Plant Sup’n with ‘Farm Up Jamaica’!

Farm Up Jamaica Logo

Farm Up Jamaica is the vision of Neil Curtis, an inspirational Jamaican living in New York. Like many Jamaicans living abroad, Neil keeps a keen eye on the goings-on back home. Frustrated by the continuing depreciation of the Jamaican Dollar,  high unemployment rates and the decline in home-grown produce, Neil hatched an ambitious plan to help heal Jamaica. The result is ‘Farm Up Jamaica’, a visionary project that is a  many faceted and utterly brilliant master plan to make a quantifiable difference in Jamaica.

What Makes Farm Up Jamaica Special?

Farm Up Jamaica gets its funding from donations, gifts in-kind and through volunteering work, much of which is through the Jamaican diaspora. The Non-Profit Organisation works with the Jamaican Ministry of Agriculture to find gaps in the market contributing to the excessive food importations into Jamaica. It uses this information to channel the donations to offer help, employment, education and empowerment to farmers who had all but given up. The revolutionary concept is breathing new life into Jamaican farming with Organic and Sustainable Farming practices. These Organic crops are then available to buy locally in Jamaica and will also enable greater exportation possibilities, helping to stabilise the gap between imports and exports. Plus, the implementation of Organic and Sustainable farming practices is better for us when we consume the pesticide free food and it’s also really good for the Environment too.  An all-round Win, Win situation!

Sweet Jamaica Interview with Farm Up Jamaica

I am pleased to announce that the CEO of Farm Up Jamaica, Neil Curtis, took some time out of his busy schedule to take part in Sweet Jamaica Jules’ ‘SUPPORT JAMAICA, BUY JAMAICAN!’ interview series. Neil shares his story and views about his organisation with us in this fascinating read!

 

1. Introduce yourself and your role in the company?

Hello, my name is Neil Curtis and I am the founder and CEO of Farm Up Jamaica Limited.

 

2. When was your company established and why did you choose this career path?

Our organisation was founded in July 2013. The reason we chose this path was to create a trustworthy way for diaspora to give back that would have a direct and measurable effect on Jamaica.

3. Tell me about your typical working day?

 A work day in New York consists of:

  • Communicating by phone and email with farmers who want to participate in the program.
  • Diaspora meetings in person, by phone, email and Skype etc
  • Interaction with other organizations who want to partner or help the cause
  • Working with our fundraising co-ordinator to identify or improve ways to raise funds
  • Creating Memorandum of Understanding for organisations that we are partnering with
  • Researching new seeds and best practises for Organic Farming
  • Live television and radio interviews into U.S., U.K. and Canada
  • Consistent communication with our staff and board members

A work day in Jamaica consists of:

  • Visits to our current farmers to make sure they are functioning optimally
  • Meetings with prospective farmers and their families
  • Distribution of Organic seeds and fertilisers to our member farmers
  • Interacting with companies who want to partner or sponsor the cause
  • Meetings with government agencies for agricultural technical advice or administration
  • Negotiating with our vendors to ensure we are receiving the best possible pricing, discounts and incentives
  • Creating work forces in areas of interest and ensuring that it includes the best possible pricing, discounts and incentives
  • Creating work forces in areas of interest and ensuring that it includes local farmers, students, inner city youth and volunteers

 

Young and Old Farmers Getting Involved
Farmers Getting Involved

4. What is your company philosophy?

 Our company philosophy is to reduce the importation of foreign food by planting our own healthy organic food to save a nation in more ways than one.

5. Where is your Head Office based and do you manufacture / produce your products in Jamaica?

Our Head Office is based in New York. We don’t currently manufacture but all crops that are grown in Jamaica.

6. Do you use Jamaican raw materials in your products?

We use as much Jamaican raw material that is available and only go outside if necessary.

7. Are you Jamaican?

I am Jamaican, from St. Catherine.

8. Tell me your top 3 likes and dislikes about Jamaica?

 Likes about Jamaica:

  1. Nature
  2. Music
  3. Food

Dislikes about Jamaica:

  1. 1. Resources taken for granted
  2. 2. Economy
  3. 3. Crime

9. What new company plans and visions are you working on?

Organic onion production to replace the 90 percent of onions being imported into Jamaica. Non-GMO organic corn production for local and export markets. Students growing organic food for a lunch program.

Plant Sup'n Jamaica!
Plant Sup’n Jamaica!

