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Perfect partners: Tourism and agriculture

Published:Monday | March 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Smith browses through a cabbage patch. - Contributed photos
Grace Smith and her husband, Tedious, tend to young tomato plants in the newly built greenhouse on their eight-acre farm in Mafoota, St James.
Grace Smith with some produce.

Nestled in the cool hills of Mafoota in St James is Grace Smith's farm. She has been tilling the soil for the past 20 years and, through innovation, dedication, commitment and sacrifices, she stands today as a proud 'daughter of the soil'.

However, the level of success that Grace enjoys today would not have been without the unprecedented partnership which, as a farmer, she has forged with the tourist industry. She cultivates vegetables for numerous hotels, including Sandals, SuperClubs, Sunset Beach Resort and the Spanish-owned facilities, among others. She has been able to secure both written contracts and 'good faith' agreements to supply several hundred kilograms of fresh vegetables each week.

"We (farmers) are guaranteed a market with these hotels and because of that we have been forced to adopt farming standards which produce top-quality products," she explained. This, she admitted, has enabled the farmers to be "aware of the quality which the hotels require and that resulted in us forging another relationship ... this time with the Ministry of Agriculture and its Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), whose officers teach us the right and wrongs ... the dos and don'ts of top- quality farming".

Smith is part of the Mafoota Farmers' Cooperative which was formed 10 years ago with 20 members. As a benefit to joining the cooperative, the farmers receive continuous training from RADA in collaboration with the hotels. As she explained, "various hotels, based on what they require from us, would, from time to time, host these seminars with RADA which give us an indication of the new trends in agriculture, as well as the eating trends of the guests. We then cultivate with the tourists in mind because, as the saying goes, 'A satisfied guest is a returning guest' - and we survive when the resorts are enjoying good occupancy."

Ambassadors for tourism

Looking at how her life has been transformed through the fruitful partnership between agriculture and tourism, this dynamic and passionate farmer was quick to declare: "We, the farmers, are ambassadors for tourism."

The mother of five who cultivates on eight acres of land added: "We plant for the guests; we sometimes educate them about the process of cultivating, helping to ensure that they return for the Jamaican cabbage, carrots, callaloo, lettuce, zucchini, yellow squash and other produce from our farm. We love being farmers and we are encouraging others, especially the younger folk, to get involved in the sector."

Smith's humble beginnings began back in the days of 'Pioneer Farming' and she has steadily progressed to the point where she has been able to build a house, purchase a refrigerated truck to transport her produce, send her children to school and, most signi-ficantly, enjoy a better-than-average standard of living. Her most recent acquisition is a modern and efficient greenhouse which has enabled her to dramatically increase the production and quality of vegetables.

"When I started, many thought I was just doing subsistence farming," Smith shared as she reflected on her journey and progress. "However, I soon realised that there was much more to farming than just cultivating for the needs of my family and I decided that I would be in it for the very long haul."

Despite the achievements, it has not all been a bed of roses for the middle-age farmer.

"There are times when it has been very difficult and others would have thrown in the towel. But when I look at the level of investment that I made in agriculture and think of the benefits, I just roll my sleeves up and dig deeper," Smith said of her resilience. "Today, I am very happy I made that decision."

A farmer, mother, community leader and tourism ambassador, Smith is one who is not afraid of getting her hands dirty and to share the flavour of Jamaica through the crops she grows for supply to the hotels. She is a firm believer that the benefits of tourism are far-reaching.