Vacation for a Cause in the Tropical Caribbean 

By Neil Curtis 

There’s an agricultural revolution happening near Jamaica’s popular beach resorts. Tourists are voluntarily working side-by-side with local young people, pioneering a paradigm shift that is creating jobs, improving crop nutrition and yields, and may forever change how the world farms. 

The two Jamaicas 

Jamaica’s white sand beaches, picturesque tropical forests and vibrant, friendly culture have long made this Caribbean island a preferred vacation getaway. But far too many Jamaicans live below the poverty line. It’s a stark difference. I live in New York but I come from a family of Jamaican farmers. I would go to Jamaica every year to work on the farm, and I saw the struggles firsthand. 

Jamaica’s farms were being underutilized. Farmers were averaging between 70 and 90 years old, and they were not preparing a new generation to take their places. With no farmer’s assistance program, the country’s agricultural business was in danger of disappearing completely. 

In 2013, I helped create Farm Up Jamaica, a U.S.-based 501c3 nonprofit. Our mission is to help reduce the importation of foreign food into Jamaica; put young people and farmers back to work, and reduce crime and poverty by creating opportunities. 

No one anticipated that Farm Up Jamaica volunteers would create critical Climate Smart agricultural techniques with global implications. We believe what we’re doing in Jamaica can be expanded worldwide, from Florida and California to Europe and beyond. 

Farm Up Jamaica’s remarkable story  

Preserving Jamaica’s pristine ecology was essential. Agriculture represents 25 to 30 percent of the climate conundrum. But we knew the biggest deterrent to transitioning to organic farming is waiting three years to farm, until the soil is free of chemicals. Working with experts from around the world, we started researching ancient Egyptian farming techniques, with the goal of farming without chemical herbicides or pesticides.  

We set up a 5-acre lab to test different crops to see which techniques were working. The crops with manure were harboring a lot more disease and pests. To get rid of the manure, we started reconstructing the soil by replacing the missing minerals and other nutrients. Now we’re farming without chemicals or manure. If you won’t eat it, we won’t use it on your food.

Farm Up Jamaica also turned our attention to the next generation of farmers: young people enrolled in agriculture school. They were loving nature but not necessarily the chemicals they were being taught to use. We began bringing them to our testing farm, and have now taught our organic, climate-smart agriculture techniques to more than 600 young people.  

Today, under the guidance of an all-female Jamaican management team, there are now more than a dozen farms using Farm Up Jamaica’s Climate Smart agriculture techniques. The organization is also partnering with one of the largest trade schools to train future farmers. We are helping reduce the importation of pineapples into Jamaica by growing and selling pineapples to hotel and tourist adventure companies. We are also intercropping with watermelon, string beans, turmeric and ginger. 

Farm Up Jamaica crops are superior to traditional organic 

In addition to reducing carbon emissions, Farm Up Jamaica’s Climate Smart agriculture techniques cut water usage by two thirds. Without manure, E.coli is less of a concern. But the other advantages took nearly everyone by surprise. Farm Up Jamaica-grown food is: 

  • Larger in size. Organic produce tends to be smaller. But our watermelons are 14 to 22 pounds. Our pineapples are up to five pounds. 
  • Growing at unheard-of rates. Instead of 60 days, our green peppers are harvested in 30 days. That doubles the yield and brings more profits into the economy.
  • Higher in nutritional value. Our produce has higher levels of vitamins than traditional organic. You get the nutrition you’re supposed to get from food.
  • Better tasting. Our pineapples and watermelon are sweeter, as Mother Nature intended them to taste.
  • Proving to be hypoallergenic. About 30 percent of the population can’t eat pineapples. But they can enjoy a Farm Up Jamaica pineapple.    

Tourists embrace the Farm Up Jamaica hands-on Adopt-A-Crop experience 

Volunteering while on vacation enables travelers to see and experience countries from a different perspective, while making a positive impact. These fun, unique experiences make lasting impressions and give participants a sense of accomplishment. 

People love Jamaica’s goodwill. They see the impoverishment and want to do something to help. Many of our farms are close to the tourist belt. So we began bringing in tourists for one day of service through our Adopt-A-Crop program. They can plant food alongside young student farmers, which helps feed local communities and reduces the carbon footprint.  It’s a beautiful countryside location with an idyllic river nearby. 

There are several ways to help move the organization closer to its goals. You can Adopt a Crop to physically or remotely plant pineapples alongside young farmers. 

About the author

Neil Curtis is Executive Director of Farm Up Jamaica. Curtis has an in-depth knowledge of climate resilience and sustainability. Under his direction, Farm Up Jamaica created a Climate Smart Agriculture model that uses ⅔ less water and can reduce greenhouse gasses up to 90% while increasing organic crop yields. Climate Smart Agriculture can be replicated worldwide. 

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