During my last trip to Jamaica I was invited to Pantrepant Farm, a beautiful and serene 2,500-acre organic farm in the hills of the Cockpit Country along the Martha Brae river and the home of Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell. It was a memorable day, which began with a bathe in a natural swimming hole, followed by a delicious four course farm-to-table lunch and ending with a tour of the organic farm.
The colonial house had a wrap around porch which overlooked the hills in the distance. It was rustic and beautifully decorated with colourful paint, local wooden carvings and hand printed African textiles from Chris Blackwell’s late wife’s Royal Hut line of interiors. My background being in textile design, this was a delight to my eyes. Everywhere I looked was like a photograph taken from an interior design coffee table book, with the hand printed textile theme throughout: on the trim of the towels, the napkins, table cloths, the wicker chair pillows, four hanging umbrellas, even the staff wore brightly printed matching dresses instead of the usual drab uniforms.
We were greeted with a glass of either rum punch or coconut water and crackers with Solomon Gundy: a traditional Jamaican spicy smoked red herring paté. Once I realised that the jugs on the tables which I thought were filled with just plain water, were actually filled with fresh coconut water, I knew I was in heaven. After drinks we went swimming in the river’s magnificent swimming hole with water the colour of jade. My seven month old baby answered my prayers as she always does and was an angel from start to finish, happily being the centre of attention when she was awake and falling asleep just in time for me to be able to enjoy lunch. I laid her across two chairs with a sarong over her and she slept soundly under the shade of a huge guango tree next to the table throughout the entire lunch.
The lunch was a variety of freshly picked vegetables with lettuce, jerk chicken, rice cooked with callaloo (a type of Jamaican kale) and sweet crepes with coconut ice cream for desert, all made from scratch using organic ingredients from the farm. It was the first time I was eating organic food in Jamaica, a moment I had been dreaming about for years, knowing that as delicious as the cooking was, it wasn’t filled with mystery ingredients and was actually nourishing my body.
The reason I came to Pantrepant Farm was because it was my first time in Jamaica with my baby and as I was breastfeeding, I was in a dilemma as to what to eat, knowing that the word organic in Jamaica didn’t exist. Most of the food in hotels is imported, the food sold in supermarkets is highly processed and it is hard to find local produce. I have been going to Jamaica all my life as my family own a house there and my mother grew up in Reading. I always loved traditional Jamaican cooking but as I got older and became aware of where our food comes from, with each trip I grew increasingly disappointed with the quality served at restaurants and sold at our community market, making it impossible to avoid eating processed food even when it was cooked at our own house. Jamaica being a land so lush in vegetation (when you drive around the island there are several roadside stands selling local fruits and vegetables) and the food being so good, it always puzzled me that when you go to the hotel restaurants, everything is imported and the menu is American. When I learned about Pantrepant Farm, it didn’t surprise me that it is owned by none other than the brilliant Chris Blackwell, who I have always admired for being an innovator and supporter of the Jamaican community through his local projects and boutique hotels. Now with Pantrepant he is starting the first CSA in the country, creating a model of sustainability through internships and workshops, leading the way towards organic farming in Jamaica.