A 1,500-acre organic farm is taking shape in North Abaco.
Situated on the former Key and Sawyer citrus operation in the Norman’s Castle area, the project is headed by Texan entrepreneur Paul Baker, a resident of Marsh Harbour.
Local government officials, farmers associations, co-operatives, and health conscious consumers last weekend welcomed the move.
Workers danced in glee as barge loads of heavy-duty equipment streamed on to the site.
Mr. Baker pledged to assist farmers with workshops on organic techniques, farm preparation, stock acquisition, and marketing of produce.
The project will include processing facilities and later dairy and poultry operations.
He encouraged Bahamian farmers and food processors to tap into the estimated $500 million spent each year to import food products for residents and tourists.
“We’re going to be exporting some specialty type products,” said Mr. Baker, “but we are doing this mainly for Bahamians.
“Organics means that you are not using harsh chemical fertilizers and probably worse of all, pesticides. Pesticides being used in Mexico, a big food supplier for The Bahamas, are absorbed into the produce which we consume, and that is one of the biggest reasons we are having so many cases of cancers, for example.
“And so we are going back to organics using material that is natural in this country to grow the food. It is a more expensive process but at the end of the day it is a lot cheaper when you look at all those chemicals we consume and how they manifest themselves in our bodies.”
South Abaco Members of Parliament and executive chairman of Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) Edison M. Key looks forward to the project with special interest.
“This is a part of my life out here and just to see it come back into operation is a tremendous thing for me,” he said during a tour of the facilities. “I know what can be done.
“We had established here one of the largest cucumber farms in the world. And then we moved into citrus exporting more than 1.2 million bushels to Florida each year.”
Adjacent to the Baker project are 500 acres that were transferred to BAIC. They were divided into five- and ten-acre plots and leased for farming, particularly to persons from North Abaco.
“If we can develop them as satellite farms in conjunction with the organic operation, it would be a very good thing especially with the facilities here to process foods,” said Mr. Key.
Mr. Baker assured farmers that they will have access to tractors and other farm implements to assist with field preparation.
As the operation becomes established much of the produce that currently go to waste because they did not meet the Government’s packing house grade will be processed into other products, he said.
“For example, potatoes will be used to make French fries and tomatoes will be canned or use to make ketchup,” he explained.
North Abaco Farmers Association president Stafford Symonette said the project is a boon for the flagging agriculture industry.
“I am pleased with what I have heard about the project and I believe it will benefit us all,” he said.
“Once I saw the kind of equipment he was bringing in, I realised he was very serious and that he is here for the long haul.
“I do believe in the health advantages of organic farming and this could be a learning experience for us. Maybe we will have to stop using all those chemicals and adopt procedures more compatible with his approach. We can work together and go forward.
“We have lots of people who want to farm but farming is very costly. Mr. Baker said he is going to help farmers prepare their fields. That alone would be significant.
“Already he is clearing farm roads and farmers now have no problem accessing their property and so I expect to see them out in the field more. I am looking forward to it.”
By Gladstone Thurston
Bahamas Information Services