Former sugar workers seize opportunity to prove themselves as independent farmers | Main stories

Some former St Thomas sugar workers who lost their jobs when the Golden Grove Sugar Factory closed see the move as a blessing in disguise.

Some growers have established their own farms on sugar land that has been reallocated to production under lease, seizing the opportunity for financial independence.

The head of the Golden Grove Farmers’ Cooperative, Nigel Levy, said land was officially granted to them by SCJ Holdings Limited a few months ago.

He said the gleaner that the determined men and women who had initially occupied small plots informally were fighting on two fronts: obtaining the necessary certification to plant and relocating the cow ranchers who had obtained 500 acres.

“We had gotten permission to use the area but we were always on the edge because we didn’t know how soon we would be told to move out and we weren’t comfortable with the cows are so close to the river we use for domestic purposes, but thanks to SCJ, the public defender, and Dr. Trevor Munroe, who all played a part in granting us our hearts’ desires,” Levy said, adding that cow herders have been relocated and official access has been granted to the Plantain Garden River Cooperative to plant simultaneously.

Recalling the panic associated with the factory closing in 2019, sugar worker-turned-independent farmer Raymond Miller said he remembered pleading with the owners to reconsider their decision to close shop.

“We had nowhere to go. There was a lot of uncertainty and confusion, we didn’t know what was coming next. Then we started farming on the bank just enough to support our families,” Miller said in a Gleaner maintenance.

“We planted plantains and sold to merchants, but we never got into such large-scale farming where we owned acres of land like we do now.”

Miller, who now occupies nearly five acres, expressed his gratitude for what he called “a chance to prove himself to the rest of the country.”

The farmers, who now grow cassava for markets such as Red Stripe and Rainforest Seafoods, also supply large quantities of Irish potatoes, pumpkins, melons and peppers to other local buyers.

Boasting the freedom of self-employment, Miller said the closure of the sugar factory may have been one of the best things to happen to him and his fellow farmers.

“Seeing and spending your own money is a nice feeling. St Thomas is also benefiting as well, especially from the production dynamics underway at the moment. People who are willing to cultivate have a chance to participate,” Miller said.

“…As long as you can get land, borrow money from the bank to invest in your farm, then you will be successful.”

The land is now occupied by around 90 farmers, 68% of whom are over 50 years old. Many of them have never been able to work for themselves.

Describing the opportunity as a golden opportunity, Carlton Knight, who now occupies four acres of land, encourages farmers who are still holding back to take full advantage of it.

“I feel good, and although some farmers are still in doubt, I know this is a great opportunity. I’ve waited for this for a long time and it’s part of my dream – to work for myself on such a large scale – and now I’m able to live that dream,” he said.

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Rachel J. Bradford