10. What is your personal favourite project you are working on and why?

My favourite project is the organic onion cultivation, because it is a serious Jamaican concern and will have a measurable impact on the importation of onions which is a basic staple in every kitchen.

11. Who or what, is your inspiration or role model?

A true love for Jamaica and wanting to see it recover has inspired me to start this organisation.

12. Where can we buy your products in Jamaica and overseas?

Our products will be available under the Farm Up Jamaica label in your local supermarkets in Jamaica. Overseas supermarkets will also have our products where other Jamaican food products are sold.

13. How do you love to spend your free time in Jamaica?

I spend my free time enjoying nature in Jamaica and visiting places that I’ve never been to.

14. If you could be Prime Minister of Jamaica for a day, what would you do?

If I were Prime Minister for a day I would write a policy to effectively address and reduce crime. This would help to motivate lots of returning residents and tourists and create more income for the Jamaican economy!

15. Which Jamaican, dead or alive, do you feel made the biggest contribution to Jamaica and why?

I believe that Marcus Garvey made the biggest contribution to Jamaica. He believed that anything is possible and proved it. Many Jamaicans wait to travel to other countries to evolve into greatness. I believe we need to evolve at home and make Jamaica a greater country!

16. If you could impart one piece of advice to inspire young Jamaicans to start their own businesses or succeed in their chosen career, what would it be?

 My advice to young Jamaican’s is to firstly learn money management skills and then start their own businesses and grow their companies to become internationally recognised.

17. If you could change jobs, what would you do?

If I could change jobs, I wouldn’t! I love what I do…

18. Apart from your own company, what is your favourite Jamaican company and why?

My favourite company is Grace. I love the way they have been able to show how a Jamaican company can diversify and grow to become an international brand!

19. What do you believe contributes most to your company’s on-going success?

What contributes to my organizations on-going success is being able to teach people that the glass is half full and not half empty. Bringing inspiration to farmers that thought their lives were over and converting them into patriotic food security soldiers keeps Farm Up Jamaica alive.

20. What do you feel your company has to offer the international and home markets, over and above your competitors?

Our company offers a unique product which is organic Jamaican food. It’s what sets us apart.

21. How do you believe as a nation we can help to build Jamaica?

We can help build Jamaica by becoming a part of the solution. Agriculture only represents 6% of the Jamaican GDP. If the whole country would focus on increasing this number we can build a self-sufficient Jamaica. “Plant Sup’n”.

All Organic
All Organic

 22. What are your aspirations for Jamaica?

My aspirations for Jamaica is to see the country live up to its popularity, by not only becoming a great place to visit, but a great place to do business.

23. How can people contribute or get involved with Farm Up Jamaica?

People can contribute funds, time, equipment, training, materials, etc.

Farmers can get involved by calling us at: (USA) 516-376-1626 or (JAMAICA) 876-592-5992.

Check out our website: WWW.FARMUPJAMAICA.ORG

We can also be reached by email at: INFO@FARMUPJAMAICA.ORG

Volunteers can email: VOLUNTEERS@FARMUPJAMAICA.ORG

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Grow What You Eat – Jamaica Part 3

Cucumber Seedling

Container Gardening in Tropical Climates

The idea for my Container Garden came after a combination of missing the pleasure of growing pesticide free foodstuffs and the desire to put some life into my dreary front veranda. As I live in a rented apartment I need to be aware of not changing anything, plus there is little outside space that I can claim so a Container Garden is ideal. Not only are they non-permanent, you can take all the containers, plants and soil with you when you move so it also saves money, time and effort too! It is easy to manage and keep an eye on a container garden and if something doesn’t work out they are inexpensive to replant with something else. As this is my first time container gardening in the tropical climate of Jamaica, it is going to be trial and error with what will work out. But I am encouraged by the results so far as seedlings start sprouting, this is a record of the growth as of 20th March 2014.

My Cucumber, Garden Peas and French (String) Bean Seedlings

The large planter that was sown on the 3rd of March has a selection of seedlings growing, all of which are coming along so well that I am wondering whether there will be enough room.  Although, I had planned to take out the Tomato and potentially the Cucumber when they had put on a few leaves, in order to give the beans and peas more room. The Tomato is growing at a much slower rate than the Peas and Beans and even the Cucumber is bigger, so the Tomato seedlings look too straggly to be moved at the moment. I am hoping that the Peas and Beans can be encouraged to grow up in vines, as they are ‘bush’ varieties and not supposed to get too big.

