Stephenson reaps a great market

Cayman’s Market at the Grounds is a
great melting pot for farmers and organic food enthusiasts. One of the most
familiar faces on the scene is vendor Hamlin Stephenson.

The Lower Valley resident is the
owner of Hamlin Farms, based a few minutes away from the Stacy Watler
Agricultural Pavilion. Stephenson is a regular of the Saturday morning farmer’s
markets for years and routinely mans a stall loaded with fresh fruits and
vegetables along with his sister Margaret. In fact, Stephenson says he is one
of the island’s biggest tomato producers.

“I’ve been coming since the market
started some three years ago,” Stephenson said. “Three guys work on the farm
with me and we produce several times a year. We produce lots of tomatoes, about
7,000 pounds of it. We also do a lot of sweet potato. In addition to those two,
our primary sellers are cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon. When they’re in
season we also have bananas, plantains, papayas, bok choy, callaloo and
cabbage.”

Like many of his compatriots,
Stephenson has a quick turnaround with his products. On most occasions the
produce is harvested the day before and brought to the market early in the
morning. The market caters to early risers, with doors opening as early as
5.30am, meaning farmers like Stephenson have to make tracks at 4 in the
morning, if not sooner.

In spite of that strain on his
time, Stephenson says attending the market is a worthwhile proposition.

“Everything is freshly picked. We reap
it Friday, prep it that evening and bring it to the market the next day. The
people are getting a fresh product — everything goes from the garden to the
market and then to the hands of the people. I get buyers from all over the
island, whether they be from West Bay (where my wife Hope is from) or North
Side. Even the governor and his wife are genuine supporters as they’re
frequently here.

“Mind you, we do a lot of business
supplying the supermarkets (namely Foster’s and Kirk’s) and restaurants (with Cracked
Conch being our main one as they take about 200 pounds of tomatoes each month).
However, I encourage all of the farmers to come out, and the local people need
to come and purchase things here. It’s worth it and this is where we all need
to be.”

With a closing time of noon every
Saturday, Cayman’s fresh produce market sees the early shoppers getting the
goods. Among that group is University College of the Cayman Islands finance professor
Ginnie Gardiner. The Missouri native has been in Cayman nearly half a decade
and is a regular buyer from Stephenson. She says there is nothing like buying
from farmers. “I’ve been a regular customer for four years ever since moving
here from the States,” Gardiner said. “I’m a vegetarian, so I like good,
home-grown organic food that is nutritious. I like to support the local farmers
where I can and keep small farmers alive, along with keeping the tradition of
farming here going. I like the fact that with organic farming there is less
waste and transporting of goods and ultimately less harm to the environment. I
have an earth-centred spirituality and just the freshness of the food is enough
for me.

“This is entertainment for me. It’s
personal. You meet the people who sell you your food. Grocery shopping, I find,
is impersonal. When you buy from the local farmers they know what you like and
make special accommodations for you. I’m old-fashioned, so I like to know the
people I trade with.”

For more information on Hamlin Farms call 916-0892 or 324-0892.

CAYLIFEStephensonmarketSTORY

Stephenson, right, makes customers like Gardiner happy.
Photo: Matthew Yates
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