Here is the final part in our exploration of the development of agriculture in the Cayman Islands
During the 1990s, agriculture grew in leaps and bounds, kick-started by a new headquarters for the Department of Agriculture at Lower Valley, where they worked in tandem with the Agricultural Society. With such a large space now available, it was a move which allowed “all kinds of unimaginable things for the future”, Chief Agricultural and Veterinary Officer Dr Alfred Benjamin (1988 to 2007) recalled.
In 2001, Kurt Tibbets, who served as Minister for Planning, Communications and Works and as Leader of Government Business from 2000 to 2001, sent his own message on agriculture as outlined in the 35th annual Agriculture Show programme, where he stated that the visibility of the tourism and finance sectors produced a tendency to forget the key role that agriculture played in the quality of life in Cayman. Mr Tibbetts outlined plans he had at the time to explore ways to diversify and strengthen this sector of the economy, such as exploring aquaculture and fish farming.
Seven years later, Cayman’s Agricultural Society President James Sherieff wrote about some of the ways in which the industry had progressed, with the introduction of a new modern abattoir and the opening of the Market at the Grounds, “where farmers, cooks, bakers, plant propagators and artisans have the opportunity to sell their products and to get reward for their hard work,” he said.
Today’s farmers and beyond
Some of the key modern-day farmers who have made their mark on the industry include Hamlin Stephenson, whose vision to have a central location where farmers could sell their produce was the basis for the Market at the Grounds, as well as Clarence McLaughlin, a familiar face at the Camana Bay farmers market and prolific farmer. Davy Ebanks established Cayman Vertigro in 2012, while Willie Ebanks is an older generation farmer growing a multitude of fruits and vegetables in North Side. Joshua Clark and his wife Lauren owns The Farmacy also in North Side and they bring seasonal boxes of their produce directly to consumers.
But there is still the worry among Cayman’s farmers that there are not enough youngsters looking to undertake agriculture as a career. Josh and Lauren are doing their best to engage youngsters with the concept of farming.
Lauren gave some background: ‘We first opened the business on a very small scale and sold locally to friends and family as we were just growing produce in our back garden. Word began to spread and we have since evolved. Our primary focus is to make eating fruit and veggies ‘cool’ to make it the ‘norm’ and to promote a healthy lifestyle. We are trying to do this through selling our local produce and also providing interactive and outdoor learning experiences with our children’s Farm Camps.”
In a positive move, farmers are now seeing their produce sold at all three main local supermarkets, with special sections earmarked for local produce, an indication of the maturity of the industry whereby Cayman’s growers are now able to consistently meet the demands and expectations from consumers. Local restaurants, such as The Brasserie, have been embracing the ‘farm to table’ approach for a number of years now, which is another positive move for farmers and fishermen who require a regular market for their produce in order to maintain their livelihoods.
As the momentum increases for customers at a global level to question the sustainability and provenance of the food products they are buying, and to lean towards a more plant-based diet over concerns of animal welfare, the environment and health, it is hoped that Cayman’s local growers will reap further rewards for their hard-earned efforts in the years to come.