#ACelebrationofCommunity — Free Hill, St Ann


#ACelebrationofCommunity — Free Hill, St Ann

Counting Down To The 21st Staging Of The Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards, Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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Our community culinary celebration took us Saturday last to Stush in the Bush, located in Free Hill, St Ann. It was the first visit for many, even those from the parish. After the unique superlative dining experience laid out by principals Lisa and Chris Binns, however it would not be their last...

Almost 2,000 feet above sea level, nestled between an array of rolling mountains is the community of Free Hill. Not far from Sturge Town, it is one of the first free villages in Jamaica and a close-knit, family community. In fact, according to Chris Binns, whose family are original dwellers, “The first few miles into the village is actually still built on these original family connections; houses are built and lands divided on that original family settlement.” The community is a small farmers' paradise with Free Hill farmers producing everything from carrots, dasheen, yellow yam, sweet potato, banana, plantain and cabbage. Currently, there is also a vibrant group of young farmers producing high-quality mixed lettuce, kale, spinach, and culinary herbs like parsley, cilantro, rosemary, dill, mint and spinach to supply the eager north coast hotel markets.

“Growing up in Free Hill in the'70s,” continued Binns, “all males older than you were your uncle, and females your auntie, and they looked out for you like you were their very own child. Indeed it was the village raising the children. It was so close you had to be wary of choosing a girlfriend from the community because you know what they say: 'cousins boil good soup'.

“Meeting Lisa [his wife], I had to bring her to this paradise to share everything about myself. The love for this land and the people around us have sustained and continued to build the Stush in the Bush experience. From the beginning we have been supported by the community; young boys and girls were instrumental in helping to plant up the property with all manner of fruits and veggies, and we would in turn share what we had with them. Sometimes, it was a listening ear, a place to go and share a beautiful natural setting, or to learn to read and other skills in the midst of the Nasberry Garden, or a little weekend work to help out with school costs, a loan, or a grant. We have been fortunate enough to have the support of the community in our farm team that fluctuates from a high of over 15 crew, to our current close knit farm team of four, and have also engaged quite a number of young women in the kitchen as well. From our line chef all the way up, people are drawn from the community and engaged in creating the best product and providing the highest quality customer service”.

“We had a 'lunch money crew' which was young people who would work on weekends to supplement the costs of attending school. We also maintain a close relationship with our primary and basic schools and look forward to developing this more by linking our many visitors with developing a community centre where young people can get skills training and certification, tap into Internet resources, learn and play sports at our multi-purpose centre and develop creative skills by contacting resources provided by our visitors, local and foreign. We look towards creating spaces for accommodation on the farm the concept of community tourism where your visit is spent not just enjoying the space, but also putting in concrete investment in developing community infrastructure and sharing particular skills and experiences with our local residents. “Starting a recycling programme is an initiative we would like to push for the future to systematically clean up the community, create employment, and also begin a tree planting programme along with Ministry of Forestry. Free Hill provided the canvas that is Stush in the Bush.”

Binns's connection with this land started with his grand-aunt. “She was known as Miss Mama and I was known as Miss Mama's handbag because I went everywhere she went,” he shared. “It was she that directed me to this land, taught me the basics of farming and bush medicine, and I had the support of two Rasta brethren who helped me to take my love for farming to the next level after Mama had passed,” Binns added.

“Lisa really put the Stush in our Bush, by bringing all the expertise and dining experience of a New York foodie. She is Stush down to the plant varieties we choose for cultivation plus her insistence that all our seeds come from certified organic non-GMO sources,” Binns informed. The land was at the time inactive for years but for a few cows grazing, and wound up being perfect for embarking on organic production. We started with what is roughly 15 acres and have since leased an additional two acres from a cousin whose property borders ours. We also share a plot with a neighbour whose father was one of the original overseers. Embarking on this farm was a way to regenerate the soil, as well as to rekindle that deep sense of community. As Stush in the Bush grows so has our mandate. We now produce according to a system of polyculture and regenerative agriculture which at its base is fuelled by the need to develop healthy soil, create diversity, grow highly nutritious food of various varieties, create strong economic linkages with small and medium-size entities and leave a lasting legacy for Free Hill. We have been fortunate to have our experience enjoyed by people from all over the world and have also had coverage by various media outlets, local and international. We are known for putting the sexy in vegetarian/vegan cuisine, and as we move into catering, weddings, accommodations, and residencies we want to bring Stush in the Bush, a proud part of Brand Jamaica, to the highest quality of culinary experiences and customer service while still maintaining the intimacy and attention to detail that we hold dear. Ideally, we would like to earn a Michelin star, and be a part of the talented spectrum of chefs who aim to cement Jamaica as one of the world's foremost food destinations.”

Those of us who've been honoured enough to have a front-row seat to the culinary evolution that has already taken place at Stush in the Bush know that it is just a matter of time.

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