The ‘Bess’ Farm Dinner

The ‘Bess’ Farm Dinner

Thursday, June 17, 2010

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The invitation arrived via Paperless Post. The Pedro Plains Region, Island Outpost and Jake's were set to host a dinner in the fields of Dool McClean's farm somewhere along Red Dirt Road in St Elizabeth. With such a vague address, who knew what to expect? After all, aren't most roads in St. Elizabeth lined with red dirt?

And so began the journey from Kingston to Jamaica's first farm-to-table dinner. When we arrived it was apparent that this was not going to be the run-of-the-mill country cook-out with a pig roasting on a spit and copious amounts of curried goat (not that anything is wrong with that).

No, this dinner was more on the lines of rural gourmet prepared with organic produce from the region, and featured dishes such as local goat cheese and fruit jam crostini, St Elizabeth ital soup, free-range chicken with Dool's dill sauce, curried callaloo and raisins, penne tossed with a lime basil pesto and Miss Sheila's fully loaded carrot cake (which is arguably the best carrot cake South of Spur Tree Hill). And with any great feast, serving the right wine is critical, so Paul and Cynthia Hanworth of 1876 Wines were called in to do what they do best: pair suitable wines to accompany the four-course meal.

The organiser of the dinner, Liz Solms, is a sustainable agriculture advocate and consultant who also holds a degree in culinary education. Since beginning her work on several farms throughout the island in 2005, it was always a dream to pair her expertise in a way that she could share with like-minded foodies and believers in what she calls "food justice".

Thursday Life sat down with Solms last Friday night in an open field, under an East Indian mango tree to find out the real meaning of the term 'organic' and more about the burgeoning industry here in Jamaica.

What was the inspiration behind the farm dinner?

I wanted to celebrate the beauty of the Pedro Plains region and the culinary bounty that exists here, but is under-represented. I wanted to create a really unique event similar to ones I have attended in Europe and the United States that revere farmers through the culinary arts. This is something we don't do here in Jamaica regularly, and it is time to offer people an experience to dine in the field, right at the source.

Tell Thursday Food readers a bit about your work in the Pedro Plains region and around Jamaica.

The Pedro Plains region produces nearly 80 per cent of our food here, but has little recognition, and even less as far as sustainable practices go. For the past five years, I have worked with many farmers, and formally about five farms. My efforts range from teaching sustainable, organic practices to helping small subsistence farms get a viable market. My background is in all aspects of 'food justice' -- trying to assist farmers from being squeezed out by big businesses while emphasising the culinary qualities of good, clean food.

What does the term 'organic' mean?

Organic food is grown in harmony with nature without synthetic or chemical inputs such as sprays and fertilisers. A crop can be assured to be organic if it is certified. Here in Jamaica, with little assistance in accreditation, you must start to understand organic by knowing your farm and your farmer in order to be sure.

What is free-range chicken?

Free-range chicken is a chicken that is allowed to eat and roam in its natural habitat. You know that chicken is free-range by seeing the farm production first-hand; this is an effort I continuously make.

We are here on Dool McClean's farm - what does he grow and where does he sell his crops?

Mr Dool's farm is 40 years old. He grows St Elizabeth staples such as carrots and escallion. Everything he grows is organic and he has now expanded his crop with basil, arugula, tomato, sweet pepper, callaloo, and lettuce. He sells to Jake's and local Treasure Beach residents.

Are more people in Jamaica catching on to the notion of buying and eating organic?

The organic movement here has risen from nothing to something in the past 10 years. There are still far too many roadblocks preventing real progress, but each small movement towards change makes a huge difference. We are a developing nation with our eyes on much- needed cash; this hurts the long-term strategy of organic farming, but a few farmers see the vision and embrace it, without chemicals.

--Kaili McDonnough Scott


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