Regional

'Mango sell faster than clothes'

Vendors reap big from fruit sales

BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor -- Special Assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, April 15, 2013    

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Mi nuh drink coffee tea mango time. Care how nice it may be mango time. At di height ah di mango crop, when di fruit dem a ripe an drap. Wash yuh pot, tun dem dung mango time.

FOR many Jamaicans, the mango season is a time to do just what the words of this folk song suggest -- indulge in various types of the succulent fruit. But for others, the focus is on bolstering their income as both farmers and vendors temporarily put aside other means of livelihood to concentrate on the trade.

Pauline Jackson, who sells clothing in Port Antonio, can hardly wait for the season to start each year. When it does, she packs away the clothes and begins to trade in the fruit.

"Is a lot of people make a living from this and mango sell faster than clothes," Jackson said.

With very little East Indian mangoes available in Portland, Jackson journeys to Yallahs in St Thomas, sometimes twice per week, to purchase the popular variety from farmers for resale in the Port Antonio Market.

"As long as there is mango I come over here to buy and I do that all through the mango season," she told the Jamaica Observer North East, on her recent visit to a farm in Heartease, Yallahs.

She forayed into the mango business four years ago after being introduced by fellow vendors in the parish.

Jackson explained that she usually leaves her Buff Bay home around 6:00 in the morning and takes four different public passenger vehicles to get to St Thomas, via Kingston.

Last Tuesday when she spoke with the Observer North East, she was making her second visit to the farm in a week as the supply she had received three days earlier was depleted. She was hoping it would have been a quick dash so she could make it back to Portland to catch that day's sale. But with limited amount in stock at the farm house, she had to visit the field.

"I love coming to the farm," she said, as she bit into one of the ripe fruits.

Jackson said that she buys anywhere between 15 and 25 dozen mangoes on each trip.

"Mi nuh have no problem selling dem. Sometimes mi sell all 10 dozen fi di day," she said.

She retails them at $150 or $200, for Jackson said she has to sell at a price to recover what she spends as well as be able to make a profit.

As far as ensuring that none of the perishable fruits go bad -- which, by her account, is a rarity -- Jackson said there is a technique which includes buying fruit that ripened naturally.

"There is a trick in knowing which mango to buy because some people 'wash' (unnaturally ripen) the mango and so mi always buy from this mango farm," she said.

When she started out, Jackson said she was nervous to venture outside the parish to buy mangoes in a community she had never visited before.

"Mi did fraid the first time mi come, but then mi start meeting friends who doing the same thing and so now mi well comfortable fi come by miself," she said.

Marcia Dixon, who also buys from the farm in Heartease, journeys there from her home in Norris, St Thomas.

"Mi go to Coronation Market two times a week and mi nuh have no problem selling off all wey mi carry," she said.

Operator of the Heartease farm Nettie-May Walker, who grows common mangoes (stringy), St Julian (Julie), Nelson, and Chin Graham in addition to high-in-demand East Indian, spoke to the income potential of mangoes and said the season was her only opportunity for the year to earn a decent income.

Her customers range from individuals who purchase a dozen mangoes, to vendors who resell the fruits, and even exporters.

"If you a go repair yuh house, you wait until mango crop. Or, anything big yuh have to do, yuh wait on dat money," Walker told the Observer North East, adding that for many residents in this part of the parish, mango season is "like a partner draw".

Mango farming also provides employment for others in the Heartease community as Walker explained that she pays pickers who ensure that the fruits are not bruised in the process.

"We have to pay the pickers because we are looking to earn and they are looking to earn, too. Plus, picking is a technique and is usually reserved for people who have been working in mangoes for years," Walker explained. She said the mangoes are sometimes picked when they are fit and stored in an airy room where they are allowed ripen.

An income is also provided for persons who sell the special bamboo pole used for picking. The pole, which has to be of a certain weight and length, costs $1,200 and is sourced long before the start of mango season as enough time is needed for them to quail.

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