Market gains ground

To many onlookers the Market at the Grounds has been an experiment in Cayman Islands agriculture. The weekly farmer’s market has attracted its fair share of patrons and the majority of vendors feel it is a worthwhile venture each Saturday morning.

Like with any business, the biggest reasons farmers come out is the revenue potential. Most struggle to get the word out about their offerings and the market is a form of free advertising. A select few are big enough to supply supermarkets and restaurants and the market serves to keep the profit margins high.

One of the bigger outfits on the scene is Hamlin’s Farm, owned by Hamlin Stephenson. The farm is located in Lower Valley, not far from the site of the market at the Stacy Watler Pavilion. Stephenson states his business is booming and the market adds to his intake.

“The market is going good,” Stephenson said. “We’re selling lots of tomatoes, about 600-800 pounds per week to restaurants and supermarkets. It has been a great year for us as a lot of things are bearing such as bokchoy and lettuce.”

Stephenson makes his appearance at his stall during most sessions. The majority of the time he has his farm workers man the area, which is about the size of a small kitchen. One such farm hand is Almanzo Russell, a Jamaican national that has been with the farm a little over three months. Russell states the market is good not just for the money aspect but for the customer interaction that takes place.

“Every Saturday I’m here and we’re selling fresh produce,” Russell said. “It’s one of a number of stops for us during the week. For example on Thursdays we sell at the Reflections airport location, on Fridays we’re at the Godfrey Nixon Way Reflections and throughout the week we do deliveries to the various businesses.

“The Saturday market is the best out of all the markets. It has the most people and the most profit. We don’t get that amount from the other places. The support is there. Our top sellers are crops like tomato, pumpkin and callaloo. We see about 90 people come by our stall on a given day here and we sell most of what we bring.”

As Russell alludes,farmers have a choice when it comes to the Saturday market. In addition to businesses, many rely on a clientele base that is made up of repeat individual customers. Aside from the Lower Valley location, there are other places on Grand Cayman that have smaller markets such as Camana Bay. Many of the farmers prefer Market at the Grounds and maintain a long-term commitment regardless of economic factors.

Among them is Carlton West, 66. The George Town native is a retiree and has turned to farming as supplemental income in later life. West states he has been at the market for years.

“From the time it opened, I have been here,” West said. “I’ve sold many things from bottled juices, like my noni juice and home-made vinegar, to organic eggs and sugar cane. At times the market is a relief because I have the stuff and I have to get rid of it. Other times it’s very good because it saves me the expense of setting up somewhere from scratch and people genuinely take time out to get to know me and my products.”

West maintains two plots of farm land in Lower Valley and on Crewe Road. In addition to farming West does a number of side projects from selling pigeons to growing hibiscus plants and making wood furniture. West is quick to say those projects make for a busy life.

“I may be retired but a farmer is a full-time job. My side things are going well and the thing is it’s just me. I had a couple guys in the past but I’m making this all happen by myself.”