Strawberries Bring Sweet Rewards for Rural St. Andrew Farmers

Photo: Donald De La Haye Member of Parliament, East Rural St. Andrew, the Most Hon. Juliet Holness (2nd right) samples strawberries grown in the constituency under the AgriHope initiative. Farmers sharing in the moment (from (left) are Fitzroy Mais, Christopher Schroeter, and Anipe Cripps. AgriHope was conceptualised by Mrs. Holness and seeks to advance agricultural production in the constituency through promoting the cultivation of high-value fruits and vegetables.

Story Highlights

  • Strawberries anyone? The bright red, delicious and nutritious fruit, which is largely imported into the island, is being successfully planted by farmers in East Rural St. Andrew.
  • Ten farmers are engaged in cultivation of the crop under an AgriHope programme conceptulised by Member of Parliament for the area, the Most Hon. Juliet Holness.

Strawberries anyone?

The bright red, delicious and nutritious fruit, which is largely imported into the island, is being successfully planted by farmers in East Rural St. Andrew.

The berries grown locally are said to be sweeter than the imported produce, and are in high demand by consumers.

Ten farmers are engaged in cultivation of the crop under an AgriHope programme conceptulised by Member of Parliament for the area, the Most Hon. Juliet Holness.

Among them is 34-year-old Fitzroy Mais of Content Gap, who tells JIS News that farming was something he dabbled in as a youngster.

“I used to plant coffee with my dad; corn when I was younger for myself and it did very well. Going to all-age school, I use to do farming and it did very well,” he says.

He says that after “diverting over into cars” he re-entered the farming sector approximately five years ago.

“I started out planting broccoli, and then the person I was supplying the broccoli to introduced (me to the idea of planting) strawberries, and me seh to myself, ‘weh mi a go get the strawberry sucker from. Mi nuh know nothing ‘bout strawberry, but God send somebody out of nowhere with strawberry,” he tells JIS News.

That person was Mrs. Holness, who was looking to engage farmers to cultivate the fruit that was once thought could not be grown successfully in Jamaica due to the warm weather.

The $5.9-million AgriHope initiative seeks to advance agricultural production in East Rural St. Andrew by promoting the cultivation of high-value fruits and vegetables. The initiative is supported by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).

Mr. Mais, who copped the Organic Farmer of the Year award during the 65th staging of the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show in August, tells JIS News that he is pleased with the feedback from customers.

He says the quality of the locally grown strawberries is far better than the imported variety, and they are also much sweeter.

“I learnt the secrets and initiated my own formula and got them going well, and persons keep on showing a lot of interest in the strawberries,” he notes.

Mr. Mais says he will continue producing strawberries, while doing his part to reduce the country’s food-import bill and satisfy the needs of consumers.

Another farmer who is benefiting from the initiative is 22-year-old Anipe Cripps from Mount Lebanon.

He says he is thankful to Mrs. Holness for implementing sustainable initiatives such as AgriHope that will benefit farmers over a continuous period.

Apart from the strawberry, Mr. Cripps also plants plantain, banana, and carrot. He is looking to cultivate other crops such as grapes and pineapples.

He says the decision to venture into farming was made after consultations with older persons in the profession. “I have received a lot of advice from older farmers, who say it is a great career and there are many benefits from farming,” he notes.

Mr. Cripps is encouraging more young people to take up the profession as their number-one source of income. He notes that while there are challenges, they will ultimately feel a sense of accomplishment to know that they are producing fruits and vegetables to feed Jamaicans.

Both farmers recently benefited from the inaugural staging of the East Rural Pop-Up market, which was sold out within minutes of being advertised on social media.

“The pop-up market is an excellent idea, because persons can get the local produce they need. In the split of a second you can sell 50lb of strawberries, because persons will come and buy five or six pounds just like that,” Mr. Mais points out.

Explaining the rationale behind the concept of the pop-up market, Mrs. Holness says it provides an avenue for farmers to sell their produce grown mainly through AgriHope.

She says special focus was placed on strawberry during the inaugural staging of the market because of the success the farmers had in cultivating the fruit.

She adds that the market was also used as a means to let people know that the high-value crop is being grown in Jamaica, as most of the strawberry consumed locally is imported into the island.
Mrs. Holness notes that there is huge demand for the crop locally.

“We are not even able to scratch the volume of strawberries that the hotels need on a daily basis. Right now, they are only able to do strawberries one day out of the week and they would love to be able to make that seven days per week, so there is a big market for strawberries,” she says.

Mrs. Holness informs that while only 10 persons were selected in the first phase of the project, more farmers will be brought on board as soon as the suckers begin to multiply.

“For the strawberries, we imported the suckers out of Florida – the festival variety. From each box, we got approximately 1,500 suckers. The idea behind it is when you plant those 1,500 suckers, in approximately four months, you should see it start to sucker again. So by the end of six months, the idea is you should have doubled the amount of plants that you have in the ground.

“Now, if you got 2,000 plants and you are somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000, depending on how you manage (it), the idea is that you would now pay back. You would give back 1,000 of your suckers to another farmer so that the programme can keep rotating. Therefore, everyone who has an interest in strawberry (cultivation), would be able to get the suckers,” she explains.

Mrs. Holness notes that the farmers have benefited from training sessions on the proper techniques to grow the crop, and they will continue to work closely with extension officers from the RADA.

“The extension officers go out and monitor, and we still believe there is more for us to learn in terms of the technology and the training,” she informs.

She says discussions are under way with a strawberry farmer in Florida, who has expressed an interest in assisting local farmers to maximise their output.

“We literally want to be in a place where if half a hectare in Florida is producing 1,000 pounds of strawberry, then we can do it too, and he (Florida farmer) has indicated that he would like to assist,” she tells JIS News.

“We would like to, this year, send one extension officer to Florida to that farm to spend some time going through and having detailed training as it relates to growing strawberries, so that he can now impart the knowledge to the other extension officers here in Jamaica as well as our farmers,” she adds.

She notes that apart from strawberry, other high-value crops that are being cultivated under AgriHope include celery, purple cabbage, snow pea, broccoli, kale, scallion, sugarloaf pineapple and Irish potato.

Mrs. Holness explains that the crops are selected based on research and consultation on what produce would be best suited for the climatic conditions in East Rural St. Andrew and also be profitable for farmers.

“We made sure we looked at crops that had excellent market, and so the concept was not just farming something and not being able to sell it or realising that you had a glut in the market and then nothing would come from it for the farmers,” she tells JIS News.

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