a typical boiling day, Maye can make up to six buckets of wet sugar, but with expansion, he said he could make half-ton. Yet, with no financial backing, a deplorable road network, low water pressure, high transportation costs, and a dying truck, that half-ton seems like the carrot held before the sweating mule - unattainable.
"I need some assistance, but I am afraid of Jamaica loans. Right now, I am in a pickle. (But) I will be moving with the help of God ... I will be laying my stones, one day at a time. I will be moving forward, help or no help," Leopold Maye declared, the passion in his eyes raging like the fire in the furnace over which he boils his cane juice.