Visiting Jamaica’s Breadbasket.
Talk to a St. Elizabeth local and they will say their parish is the ‘breadbasket of Jamaica,’ a funny, moniker for this parish with low rainfall. Residents are a friendly population of fishermen and farmers who live off the earth and sea. When you come to this part of the island, it doesn’t look like the Jamaica mostly seen in magazines and postcards. Cacti and acacia trees decorate the dry, almost arid landscape instead of perennial swaying palm trees. Instead of soft white sand beaches, there is a rugged coastline, black sand bays and sharp rocks jutted up against the sea.
Jake’s is a boutique hotel in Treasure Beach, with a shabby chic setting. It’s not unusual to find New York hipsters and worldly jetsetters lounging by the salt-water pool. The hotel is firmly rooted in the local community with initiatives in sustainable farming and fishing practices. The restaurant at Jake’s gets their produce from the surrounding farms and serves seasonally prepared dishes. If it’s not in season then it’s not served. Luckily, summertime in Jamaica means, bountiful fruits and vegetables. Terms like “locally sourced” and “organic” seem to be inflated claims, but Jake’s holds true to these principles.
I tagged along with Jake’s chef Demarco on a farm tour of Treasure Beach and the surrounding areas. I noticed long white pipes lining the edges of farmlands signaling an irrigation system. There was the answer to my question. Coupled with low rainfall, the sun is brutal on crops. To mitigate the damage and low yields, farmers cover the ground with grass after watering, and then dig holes to plant. This way the dry grass prevents the soil from drying out quickly.
On the ride over, Demarco shared the shopping list. Today we were buying watermelons, plantains, garlic, lettuce, pumpkin and cabbage.
“This will last us maybe three days, then we come back and buy more.” Demarco remarked.
The south side of the parish grows lots of fruits, mainly watermelon, cantaloupes and honeydew.
It was hard not to fall under the spell of the convivial goodwill of the people. We visited a melon farm in Pedro Plains and met young farmer. The heat of the midday sun was merciless. But the farmer’s infectious big smile was welcoming. He dropped the orange wheelbarrow he was pushing and came right over to greet us, carefully stepping over watermelons on the vine.
He was wielding a rather large kitchen knife, which effortlessly moved through a watermelon and offered me a slice. The skin was warm to the touch, but once I bit into it, the refreshing juice escaped the side of my mouth. The young farmer joined me in eating and offered me another slice, which I readily accepted.
He nodded and grinned widely, “Nice eeh?” he said in between spitting out the seeds.
Naively, I asked for a garbage can to dispose of my melon skins.
He laughed and said, “Just throw it back on the ground, ah deh so it come from.”