Making a Recycled Growing Frame

As there is a multitude of creeping vegetables in the large trough planter I have constructed a frame for the vines to grow along. I found three pieces of metal bar with pre-drilled holes along the length that  were unwanted, so I tethered them together in the corners and tied the whole contraption to the trough planter for sturdiness. Using the holes as eyelets I threaded a metal cord vertically across the bars until I had reached the top. I am not sure that it will be large enough to support all the Garden Peas and French (String) Beans in the trough, but I will extend it if need be.

Recycled Growing Frame
Recycled Growing Frame

My Beetroot Seedlings

The recycled 15 litre oil bottle that was planted up with Beetroot on the 11th March, has also seen growth and the seedlings are coming up in neat rows. I have sprinkled some egg-shell among the seedlings to help keep down the slugs and snails and I keep a keen eye on how much water they are getting. The container seems to be working well so far and is easy to slide around the tiny grass patch for the best spot to get rain, shade and sun.

Beetroot 20 MAR 2014
Beetroot 20 MAR 2014

My Lettuce Seedlings

Of the two types of lettuce that I planted up in recycled soda bottles the Oak Leaf seedlings are the biggest, although the Iceberg is making an appearance. There was a torrential rain storm which all but flooded out some of my collection of containers and I was wondering whether they would still germinate, luckily the lettuce wasn’t totally washed away!

My Okra Seedlings

I am really pleased that several of my Okra seeds have germinated in the 10″ pot. I have tried to grow Okra in the greenhouse at my allotment in the UK, but it was never successful. Although they would grow a few leaves and a tiny Okra would appear, the seedling would always die as it never gets enough heat and sunlight. I have high hopes for these seedlings in the tropical heat of Jamaica and hope I will get some proper growth off of them.

Okra 20 MAR 2014
Okra 20 MAR 2014

My Pepper Seedlings

Mmm, this is a bit awkward…. there aren’t any! They also got flooded out in the rain storm, along with the Tomato seeds in the small soda bottles and I am afraid they haven’t sprouted at all. I am disappointed that they haven’t grown, as I love growing peppers and especially hot peppers which bear quickly and ferociously and serve you with plenty of fresh pickings. But it is not to be. The egg boxes got totally waterlogged and then got really dry, it was hard to find a happy medium. The seeds had been taken from peppers that may have been refrigerated at sometime too and this is also not conducive to sprouting seeds.

My Tomato Seedling

My one little Tomato seedling that had hatched randomly in a flower pot has been doing well in its new home. The recycled soda bottle has much softer earth which is a combination of Organic potting soils and after a few days of stabilising its root system, it looks stronger and is standing upright. I am careful not to put it in too much direct sunlight and I make sure it gets just enough water to keep it happy. As I am aware of the damage a sudden rain-pour can cause to small seedlings, I keep it under the shelter of the roof overhang or nestled underneath a larger plant.

Tomato Seedling 20 MAR 2014
Tomato Seedling 20 MAR 2014

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Keeping the ‘Green’ in Jamaica

Mini Food Forest

When I was living in the UK, I had the pleasure of working my allotment for three years which included open land, raised beds and a small greenhouse. I won’t say it wasn’t without its trials and tribulations, but the experience was unforgettable. To be working the land, watching as Mother Nature did her thing producing food, with a little care and attention from me was so fulfilling. I ate and shared organically produced vegetables and fruit, and still had plenty to spare.

In the UK we are going full circle and there is a shift towards how we lived years ago when we practised the mantra of ‘Grow What we Eat and Eat What we Grow’. It’s now high fashion to recycle, pursue crafts, Make Do and Mend, keep chickens for eggs and tend vegetable patches, or allotments.  These are all in high demand even in London, where the produce is something to share and warmly boast over with friends. Ironically, I feel that this way of living is the way forward, although it is in fact the way back. Once declining methods, that have been practised for generations and only kept alive in small ‘cottage’ industries, are having their embers stoked to become flourishing with activity again. I believe that it would be beneficial to Jamaican’s, if this way of living was more understood and accepted in Jamaica too.

