Sun | Aug 1, 2021

RADA Agri-mart taking it to the world

Published:Wednesday | February 10, 2021 | 3:11 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
Brenda Greene, zonal senior economics officer at Agri-mart, shows some of the items that are made from natural, local products..
Brenda Greene, zonal senior economics officer at Agri-mart, shows some of the items that are made from natural, local products..
Brenda Green of RADA Agrimart shows off some of the natural products that are sold at the Old Hope Road facility.
Brenda Green of RADA Agrimart shows off some of the natural products that are sold at the Old Hope Road facility.

Located at 191 Old Hope Road in St Andrew, the Agri-mart operated by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) still remains one of its best-kept secrets, despite showcasing a broad array of local, natural, agricultural and value-added products for years.

When The Gleaner visited recently, we were impressed by a number of products, including one which stood out – pancake syrup available in mango, sorrel, guava and otaheiti apple, to go with cassava pancake mix. Senior social services officer for the Eastern Zone, Brenda Green, was quick to point out that what comes out in these syrups is the actual taste of the fruit, much more than just the flavour.

“This is not the flavour of sorrel. This is the extract of sorrel itself. We have guava and mango because these are readily available in Jamaica.”

Green explained that many of the culinary, drink and other creations are borne out of the work done by the social service/home economics arms of RADA, in working with Jamaican women, and especially farmers, to look at new ways of preparing traditional recipes and with a focus on enhancing the nutritional value of things usually taken for granted.

Utilising the Natural Resources

“Our officers, when they go out in the communities, they work with the women in groups, educating them on how to utilise the natural resources they have, such as fruits and vegetables.

“We do like pastry-making, fruit preservation, different areas of home economics to make their lives more wholesome. We teach them to make things and in so doing, they are usually able to do surplus, and there is often a spin-off into income-generation activity, which often helps to improve their lifestyle.”

Much of the knowledge shared usually translate into the formation of cottage industries, turning out spices, drinks, or even small businesses such as pastry shops and restaurants.

The dried otaheiti mix, which is being marketed as a substitute for prunes in fruitcake, is a top seller, usually eliciting positive responses when customers learn of it.

One of the standout lessons highlighted by Green was where mothers were able to “turn their hands and make fashion”, presenting vegetable and fruit juices to children who before would usually reject these, but gladly consume them with relish in the new formulations or presentations.

The assortment of sauces on display was also testament to the versatility of Jamaican fruits.

“We have fruits plentiful in Jamaica. This is a mango jerk sauce and there are other types of sauces. We incorporate the fruits in many things that we have to spice our meals. Apart from that, we have different porridge mixes, including banana, which a lot of people grew up on.

“We are known for our spices and you have your jerk seasoning mix and curry powder – this was produced in the hills of St Andrew. You don’t need any salt, if you have high blood pressure or other health issues. All you need to do is to season your meat and go. No additional salt or pepper or anything else, everything is ready. In terms of our products, you don’t have a lot of preservative being added, so you are good to go.

“This scallion here is from St Elizabeth. There are times when you get scallion for $250 a pound and then there are times when it floods the market. Now when you have the skill where you can put it into this powdered format, it is actually an investment and this seasoning here is ready ... you just sprinkle it in the pot and go.”

Coconut Oil

A product which needs no advertising is coconut oil, which is boiled or cold pressed, meaning it is extracted without any cooking. It fetches a higher price. There are also lotions and other skin-treatment potions infused with coconut oil, some of them outfitted in attractive gift packages.

The array of cosmetics on display highlighted different oils, including pure castor oil and in combination with coconut oil and hemp oil, showcasing formulas for different hair needs. The bee products were interesting and included a shampoo for pets.

Agri-mart products are sourced from all across Jamaica and extends some traditional items such as the cocoa balls, which are grated to make ‘chocolate’ tea. Herbal items were well represented in teas and powders.

Jams, tamarind balls, ‘Buster’ and asham were among the produce displayed which are sure help to keep us grounded in the Jamaican culture with their links to many a childhood memory.