The Real Foodie

Tag: Jamaica

Jamaican Lunch


Jamaican local and organic lunch

This week I traveled to Jamaica for a short visit to oversee the renovations at our family rental house. I was tired from standing all day and breathing in paint fumes and needed a nourishing meal to pick me up. While in between meetings I took a quick taxi ride to Hopewell, the nearest town, to buy some ackee, breadfruit, coconut and okra, from the roadside fruit stall at the main junction in town. It was such a treat to sit down to this delicious nutritious meal of local, organic vegetables made by our amazing cook, Ana, accompanied by a glass of refreshing coconut water. The ackee, tomatoes, okra and plantain were sautéed in extra virgin coconut oil from Belize which I bought in Ocho Rios at Progressive Foods supermarket—a chain of supermarkets selling a wide range of local and organic foods, part of a growing organic movement in Jamaica.  The lettuce was from a local organic farm and our driver Kenny picked the avocado for me from the tree in his garden.

For years, while growing up and throughout my twenties, I had to settle for low quality, imported food when I came here but now that I come so often, since managing our house, I have found the resources for local, organic food and it has made all the difference to my experience and the way I feel. Along with my morning hour of running, swimming and yoga, instead of getting fat and tired like I used to, I stay in shape and feel great.

Young Coconut Smoothie


At around the same time as I read the Body Ecology Diet in 2007, where I learned about making fermented coconut pudding (by blending coconut meat with coconut water and adding a culture), I was introduced to blended coconut water and coconut meat smoothies by Melvin, the legendary juice man who used to work at my local health food store in New York City, Lifethyme Market and has now gone on to open two of his own juice bars. Melvin also introduced me to the idea of adding greens to the coconut, such as kale, chard and collard greens, so I would get my greens and healthy fat (to absorb the vitamins), all in one. It also tasted divine.

Ever since then, young coconut smoothies, either pure or mixed with greens, have been a part of my regular health routine. When I started weaning my daughter, puréed coconut meat was one of the first foods I gave her and she loved it. Sometimes I buy my own coconuts and make smoothies at home, or if I am in a rush I will buy a smoothie at one of my local juice bars. Now that I live in Miami where coconuts grow (!) I buy coconuts from my guys, Kokonut Kreationz at Glaser Farmers’ Market, or I will buy a coconut smoothie from Jugo Fresh. When I am in Jamaica, a local man named Lindsay delivers coconuts to us (the gorgeous yellow dwarf variety coconuts pictured above) or I get them delivered from Pantrepant Farm or buy them at a roadside fruit stall. In New York I go to Juice Press or Organic Avenue where they make and bottle coconut smoothies and call it ‘coconut milk’. Wherever I am, I’m never without my coconut smoothie.

How to make young coconut smoothie:

Select a fresh young coconut. If you don’t live in a tropical climate where coconuts grow, you can buy 100 percent certified organic packaged young Thai coconut meat and bottled water from Exotic Superfoods. Though not as fresh, they are the only certified organic young coconut meat source in the U.S and Thai coconuts are more flavourful. Do not buy the Thai coconuts you find in health food stores which have the husk shaved down to a white cone shape as they are sprayed with fungicide, dipped in preservatives and are up to 2 months old. They are far from fresh or nutritious.

Chip the top away, turning the coconut to cut all around the top, using a cleaver or machete until you make a small  hole through the hard inner shell. Pour the water into a blender. Slice the coconut in half and scoop out the soft meat with a spoon. Put the meat in a blender and blend the meat and the water until it forms a smooth consistency.

Note: There is a difference between young and mature coconuts. The young ones are green or yellow, they contain a lot of water and the meat is soft and able to easily be scooped out with a spoon. The mature ones are brown and dry, have little water and the meat is hard and difficult to remove. It needs to be cut out with a special curved knife. The mature coconut meat produces a rich oily cream called coconut milk by grating the meat and squeezing out the cream with a cheese cloth. There are two juice bars in Miami that use mature coconuts to make milk: Milk Gone Nuts and Athens Juice Bar.

Roadside Fruit Stalls of Jamaica


Driving back from Goldeneye through the beautiful village of Oracabessa, I stopped at two fruit stalls to buy some local fruit. They each stood out above the rest with their charming handmade construction and colourful displays of fruit. These types of roadside fruit stalls are typical of Jamaica and you can find them all over the island. It is the best way to find real, fresh, local organic fruit, picked straight from the owners’ back garden. You won’t find this high quality produce at the hotels, which rely heavily on imported food, with the exception of a few cutting edge resorts that are leading the organic and sustainable movement in Jamaica such as Goldeneye, Pantrepant Farm and Jakes hotel.

