You think Jamaican cuisine, you think jerk chicken, or ackee and saltfish, or rice and peas with oxtail, right?
Well, some players in the tourism industry have gotten a bit creative with the local fare in recent years, and are offering their clients a fusion of Jamaican and foreign cuisine, teaming up with the agriculture industry in the process.
Among those contributing to the island’s steps to diversify its tourism product are father and daughter team, Michael and Robyn Fox, who run EITS (Europe in the Summer) Café and Mount Edge Guest house near Newcastle in the Blue Mountains.
Michael told reporters the idea came after his 20-acre coffee farm was destroyed by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. While he did not resume his coffee cultivation, he could not stay away from the land. Today he continues the farming business, and is promoting the farm to table concept.
“I’m back in farming doing what I do for my only daughter. We grow mainly exotic vegetables, and we sell to most of the supermarkets in Jamaica as well as some restaurants.
“The whole programme and plan that we have is to try to integrate farming and tourism,” he said.
Robyn explained that what started as a small bed and breakfast in the mountains has become a hit with tourists seeking to be at one with nature. The European-Jamaican menu is popular among both visitors and locals.
“The European influence comes from Dad having friends in Europe and then coming to stay with us, or sending friends. So that whole food culture and exchange is a good pairing.
“On our breakfast menu, for instance, we’ll do eggs Florentine, which we call poached eggs, and we’ll put it on a bed of fresh callaloo, and then we add an ackee sauce. So we have the influence of both [European and Jamaican],” she said.
Most of the food served is grown on the farm, and the climate in the Blue Mountains allows Robyn and Michael to expand the variety of vegetables grown.
“We grow a range of salad greens from arugula to kale. We’re 3,500 feet above sea level, so we have an advantage with the climate. And because of that, we’re able to grow things like cilantro, snow peas….We can also do the cherry tomato,” Robyn said.
On any given day during the week, EITS Café could host anywhere from ten to 50 clients.
“Since the Blue Mountains was designated a heritage site, there are more people doing coffee tours now. So they come up here and do the coffee tour and then EITS Café is the lunch spot,” Robyn said.
One business offering coffee tours is the Old Tavern Coffee Estate, also in the Blue Mountains.
It is run by David Twyman, who inherited the business from his parents, Alex and Dorothy Twyman.
“It was started by my parents as a weekend and then became a retirement project. And they went from being simply coffee farmers to being coffee processors, or coffee lovers, and we became the first single-estate coffee maker in Jamaica in the Blue Mountains,” he said.
Old Tavern produces Arabica beans, which is grown in cooler temperatures.
While he is one of the larger individual growers in the area, Twyman said they have been facing some production challenges in recent years.
“A lot of variations of climate; we’ve had a disease come through – coffee rust, which affects everybody that grows coffee in the area. South [and] Central America have all been terribly affected by this fungal disease.
“If you’re not careful it will reduce your production by 50 per cent or more. You will lose your trees, requiring you to replant, and there is no cure. You can put effort in and spend money and time treating it, and all that’s doing is keeping it at bay. The moment you stop, it will come right back,” he explained.
Up to 75 per cent of his crop and 50 per cent of his plants have been affected by the fungus.
Much of the farmhouse retains the original structure from when it was established in 1968. Twyman is hoping to open a coffee shop and offer tours of the farm by next year. Currently, tours are only offered of the farmhouse and roasting equipment and a view of the farm. To complete the trip, visitors are treated to a cup of steaming hot, black coffee.
For any coffee lover, it is something that will surely entice them to come back for more.