Grow What You Eat Jamaica

Spending time in Jamaica over the last 7 years I have noticed that very few people have their own vegetable patch, although a fruit tree or two is often present in the yard. This has always occurred to me as something that is strange, as there is so much space, fertile land and more importantly hungry bellies to fill. Even the smallest amount of space can produce a valuable source of organically grown food right on your doorstep, and if done in the right way, there is minimal financial outlay involved. The crops can be planted in containers or raised beds, so that they can harvested as needed and this food source will supplement the diet and the cooking pot.

I appreciate that there is a wealth of information in the UK that directly relates to the merits of recycling, being sustainable, using alternative farming practises and the health benefits associated with ‘going organic’, but that isn’t necessarily widely available in Jamaica. Which is probably why many of these industries are in a developmental stage at the moment and some people burn or throw away plastic and other trash and heavily use chemicals in the production of their crops. In a country where rubbish collection isn’t available island-wide and the marketing of fertilisers and chemicals for the production of food crops is a financial empire, it will take a lot of public awareness campaigns to change this long-held way of thinking in Jamaican lifestyles and farming.

With all these factors in mind I have long been telling friends in the country who farmed about the benefits of farming in a sustainable and organic way, without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. Instead using water harvesting techniques, composting and crop rotation as a way to produce bumper crops, inhibit bugs and disease and even create energy. I feel it is the only feasible way forward in the future with the state of the Environment and we all should be pushing the idea to others if we have knowledge to share.

Often when I am researching I find that one discovery leads to another and I have found that there are many other concepts and techniques within these genres that are interesting and I feel they could play a part in the recovery of Jamaica. Sustainability, Recycling, Climate Change, Organic Farming and Environmental awareness is the theme and I will be going on a journey of discovery and invite you to come with me…

Jamaica’s Green Industries

First stop Jamaica! I am really pleased to find  a burgeoning ‘Green’ industry growing in Jamaica covering many genres. With this in mind in future posts I will be introducing some of the companies and people involved in these industries, alongside some of the creative ideas and concepts I have come across that could be used in Jamaica. Everything is with the aim of keeping Jamaica beautiful, whilst using its natural resources wisely, recycling, living and building sustainably and producing organic non-genetically modified (GM) food.

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Eat What You Grow – Jamaica Part 2

Small Tropical Garden

After sharing my Container Garden this week where I have planted things I love to eat, this post will introduce you to the rest of the edible plants and trees that I am growing on my veranda. As I mentioned before I long to have a piece of land that I can plant up with raised beds and fruit trees using Permaculture techniques. This will keep me well stocked up in organically grown produce. With this plan of having a Food Forest I planted up some fruit tree seeds, as well as some young suckers that I have been gifted from here and there. I figured that as they take years to reach maturity I could grow them in pots until I am ready to plant them out when I move.

Why not give it a try yourself? A container garden is easy to manage and is fun to look after as well as a readily available source of healthy food. Grow What You Eat, Eat What You Grow… It’s simple really!

My Avocado Pear Tree

I am especially proud of this Pear, or Avocado Pear sapling, as I have grown it from seed. After enjoying an especially tasty Pear I decided to try my luck and dropped the seed into the bottom of an old 2.5 litre bucket with some common dirt inside. A couple of rescued Almond suckers had recently been put in the bucket too and were trying to put on roots. After almost forgetting about the Pear seed, I noticed a thick dark brown shoot pushing through the dirt, with two tiny leaves. It got to be about 6″ high and the leaves were getting much larger in size and the shoot was as thick as my smallest finger.  Under the shade of the Almond suckers this little shoot grew really tall, really fast. It formed about 6 large leaves and the top had reached right under the tallest Almond sucker, and was so tall the leaves were permanently held downwards.

I decided to re-pot it and hoping for the best I carefully turned the bucket with the three saplings upside down, whilst supporting the stems. I prised the tough dirt apart with a little water and slowly released the roots of each sapling. A plastic 10″ pot was the Pear’s new home and after a day the beautiful large leaves were raised skywards and it continued to thrive putting on new leaves. I decided to pinch out the new leaves that were forming in the middle after it had settled down in the pot in the hope it would make it more bushy and control the height. I check the Pear every day and make sure there are no bugs lurking around that can eat it, as I don’t intend to use chemicals in the growth. I noticed some of the leaves were turning brown, but after researching online I discovered that this was most likely caused to the soil being too wet, so I have laid off the watering! I Love it!

