Main article 2017
Cayman Farms Bounce Back!
Article by: Satina DaCosta
Seeds of Cayman’s farming revolution were planted following Hurricane Ivan in '04. Many farms were decimated, but due to the hard work of the farming community, the help of government grants and a little rain from above, farms bounced back!
The sight that greeted the first passengers flying over Grand Cayman in the days following Hurricane Ivan was unfathomable. The dry forests and large tracks of verdant green wetlands that had once been a welcoming sight from the air were salt scorched and dead. Scores of homes that had once hugged the most sought-after coastlines in Grand Cayman were completely unearthed— entire concrete foundations had been scrapped from the ground and washed away by the raging Caribbean Sea. Some of the hardest hit areas in Grand Cayman looked like a veritable bomb site. While only two lives were lost on-Island, this category five monster reversed many fortunes in September 2004.
The aftermath was also a struggle in survival for many, and will be most remembered for the stifling heat, sleepless nights and soul shattering loss of property. But as time marched on, and residents began to return to some semblance of normalcy, most fortunate to be fed on tins of reconstituted food, Cayman began to yearn for more. And what Cayman yearned for is found in great abundance today: local produce.
Except for the fallen breadfruits that fed a few immediately after Ivan, many fruit trees and vegetable patches on Grand Cayman were completely leveled. Farmers, including many of Cayman’s avid backyard farmers, mourned the loss of orchards of fruit trees that had once taken decades to reach full maturity. The farming community took a serious hit.
And even though Cayman was fortunate— boats began arriving with fresh food from the United States within a few weeks— government officials worried about the Islands’ food supply. Enter former Minister of Agriculture, Gilbert McLean. Passionate about farming, McLean and his fellow Cabinet ministers approved an emergency injection of funds to the farming community. “Crops and live stock were wiped out; moreover grasslands that had once fed cattle suffered salt damage due to storm surge, so we issued grants to farmers to help them rebuild,” explained McLean. But Gilbert’s mission to rebuild the community extended beyond funding, he wanted to change how residents thought about their food supply. “We got the young children involved by setting up grow boxes at some of the schools and I believe that helped to stimulate back-yard farming after Ivan.”
By the time Ash Wednesday rolled around in 2005— a time for Cayman’s highly anticipated annual Agricultural Show—many farms were showing signs of life. “With the help of some good rains, an amazing amount of produce was grown in just six short months after Ivan and we had an unprecedented turn out at the Show that year,” recalled Gilbert.
The Grounds, where every Agricultural Show has been held since 1994, did not have the profile that it enjoys today. Prior to the development of The Grounds, locals usually bought a small selection of local produce and meats from a small building near the Cricket Pitch that was run by the Department of Agriculture. But with the building being damaged after Ivan, Cayman was left without a dedicated place for farmers to sell produce.
Gilbert, as well as other stalwarts in Cayman’s agricultural community knew that having an established place to sell produce on a regular basis would stimulate the much needed growth in the farming industry, so funds were earmarked to develop the weekly farmers market known as The Grounds in Lower Valley.
It was fortuitous that the years that followed Ivan were marked by a rising global awareness, particularly in the United States, about the benefits of local produce; consuming it was not only sustainable but often a healthier choice. Another movement that gave local farmers real momentum was the farm-to-table movement. First pushed locally by well known restaurants like the Brasserie and the former Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink that was once located in Camana Bay, homegrown produce was not simply featured in a few dishes, but the stars of their menus.
Fast forward to 2016, Cayman’s farming community has bounced back! And local produce is not just a hip trend used by restaurateurs, but a way of life for many Cayman residents who prefer to eat local exclusively. In the summer of 2016, farmers returned to the property next to the George Town cricket pitch after the weekly market at The Grounds closed. This new central point for farmers, has a remarkable variety of produce for sale. Hamlin Stephenson of Hamlin Farms, the man behind the success of this market, says that “when people buy from the market, they are getting the freshest fruits and vegetables on the Island; most of the produce I sell daily has been harvested from my farm that morning.”
"Some people may not feel shifts in temperature, but Cayman experiences spring, summer, fall and winter. We farmers see it in the plant cycles, as each season affects our crops and the soil." Hamilin Stephenson
Off To Market We Go!
Market at the Cricket Grounds: Monday-Saturday, 7am - 6pm
Camana Bay Farmer & Artisans Market: Wednesday, 10am - 7pm