Business

Herb farmer finds 'thyme' for entrepreneurs and children

Sunday, November 10, 2019

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Marvin Campbell is an entrepreneur and owner of his Fresh Vege farm in St Ann. He specialises in the production of herbs such as fennel, basil, thyme, mints, estragon (tarragon) and others, which he sells to small restaurants and hotels on the north coast, primarily. He has also tied a green lifestyle agenda to his work, which he is realising through the creation of a special foundation called MAIA (Making An Impact All-Together).

Ask him about his farm and you will get passion-filled answers about his motivations for venturing from marketing into farming, and his vision for the future.

Campbell revealed that after seeing friends pass away from cancer and heart attacks in their mid-thirties he started doing research on health, looking at ways to protect oneself from disease. This led him to becoming a vegetarian and creating his farm as a way of “driving the stake further down in healthy lifestyle and being a great advocate of it”.

It was a monumental shift for Campbell, who spent most of his previous adult life in the corporate world.

Early in his career he was a sales executive at RIU from 2007 to 2010. He then delved deeper into marketing, which eventually led to the creation of his own strategic marketing agency to connect clients and their brands to their target markets.

Campbell's green agenda, which involves growing food organically without fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, does not just focus on healthy lifestyles but also extends to farming technologies that allow for greater sustainability. His crops are not cultivated in open spaces; they are grown in 7000 square feet of growth space consisting of shade houses which he designed and built himself. Shade houses use shade cloth to protect plants from the elements, high temperatures, weeds and insects.

“We need to step away from wide open spaces because, in particular, when we have sunshine it flips very quickly into scorching heat called drought,” Campbell advises. “And now and then when we have essential rain it may tend to over-rain.”

Because of the almost evangelical way in which Campbell sees all aspects of his mission, he seeks to spread knowledge about these farming technologies and he has worked as a consultant to other entrepreneurial farmers on various farming methods he believes should be spread as “open source” information.

Campbell is also a technical advisor to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, providing expert knowledge on aquaponics farming, permaculture, hydroponic fodder, technology-driven farming, and business module optimisation — enabling small and medium-scale farmers to thrive and helping to insulate the industry from the vulnerabilities associated with climate change.

Spreading a green and healthier lifestyle agenda, however, is the task of his foundation, MAIA.

“We want to work closer with our customers, change their respective palates, get everybody on a more organic strait and structure, and reduce the amount of meat they consume,” explained Campbell.

But the foundation has chosen a very specific target audience for this message which is Generation Alpha, aged five to 16 years old. And more specifically, Campbell is targeting children in homes, orphanages and shelters. Campbell's rationale is that schools already receive money from government and private institutions, but orphanages and shelters are more financially challenged.

The foundation's project involves the planting of fruit trees at the homes, orphanages and shelters. It begins on the farm with composting and the planting of the trees which are then transferred to the children's home locations.

The children are taught about the composting process and the importance of the trees.

“The intention is to give back and teach young children, Generation Alpha from five to 16 years, about responsibility and what it takes to care for a tree and what that tree can do for you — as well as educating them on sustainability in terms of what you can do for the tree.” Campbell said. “We want you to be responsible and self-sustained.”

The project involves all sorts of fruit trees such as pear, ackee, mango, sweetsop, soursop, breadfruit, jackfruit and others which make up the long-term crops, as well as short-term crops such as bananas and plantains.

Campbell pointed out that when it comes to educating children, the short-term crops that produce fruits within six to seven months are important.

“Children need to be entertained,” he emphasised. “If it doesn't grow or bear anything, children get bored.”

The foundation hopes that eventually fruit orchards at the homes and shelters will provide some financial relief, as produce could be sold or at least help to reduce food costs.

MAIA was started in August of this year and the first fruit trees were planted in September. The organisation has established a board of directors and Campbell currently has three people working with him within the foundation.

As his farm expands he wants it to do so hand in hand with the foundation — not just expanding the client base and market for Fresh Vege but creating a healthier and more educated generation who can become involved in farming themselves.

“By the time they are in their teens we are hoping Generation Alpha will be advocates of living green and living healthy,” Campbell expressed hopefully.


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