From Farm to Fork: Sandals is Energizing a Forever Food Cycle in the Caribbean
The glow of a Caribbean morning reflects off the sea in one direction and off the breakfast table in another. The fruit of Saint Lucia is on display at Sandals Regency La Toc, sweet and colorful enough to wake up guests before the first coffee is poured. Mangos. Papayas. Pineapples. Bananas. In a few hours, at Sandals Montego Bay in Jamaica, the scent of jerk chicken will waft over the pool at lunchtime, and in Grenada the island’s spices will call attention to a dessert tray.
All of it, from the melon to the nutmeg to the coffee, is homegrown.
Long before Jamaica launched a national campaign to “Eat what you grow and grow what you eat,” the team at Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts had already set the table. Up to 90 percent of the produce and poultry served at the resorts are locally grown and raised.
Fly over the beautiful island of Turks and Caicos. The Beaches Resort there sits on one of the world’s most famous beaches – Grace Bay – all within a region that’s known for its amazing white-sand beaches. In fact, the entire archipelago is predominantly sand, and while it’s great for chaise lounges and sinking your toes in the sand, you have to get creative when it comes to farming.
“There’s something you should see on property at Beaches Turks & Caicos,” says the Sandals Foundation’s Patrice Gilpin. “It’s out of plain view.”
The attraction she’s talking about is a bit of a hike from the resort’s splashy Pirates Island Waterpark and down a few unfrequented paths from each of the 21 restaurants on property.
On certain days, an eclectic group of people will gather around this 5-foot-high mound as if marveling at a treasure. There are farmers in flannel shirts, kitchen workers in white coats, 12-year-olds in school uniforms, and teachers. They all listen to the Resort’s Ground Management team explain how the pile of compost has been carefully layered into greens and browns.
On an island like Turks and Caicos, the mix includes what nature has provided: the sand, fruit and vegetable clippings. The compost is turned over at specific times and treated with the care you’d give to a batch of cookie dough. Unlike a wafer, this pile and the food it helps produce will nourish a community for a long time - reducing its imports and strengthening its food security efforts.
“We want to do this on every island,” Gilpin says. “It takes a team to make it work, and the Sandals Foundation has big teams across the Caribbean.”
Those teams include the people who make the resorts feel like home from the kitchen prep staff that cut up fruit to the landscapers who make the flowers look happy and to those who lead Elmo around the pools. They’re all behind the scenes, making sure the compost heap will help feed the resort’s gardens, and be shared as an educational space for schools as they create gardens and nurture the island’s most curious minds. In the end, this compost will help feed a healthy cycle — for the land and for the people who vacation and live here.
“It’s imperative that we be proactive,” says Gilpin. “Life on the islands depends on it, now more than ever.”
It Takes A Village
The Sandals Foundation is connected to every corner of the Caribbean, allowing its farming and agricultural projects to be guiding lights toward a better future.
“We ask every staff member at every resort to be the eyes and ears of the Foundation,”
Gilpin says of the 18,000 team members that Sandals and Beaches employ on the islands, “They live on the farms or walk past them every day. They shop in the markets and tend to gardens. Sustainable food supply is a need they talk about. The good news is that we have the strength in numbers to build the capacity of our islands’ food producers to make a difference.”
The Sandals Foundation partners with agricultural experts to go into the countryside where they listen to the growers. They’ll connect with experts to test soil that hasn’t been tested in years, or maybe ever. Together, the scientists and the farmers determine the best spots where certain crops will flourish, when to rotate them, and how to nurture the land so it produces food for generations.
“Each island is assessed taking into account its unique set of circumstances,” says Gilpin. “The needs in the mountains of Jamaica for example are different from the needs in The Bahamas.”
The philanthropic organization's farming and agricultural projects reflect those differences. In Antigua, the Sandals Foundation works with GARD Smart Agriculture to construct water-sipping hydroponics units proven to increase food output. In Jamaica, Sandals employees are connecting farmers to technical and regulatory agencies to advise on plant seeds and seedlings that are best suited for specific soil. In Grenada, the Foundation teaches the Grenrop Women Farmers how to target their irrigation, store their produce, and keep excellent inventory records to present them to community markets. In Exuma, chicken coops and greenhouses are being built for high schoolers to manage. And yes, the gospel of composting is taking shape in Saint Lucia and Grenada as it begins to spread across all the islands.
“It takes a village to make this work,” Gilpin says. The village consists of gardeners, farmers, scientists, and employees of the resorts and the Foundation. “But everything starts with the amazing support of our resort guests.”
Every dollar that a guest donates to the Sandals Foundation goes directly to projects like these. So, bring another Planter’s Punch, please, with a chunk of pineapple and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Let’s get this powerful food-producing cycle in motion.
The Closer You Look
The Sandals Foundation’s food security initiatives are being implemented both near and far with irrigation systems going to 16 schools in Turks and Caicos; training in aquaponics underway at Jamaica’s College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) and also at Barbados Community College; chicken farming education taking place at LN Coakley High School in Exuma and climate-smart agricultural training for youth in Antigua.
“You should see the kids leaning in,” says Patrice. “They want to learn how they can help feed families in a sustainable way. By engaging and educating students at all ages, we are essentially creating a new farming culture where the required climate-smart technologies will be incorporated. They’ll become the best influencers in their communities for generations to come.”
It’s a beautiful sight to see a teenager kneeling in the soil with a grandfatherly fruit farmer, but in the Caribbean, it isn’t completely surprising.
“I’ve always lived in a farming community, and helping each other is a way of life,” says Barbara Stewart, whose Sandals Foundation-supported greenhouse and composting program in Jamaica has become a template for others just like it. “On Tuesday, we’d go to Farmer Marissa’s place. On Saturday we’d all go to Farmer Grant’s. As we help, we also learn from each other.” She exemplifies why the work of the Sandals Foundation is effective.
“We don’t go into communities and dictate what the farmers need to do,” says Gilpin. “We work with the most trusted and respected growers in those communities, and then allow them to show others how easy it is to use less water, less land, and less fertilizer — with far better harvests.”
The proof of the methods can be found everywhere at Sandals and Beaches Resorts. You find bouquets of fresh peppers and carrots. Boxes and boxes of fresh fruit. Herbs and spices still in leaf-stage. It’s all island-grown, derived from the same techniques the school-age kids and long-time farmers are learning.
“These skills can be used for a lifetime,” says Gilpin. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, feed him for life.
A Forever Food Cycle
Each resort has a viable Herb Garden that yields approximately 70 pounds of produce in the form of mints, basil, cilantro, peppers, tomatoes and more. A local farmer who raises pigs near Sandals South Coast gathers a truck full of leftovers and scraps for his livestock. Untouched leftovers from Sandals Regency La Toc are sent immediately to a Salvation Army in the capital of Castries, where it’s served to those who need it most. Smart agriculture satiates the entire village: resort guests, families, locals, livestock and more.
The cycle will feed itself, and when that happens, it will have no beginning and no end.