Pear (Avocado) Planted Oct 2013
Pear (Avocado) Planted Oct 2013

My Stringy Mango

There are many types of Mango in Jamaica and everyone has their favourite variety. If I am honest my favourite Mango that I have tasted is the East Indian Mango, which is a large Mango with succulent sweet flesh and a tempting aroma. However, I have not been lucky enough to grow or acquire one yet, but I have three little Stringy Mango suckers. Stringy Mangoes are sometimes overlooked as their stringy flesh has a tendency to get stuck between the teeth when eating it. But, the flesh is still delicious and sweet and although they produce a small stringy fruit, you will still be prising the last of it from the seed and flossing afterwards.

These suckers took a few weeks to settle down as the roots were really small when I got them and they started off in common dirt in a recycled bucket. After about 2 months,  one of them still looks a bit poorly but the other two are now  putting on new leaves, I plan to plant them out in 10″ pots with some compost when I spurge again at the farm store.

Stringy Mango Suckers
Stringy Mango Suckers

My Baby Guinep Trees

To be honest I didn’t realise these were Guinep when I got them, as they were growing in sand on the beach. I just thought the leaves looked pretty and they would make a nice addition to my container garden. It has now been verified by a few Jamaican’s living nearby that they are indeed Guinep and I feel a little guilty for planting them up in soda bottles where they cannot properly spread their roots. They are doing much better now that I mixed in a little compost with the common dirt and they are putting on new leaves too. These are also on my wish list for bigger pots, although I have a feeling that the Tomato and Cucumber seedlings might get there first! Guinep is a delicious fruit, and forms like a Lychee, although the fruit is a beautiful orangey colour and tastes and looks much better. Yum!

Guinep Seedlings
Guinep Seedlings

Mint

I am not sure of the variety, but when seeped the leaves make an excellent Mint tea to clear the chest, cleanse the palate and settle the stomach. This little Mint cutting was made up of a small wisened root-stock with two woody wispy strands that were about 2  foot long. To make it more bushy I set about cutting back the strands to just above the lowest budding leaves, so that they formed two upright sticks for the new shoots to wrap around. This has made the whole plant form new stems and leaves that are fresh and not so woody. I am looking forward to it spreading so that I can harvest it, although again I think a bitter pot with better soil is on order.

Mint Bush
Mint Bush

Thyme

If there was ever a herb that was used in Jamaica, it would have to be Thyme. Used daily in nearly every recipe I can think of this herb is synonymous with Jamaican cuisine and is a must have in my kitchen too. As I didn’t want to wait for it to grow from seed, I just bought a large bundle of thyme in the market and made sure that it had a good root-stock attached to it. Bringing it home I planted it up straight away into a 10″ pot with some dead leaves in the bottom and potting compost on top, before liberally watering it. I will keep an eye on it for the next few days to check the soil is not too wet or dry to make sure the roots take sufficiently for it to prosper. Do not try and plant Thyme that has been in the fridge as this will impede the growth.

Thyme Grow from Cuttings
Thyme Grow from Cuttings

Tomato

I found this little Tomato seedling growing randomly in one of the flower pots. We have been known to put seeds in the tops of  the flower pots to see what hatches as I guess this was one of them! As it was growing right at the side of the pot in tough common dirt I decided to carefully prise it out and re-pot in a recycled soda bottle with some potting compost. It looks much better now, but it is early days and I had to rescue it the other night in a downpour as I didn’t want it to get flooded out or damaged by the heavy rainfall.

Re-Potted Tomato Seedling
Re-Potted Tomato Seedling

Basil

This recycled tin had holes punched around the bottom and was filled with potting soil before having Basil seeds scattered all over it. Two weeks later the little seedlings are growing and steadily filling the surface of the tin. There has been a few near mishaps with this Basil and I am pleased to see with some love and attention it is pulling through. Ants tried to take over the tin and I had to flood them (and nearly the Basil) out and a few times I have to run outside and move it under cover when there has been heavy rainfall in the evening. Basil is used in a lot of Italian cooking and I love eating it with cheese and crackers, pear (avocado) Tomato and a splash of Olive Oil, in salads, with pizza and cheese on toast, with pasta dishes. I am hoping to make some pesto sauce when I have a good stock and can find a local alternative to Pine Nuts. Delicious.

Basil grown from seeds
Basil grown from seeds

 

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Get In Touch!

What fruit trees are you growing, or what else are you planting in Containers? Can you give me any other ideas of what to plant, or other ways of using the produce?  Get in touch and share you experiences, we would love to hear from you!