The first stall belonged to a Rastafarian named Winston, a delightful character who welcomed us into his shack, cooked for us and posed for my photos. There is a general fear amongst tourists of Jamaicans due to the country’s reputation for being dangerous with its extreme poverty, violence and high crime rates. However, the Rastafarians are peaceful and spiritual people, who live a natural life and eat an Ital (derived from the word vital) diet consisting of pure, natural, living foods from the earth that have no additives, preservatives, chemicals, alcohol, salt or spices and is mostly vegan with the exception of small fish. Winston sold bananas, coconuts, ackee, breadfruit, custard apples, soursop and avocadoes. He had a breadfruit roasting on a wood fire which he opened and served my husband and me on green leaves while telling stories describing the Rastafarian way of life. I had never eaten breadfruit plain before; usually after it is roasted, it is fried in butter with salt (which is more nutritious because fat is necessary for the assimilation of vitamins and minerals), however, it was interesting to taste nothing but the soft, fluffy, starchy breadfruit with the smokey flavour of wood fire. He cut open a young coconut for each of us to drink the water and then scrape the jelly (coconut meat) and he de-seeded a bag of ackee fruit, the national fruit of Jamaica, ready for us to cook at home with saltfish.

Our second stop was Michael’s stall, beautifully set against green rolling hills and in-between two tall trees. He sliced open and gave us a star apple: a purple fruit with a white star shape in the middle, which I had never tried before, as well as a taste of his soursop. He also had jackfruit, ackee, ugli, pineapples, passion fruit, coconuts, bananas and a few crabs in a trap dangling from the roof. He sang a song for us and went into great detail about the Jamaican drink, roots tonic: a concoction of mountain herbs which gives strength and virility.

We had a healthy snack for our long drive back to Montego Bay and went back with enough fruit to last us the rest of our trip. I highly recommend to anyone who visits Jamaica to explore the island, get to know the people and buy from these typical roadside stalls where you will be supporting the local community as well as experiencing true Jamaican culture.

Pantrepant Farm and Jamaica’s Organic Movement


Chicken coop at Pantrepant in the hills of the Cockpit Country.

I often despair over man’s destruction of our planet and dream about living high up in the mountains, surrounded by nothing but the beauty of wild nature, far away from pollution and noise, being fully self-sufficient and living off the land like we did hundreds of years ago. Chris Blackwell has created exactly this in Pantrepant Farm in Jamaica. It is my idea of paradise and the most beautiful place I have ever seen. A year and a half after my first visit, I went back to see the changes that have taken place and was given a more in-depth tour of the farm.

We drove up the long, narrow, potholed dirt road, past old trees, grazing cattle, a citrus farm and two colonial estates: Wales and Good Hope, where there were horse stables and ruins of a water wheel, at the bridge crossing over the running Martha Brae river. Finally there was an opening that lead up to the old Pantrepant plantation house on a lush green hilltop. I met with Gustavo Diaz, the manager at Pantrepant who also showed me around during my last visit.

Pantrepant, a Welsh name meaning house in the hollow, began as a sugar cane plantation in the mid-1700s, then in the late 1800s it became a cattle farm until Chris Blackwell bought the property 25 years ago. Since he has owned Pantrepant, his goal has been to create a sustainable organic farm to supply his resorts, a CSA for private customers and provide a model for sustainable agriculture from which the people of Jamaica can learn, helping to reverse the country’s dependence on imported food. There are still 700 acres of pasture for raising Jamaican Red Poll and Brahman beef cattle, which are sold for breeding. 1,400 acres are forested land; 400 acres are mixed use of landscaped areas, roads, rivers and crops which include short-cycle crops, fruit tree stands and coconut trees; and the remaining 15 acres of land are for chickens, sheep and protein banks.

What makes Pantrepant Farm so unique is that Chris Blackwell has preserved the integrity of nature. Being a lover of all things old, I was stunned by its timeless beauty when I first saw it. Everything is in harmony with the natural surroundings. The house is rustic, horses roam freely to graze on pasture, grasses and trees are kept wild, barns and fencing are made of old wood and various types of fruit trees grow together with vegetable patches dotted around them. Down a bank through the trees, there is a natural swimming hole which joins the Martha Brae river, where guests can swim.

At the entrance to the property Gustavo showed me around the sugar mill ruins, which I had not seen before, dating back to when Pantrepant was a sugar cane plantation.  Amongst the ruins was a pool of eight feet of water which used to be a molasses storage tank. Connected to this was an aqueduct carrying water from the river into the pool. Farm-to-table events are held here: a new hospitality component to the farm in which guests staying at one of Chris Blackwell’s Island Outpost hotels can spend a day at Pantrepant. There are plans to install a small hydropower plant at the aqueduct to power some of the buildings in the farm. Since my last visit there have also been solar panels installed to pump water from the river to all of the houses and cultivation areas throughout the farm, minimising one of their largest electrical expenses. There is Wi-Fi and a weather station to measure precipitation, wind, humidity and temperature.

