Peter Dillon is a man on a mission. From his headquarters at Marquis River Farm in St. Lucia, or Plant Grow Eat as it is also known, he is empowering young people to become successful agri-preneurs, by supplying the country with fresh, organic produce while working to bring down St. Lucia’s hefty food import bill of $360 million.
The business model at Plant Grow Eat is a take on the worker cooperative model, but is more didactic in its early stages. Dillon, whose PhD studies were focused on the implementation of similar projects, provides the land and initial capital injection and trains the youth running it on how to build and make it profitable. Over time, the profits are utilized to provide the workers with a salary and to pay back the investment capital, interest-free, at which point full ownership is handed over to the young people who worked to build it. Over the past five years, the project has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the local village in which it is based, helping it to independently lift itself out of poverty.
According to Dillon, the profit-share and worker-ownership model “challenges the discourse of plantation agriculture by getting ownership back into the hands of young people doing the work.”
The success of Marquis River Farm’s organic mushroom line, “Simply Mushrooms” is a testament to the profitability of agri-business under the right conditions. Simply Mushrooms is selling close to one tonne of mushrooms per week and has enjoyed an annual growth rate of 30-50% since 2016. “The tourist industry is begging for it and they buy almost everything available,” says Dillon.