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The plant nursery at the Agri-mart operated by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) at 191 Old Hope Road, St Andrew, is proving to be quite an oasis of information and help for persons looking to upgrade their backyard garden or those who want to put in some serious do-it-yourself farming.
COVID-19 has resulted in many professionals spending more time at home, and with time on their hands, many have caught the backyard-gardening fever, according to Brenda Green, senior social services officer for RADA’s eastern zone – Portland, St Thomas and Kingston.
“The pandemic has brought something home to people about the need to be able to provide for themselves, and then there is the added component where, in the process, they get a certain amount of exercise and a sense of accomplishment, and they are able to literally reap the fruits of their labour. Of course, some of them have a limited amount of backyard space and so their garden is confined to pots and pans, but so many more persons are trying to plant some of what they eat these days.”
The nursery, which is a part of, and is located beside, the Agri-mart, depends on the Orange River Agricultural Research Station in St Mary for most of its plants, while also supporting individuals to supplement its stock.
Potting mix is a popular item which Green believes is due to the absence of good topsoil in the Corporate Area. It is a fast-moving item which many of the new gardeners/farmers use to enrich their soil.
The wide array of orchard crops, herbs and vegetables on offer are cared for by in-house workers. The Gleaner encountered Patrick Finlator, who was in the process of using some cornmeal as bait to kill slugs that were attacking the plum trees.
Clients often turn up with questions about problems they are having with plants and the Agri-mart is able to connect them with the nearby head office where they can get all their questions answered or problems resolved. The Agri-mart also offers advice to first-time clients about the nature of the plants they want to buy, information which is very important, as Green explained.
“We offer two different June plum trees for sale. One is grown from the seed, while the other is from a bud from a mother plant which is budded on to root stock. Many people asked for the agricultural plants which are the latter, because these come into bearing earlier. However, they need to be reminded to keep pruning these plants because they will grow out in to very huge trees if they are not kept in check,” she advised.
“For the small space we occupy, we are having a big impact. With demand growing for all plant needs, we are able to offer sound advice. Our Agri-mart is the place to come, whether you are a serious farmer or a leisure gardener, and we are so easy to find.”
On the day The Gleaner team visited the Agri-mart, we encountered Ellen Thompson, a director of Roelchi Trading, making a delivery of craft items. She spoke about the vital role Agri-mart was playing keeping trade going, especially in the face of COVID-19.
“With the rough time we are having now because of the pandemic, I am really happy for the opportunity provided though this outlet to be able to keep things going, because truly, nothing is happening in tourism right now. So I give thanks to Ms Demns and the rest of the team here.”
Roelchi Trading has contractors who supply a wide range of non-food but local items, which add to the Brand Jamaica campaign being promoted by RADA, and the Agri-mart in particular. These include trays, fruit baskets in the shape of the Jamaican map or a breadfruit leaves, items which the buyer can easily link to or identify with Jamaica. Miniature mortar and pestle sets, key rings, plaques, scrolls, magnet and other keepsakes are also among the items for sale.
Folding wooden place mats and the basket in the shape of the map are particularly popular, since they can be folded, taking up much less space and more convenient to fit into a suitcase.
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc with the tourist trade, resulting in a dwindling of visitor-arrival numbers, Thompson is happy for the Agri-mart and thinks it is a concept which should be duplicated across Jamaica because of the select items it showcases and the opportunity provided to indigenous craftspeople.
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