We walked through the gardens where there was an incredibly wide variety of fruits and vegetables such as ackee, breadfruit, avocado, orange, papaya, mango, guava, banana, pineapple, cinnamon, nutmeg, jack fruit, otaheiti apple, sorrel, callaloo, sugar cane, june plum, noni, plantain, yam, read pea, cassava, lime, acerola, tamarind, star apple, sugar plum, coconut, cacao and an apiary for honey. There are between 50 and 75 different crops growing on the farm. They also have a small scale dairy operation where they milk their own cows and produce ice cream and butter for the farm. Gustavo explained how important it is to nourish the soil through adding compost, which they do organically using a combination of manure from their cows, horses and sheep, mixed with carbon. Other sustainability efforts include growing of leguminous shrubs & trees to harvest as fodder for sheep and their own wood workshop for building furniture and treating lumber. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays they harvest their crops for delivery on Friday to their resorts—The Caves, Strawberry Hill and Goldeneye as well as a select group of customers en route.

The main new project at Pantrepant is the Black Soldier Fly Project in which black soldier flies are bred to feed chickens in order to expand to a commercial scale of 600 chickens a week by the end of the year and be able to supply all of their hotel restaurants, staff cafeterias and 40 workers at Pantrepant. Goldeneye produces 1000 pounds of food scraps a week which they use to feed the larvae and attract the flies. Their eggs are planted into corrugated cardboard placed around the food scraps and dry coconut husks; when they hatch, the larvae self harvest by feeding themselves out. They are then separated into two phases, one for breeding more flies, and the other for feeding to the chickens. The flies are a nutritious high protein food source for the chickens. They are dried using a solar dryer to stabilise, store and feed the chickens over time. The chickens will be separated into three groups and rotated every day to graze on fresh pasture, only to be taken indoors at night to avoid predators such as mongooses. They will also be fed corn produced from the farm and food scraps from the packing room. Grass and wood shavings from the farm are used for their bedding; therefore, nothing is bought from outside the farm. The project which will include a slaughter facility, will be fully functioning by the end of the year. By this time they will have pigs, which the flies will also be fed to.

When I asked Gustavo if their goal was to eventually be the sole provider for their hotels, he told me that Pantrepant will be the largest supplier, but they want to continue to support the community and keep purchasing from local vendors. Their aim is to stop buying from distributors and importers. They encourage local farmers who usually come from small farms to produce for them. These farmers don’t have money to buy fertiliser so their crops are mostly organic.

Interns come twice a year to Pantrepant from Earth University: a university specialising in sustainable agriculture for tropical climates (where Gustavo graduated), to spend 15 weeks at the farm. This year two students from the University of West Indies came for a 6 week internship. They also welcome farmers and school children to come and learn about how they farm and why their practices are so important. Chris Blackwell’s long-term plan once his farm is fully functioning sustainably, is to have a training centre offering courses and apprenticeships to young Jamaican farmers.

I was impressed to find that the organic movement in Jamaica has taken off since my last visit. The food at many of the resorts has improved with menus now including organic ingredients; some of the hotels including Round Hill and more recently The Tryall Club, have started their own organic gardens. Grill, the restaurant at Round Hill features a new farm-to-table menu and in May they launched weekly farm dinners. Jakes Hotel on the south coast hosts monthly farm-to-table dinners served on site at local farms. Adam Miller (previously the manager at Pantrepant) has followed in Chris Blackwell’s footsteps and started his own organic farm and CSA, Potosi Farms, which delivers to hotels, restaurants and homeowners across the island. There is a government backed effort to promote local farming and a return to Jamaica’s agricultural roots, since they reached a food security crisis due to the increasing cost and dependence on imported food. The government have handed out thousands of seed kits to encourage backyard farming and 400 schools have implemented gardening and cooking programmes, which the students benefit greatly from with improved attendance and achievement. Grocery stores now also label local produce with stickers and large displays.¹ Chris Blackwell having pioneered the movement, there is great promise for organic farming and sustainability in Jamaica.


1. Cave D (2013). As Cost of Importing Food Soars, Jamaica Turns to the Earth. The New York Times. 4 August 2013, A6

CSA in Jamaica


My first delivery arrived today from Pantrepant Farm. I am so happy finally to be getting some organic food in Jamaica! I ordered arugula, lettuce, Jamaican spinach, noni, guavas, coconuts, avocadoes, green plantains, two chickens and eggs picked especially for me as they aren’t yet for sale. Pantrepant farm are just starting to raise free range chickens which are fed on fruit and vegetable waste from their packing room, corn from the farm and black soldier fly maggots. They soon will have enough to grow on a commercial scale to provide for their hotels throughout Jamaica.

Pantrepant Farm, Jamaica


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.