The George William Gordon Organic Research Station
The George William Gordon Organic Farm Land Trust resides on what is currently called the Green Castle Estate located in the eastern region of St. Thomas, Jamaica. These lands were once owned by The Right Excellent George William Gordon, one of Jamaica’s national heroes. He was an ardent advocate for land rights for people after the abolishment of slavery. During his lifetime he subdivided his own lands, selling farm lots to the people as cheaply as possible, and he organized a marketing system through which they could sell their produce at fair prices.
The GWG Organic Farm Land Trust seeks to continue the legacy by advocating for small farmers, growing organic foods and creating a fair marketing system that supports the small farmers and producers.
Currently, the 370 acres Green Castle Estate is in the final stage of being purchased by a generous donor. The sale will be completed June 2018.
The people of Jamaica and the greater Caribbean region have long been buffeted by man-made and natural disasters that have left them in a state of economic, social, and environmental crisis. Each country has its own story, but their histories follow a pattern of boom and bust cycles tied to global commodities and international banking agreements that lock them into poorly planned and unsustainable agricultural practices, global pricing, market competition, and uneconomic local market supply chains. Jamaica is a classic example of this pattern and her people are vulnerable due to national dependency on unaffordable, less healthy, imported foods. There is a large percentage of farmers who have lost the skill sets needed to produce certain crops without expensive chemical inputs.
The Parish of St. Thomas and the other eastern parish of Portland have systemically been the most forgotten and underdeveloped parishes in Jamaica for over a century. St. Thomas is a farming parish however, since the liberalization of the banana industry by the European Union and NAFTA; all the banana plantations have closed leaving few agricultural avenues for profitable employment in the parish. Sugar is on the same trajectory. Many of the people of St. Thomas still rely on small cash crops and seasonal tree crop production for their livelihood, but are only marginally compensated for their crops, with most of the profits going to middlemen and retailers in Kingston and local markets.
These challenges are magnified by the rising cost, economically and environmentally, of conventional agricultural inputs, the environmental damage caused by poor farming practices on hillsides, and agricultural trade policies that are unfavorable to small farmers. There are two primary ways to solve these problems:
Focus on local sustainable production to increase food security
Develop high value internal and export markets to increase agricultural profitability.
Permaculture and organic farming (POF) systems provide solid foundations for these solutions. Permaculture provides a sustainable land and farm ecosystem design which is focused on biological models. Organic agriculture practices and high value markets provide economic, social, and environmental benefits.
The Jamaican Agriculture industry is faced with the challenge and opportunity arising from a growing demand for organic, healthy produce. Currently a limited number of farmers are growing organically. While the demand for organic crops has expanded rapidly over the past 20 years in developed nations, Jamaica is just beginning to see significant on-island demand. There is a long history of support for clean food and organic agriculture in Jamaica and farmers are thirsty for new, effective methods of improving production and distribution. Marketing structures are in their infancy and require direct assistance to support their success.
The Source Farm Foundation (SFF) has been working for the past two years to provide training in Permaculture, organic farming, farm economics, and market development for young and beginning farmers as well as existing producers. Twenty individuals have completed the first round of trainings (One One Coco program) and have begun working together to fill the gap in organic production. Jamaica’s first “Organic” market, Ujima Natural Farmers Market was launched by SFF in January 2014 in New Kingston to provide an economic outlet for these early producers. This market has grown rapidly and will soon be operating every Saturday. Other mid-week markets are in the early stages of development. High end hotels, resorts, and restaurants have indicated that their customers are asking for organic products. Demand is exceeding supply. SFF has also developed strong links with the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAM), the Ministry of Agriculture, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, Bureau of Standards, the National Certification Body of Jamaica, University of the West Indies, College of Agriculture and Science, St. Thomas Technical School, and practicing small organic farmers around the parish and country.
The Jamaican Sustainable Farm Enterprise Project (JSFEP) was launched in October 2014 to build on this foundation by linking Southeastern U.S. organic farmers and permaculturists with their Jamaican counterparts. The intention is to use the experiences of a successful model to enhance the development and adoption of Permaculture and organic farming systems and the business models that are necessary for small Jamaican farmers to succeed financially, socially, and environmentally. The project is developing market driven organic production, certification, and distribution systems for agricultural products that will sustainably reduce food insecurity and poverty and open up access to new high value markets. The program will place 70 volunteer technical support experts over 3.5 years to provide training to a projected 2,500 individuals in total. Key Performance Indicators for program impacts and outcomes include:
Increase the Value of Annual Gross Sales (Revenue) to 1.3 million USD.
Increase farmer Annual Net Income to 1 million USD.
Establish or improve six host business plans or organization policies and procedures.
Provide training and technical assistance to enable 18 hosts to cultivate using Certifiable Organic Methods
Train 150 new start-up or existing farmers cultivating .4 to 1 hector organic production.
Establish a sustainable, affordable distribution network for organic produce
Establish 550 hectares under improved production technology
Bring 150 new or existing farmers to the point of selling organic products at market.
The program is supported through a $700,000 grant provided by the U. S. Agency of International Development (USAID) John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program and is administered by Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA). Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas (FAVACA) manages the JSFEP project, www.favaca.org. The Source Farm Foundation (SFF) manages the project in Jamaica and is a non- profit community economic development incubator that seeks to build collaborative partnerships to develop innovative and sustainable solutions for the parish of St. Thomas and beyond, www.thesourcefarm.com. Jimmy Buffett’s Singing for Change Foundation has provided funding to support activities of the project that can’t be funded by the USAID funds. A micro-loan program has been established to help the farmers purchase the equipment and seeds they need for their organic operations.
The George William Gordon Organic Farm Land Trust
A planning team made up of JSFEP staff is developing a proposal for the organic research station and agricultural business incubator. An agricultural business incubator is a site that provides entrepreneurs with the technical and marketing support, land and equipment they need to establish an agricultural business. The best example in the US is located outside Burlington, VT and is called Intervale Center, www.intervale.org. The Green Castle property is located near many of the producers that SFF and JSFEP are working with in the PGR Agropark, Springbank, Johnson Mountain and Rowlandfield area. It could provide a solid home for many of the activities of the project including:
Offices for the Jamaican Organic Growers Group (JOGG) and an aggregation point for the organic produce being produced at the PGR Agropark and other producers in the area
A distribution business
An organic research and demonstration site
A processing facility for value added products
Long-term secure land tenure for farmers in the area
In conjunction with providing a solid home for JOGG and the farmers, the property could support the development of several organic enterprises including:
Organic equipment and supply
EM & Boshiki Manufacturing Facility
Mushroom Spawn Laboratory
Biological Research Center
Organic Seedling Nursery
Organic coconut water
Organic tropical fruits, juices, and leathers
Organic sugar cane products
Organic winter nurseries for seed breeding programs in the northern US
Organic Farm Business
The land has been free of prohibited substances for at least three years, which means that it qualifies for certified organic status. High quality water is provided by two springs. The two existing structures could be upgraded to house offices for the produce distribution and certification system as well as the initial equipment and supply business.
The planning team is currently comprised of four individuals. JSFEP Country Director Nicola Shirley-Phillips brings the community development and social entrepreneurship skills to insure healthy and transparent relationships with the Pear Tree River community. JSFEP Agronomist Nkrumah Green has the tropical agricultural experience needed to provide the growers with guidance on production issues and also farms property in the community. JSFEP coordinators Nicola Shirley-Phillips, Nkrumah Green and a host of international volunteer and experts will be participating in the development of the project.