FOR residents of Ramble and Llandewey in St Thomas, where ackee grows in abundance even in uninhabited areas, the fruit is more than just one of the main ingredients in Jamaica's national dish. It is a source of income.
During certain times of the year, buyers drive through the communities to purchase the fruit by the hundreds of dozens for resale at a processing factory in the parish. At almost every gate, residents can be seen with bags, buckets and boxes of ackee, awaiting the arrival of the purchasers.
Vivia Wilson of Ramble said ackee vending is one of the most popular forms of livelihood for the community where the majority of the residents are either farmers or are unemployed.
"We sell the ackee to the people who come 'round and buy it fi $60 a dozen and we nuh know how much dem sell it back to the factory for," she told the Jamaica Observer North East as she and her five-year-old son Joseph Maxwell waited at the front of their yard for the truck to arrive.
She explained that residents often look forward to the time of the year when ackee is in season as that is the only time they can be sure of making money on a daily basis. Some persons are more lucky than others however, and are blessed with ackee trees that bear throughout the year.
The name ackee was derived from the West African Akye fufo. It is the national fruit of Jamaica and is paired with saltfish in the national dish. It is borne in clusters on evergreen trees which were introduced from West Africa during the 18th century. The plant was named blighia sapida in honour of Captain William Bligh.
Ackee is found across the island but is more abundant in some parishes other than others. The two major bearing seasons are from January to March and from June to August, at which time the fruit turns red upon reaching maturity and splits open with exposure to the sun. It is at this time that the ackees are harvested and the edible portion removed and cleaned in preparation for cooking. The fruit is also canned and exported to ethnic markets world-wide.
According to Wilson, this income helps the community as persons who are unemployed rely on proceeds of the sale to feed their family for that day or to send their children to school. She said a truck, a van and a car go through the community every day and there is always enough ackee for them to buy.
"It really help us out because we can always meck a money regardless of how small," she said.
In nearby Llandewey, several residents observed as the purchasers counted the fruits and recorded the amount bought from each individual. The men and women were extremely pleased with the sale and pocketed the money which the purchasers paid out on the spot.
The purchaser told the Observer North East that he has a market for any amount of ackees the residents can reap.
"Me nah tell nuh lie still, but it really bear good this year," said Clevious Wilson, explaining that this year's crop has been one of the best in a long time.
According to Roy Parker, the main crop seasons are the best time for the community.
"It really help wi out good because most time we nuh have no other way of getting a money," he said.
Resident Robert Anderson agreed that were it not for the ackee many persons would be forced to go hungry.
"Now we just put it out ah we gate and di truck come buy it," he said.
He added: "But when the price is good we tek it to Kingston to sell wiself and we usually get more fi it dat time."
Llandewey resident Daphne Davis explained that while the majority of the trees grew without being cultivated, some were planted and took up to three years to reach maturity.
The natural oil of the ackee contains many important nutrients especially linoleic, palmitic and stearic acids.