Like just about everything else, farms come in all sizes and shapes. And like other items that come in various forms, what works for one may not work for all. “That’s what we are learning as we go along,” says Philip Smith, Executive Chairman of the Agricultural Development Organization, the recently launched non-government organization formed to support farming and the culture of self-sustaining food security. “While it is evident that there is a huge difference in resources and production capabilities between a mass production facility like Lucayan Tropical Produce and a backyard farmer on Cat Island, what is most interesting to us is how we can learn from both and help each other.”
This idea of learning prompted a tour of Lucayan Tropical Produce, an impressive 20,000 square meters of greenery, soil, plants, shade houses, refrigeration, boilers, equipment, endless rows of cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes, and one element that is harder to replace – perseverance. “We started in the fourth quarter of 2006, and it took us over 10 years to start getting it right,” explained Tropical Produce President Cameron Symonette, with a hands-on approach and knowledge of everything from the value of a fistful of seeds to what reverse osmosis does to the environment.
What stood in the way was the lack of a significant difference between night and day temperatures. “Under good farming conditions, a plant stresses every day in the heat and relaxes at night,” says the company president. “In The Bahamas, there is little difference between night and day, so the plant is stressed most of the time given the rolling average of difference being so small. It took us a long time to figure that out, to figure out what made the happy plant.”
Now, with strictly controlled temperatures, constant refrigerated trucking, and a new closed-loop temperature-controlled chill house under intense lighting, the lettuce Lucayan Tropical Produce is heartier and proves to have a longer shelf life than other products available in the marketplace, says Symonette. Thanks to the new indoor growing system, the company is able to produce lettuce year-round. Despite growing up to five varieties of tomatoes, the extreme summer heat puts a halt to that production.
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