Food for Jamaica

St Mary farmers' association produces flour, porridge mix as part of food sustainability efforts

Observer staff reporter

Monday, December 10, 2018

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THE passage of Hurricane Ivan along Jamaica's south coast in September 2004 left residents in Jeffrey Town, St Mary, without food for weeks.

Ivy Gordon and the Jeffrey Town Farmers' Associations (JTFA) are ensuring that this piece of history never repeats itself.

Gordon, director of JFTA, told the Jamaica Observer North & East that the association, through its work related to climate change adaptation, has looked at food security following Ivan's passage.

“To increase our food security we were drying the starches that we grow, because in Hurricane Ivan we didn't have any food up here and we were the last people to get electricity. So those were the issues that drove the farmers' association to work on climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness.

“So, through doing that we said let us dry the starches we have so that when there is a disaster everybody will have our [products] so that we can make dumplings and puddings and porridge. So if it's that we have to live on we can live,” Gordon said.

The farmers' associations, which started in 1991, later evolved from farming and securing crops into what is now widely known as JET Town Products, which include sweet potato pudding mix, plantain, breadfruit and banana porridge mix, breadfruit pancake mix, and cassava flour. Jet Town Products began three years ago and currently employ six people at its solar-powered facility.

Production Manager Doneille Derrett explained that the concept of the products is not known to many Jamaicans because many still ignore the idea that you can just add water to a powder mix and bake a pudding or boil porridge.

“What we have done at Jet Town is to find a way to make this simple. There's no more grating, no more hard work, no more labour. It's a very simple process. For example, we dry our sweet potato which comes from our local farm grown by women in our community. After we dry it we mill it into flour and then we add our other ingredients — banana, the sugar, spices necessary, and coconut milk,” Derrett said.

The milled dry sweet potato is then added to a mixer with sugar, spices and coconut milk powder and later packaged.

“We originally started with breadfruit products — a full line of breadfruit products from the muffin mix to the banana muffin mix. However, they didn't quite hit like the sweet potato mix. When we found the sweet potato pudding mix we said okay then. When you're digging and you find oil you're excited. So that's what happened with the sweet potato pudding. So we decided to go fully in on sweet potato pudding mix and leave some of the other products in reserve. We also still do our flours. We do the breadfruit flour, banana flour, plantain flour; we've gone as far as experimenting with yam flour, pumpkin flour, Irish potato flour, and our cassava flour is in very high demand. The moment we produce it we lose it,” the production manager said, adding that the products are done to order given their shelf life of seven months.

The idea, Derrett said, is to have the products available to the market all year round because some ground produce is seasonal.

She also mentioned that Jet Town products are done to also cater to gluten-intolerant people, noting that the prices for gluten-free flour are unbearable.

The products are sold in select supermarkets.

In the meantime, Gordon told Observer North & East that the association is working with FHI 360 Local Partner Development through an incubator programme to help it penetrate the Jamaican market before beginning export next year.

The Local Partner Development project in Jamaica is a five-year, capacity-strengthening initiative that FHI 360 is implementing. Funded by the US Agency for International Development Jamaica, this project supports the mission's overarching development objective to improve the ability of communities to withstand, alleviate and respond to environmental threats and factors that increase citizen vulnerability.

“When we reach 40 or 50 supermarkets here and are steady turning over our products we'll look at abroad because we think that the market abroad will be bigger than here. We are registered with Jampro (Jamaica Promotions Corporation), so we are taking care of all the small pieces for when we get bigger.

“We are looking at where our family and Diaspora are. So we are looking at places in London, places in New York, places in Miami, and maybe even places in Canada. We're not even looking for brand names over there; we're looking to export and sell in shops where Jamaicans or Caribbean people go to buy the flavours of home,” Gordon said.

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