The free market often works in mysterious ways — and sometimes even appears to come around full circle.
The same could be said about Grand Cayman’s farmers market, which after a decade-long hiatus is returning to Thomas Russell Way, near the Smith Road Cricket Oval.
Even before Hurricane Ivan landed in the Cayman Islands in September 2004, the farmers market had been struggling, under pressure from the Airports Authority to reclaim the site over concerns about its proximity to the Owen Roberts International Airport runway. However, the devastating impact of the storm accelerated the decision to close, as the Cayman Compass reported in 2006.
It was at that time that then-Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts announced an ambitious proposal to develop the government’s agricultural site in Lower Valley to the facility now known as “The Grounds.”
While Mr. Tibbetts’s grandiose vision of “agri-tourism” was never fully realized (and was never fully funded by government), the lasting impact of the project may very well be the weekly Lower Valley farmers market that was reintroduced during the 2007 Cayman Islands Agricultural Show.
Although the popularity of the Lower Valley farmers market has seemingly waned over the years, the initial publicity, concentration of resources and (perhaps most importantly) dissemination of knowledge and techniques to our farmers have helped engender a mini “agricultural revolution” in Cayman.
Put simply, Cayman’s farmers are today growing greater amounts of produce, of superior quality, than ever before in recent history.
In addition to Saturday’s farmers market in Lower Valley, the Camana Bay development continues to host a well-attended market on Wednesdays.
While these events provide for entertaining social gatherings, of greater significance, from a business perspective, has been the acceptance (and in many cases, wholehearted embracing) of local produce by local grocery stores and restaurants.
The so-called farm-to-table movement may still be confined to particular segments of Cayman’s population, but in general consumers here have demonstrated their desire for products that are as fresh, healthy and tasty as possible — providing, of course, that the price is right.
As evidenced by the cornucopia of Cayman-grown fruits and vegetables appearing seasonally in store aisles and on restaurant menus, Cayman’s farmers are becoming better and better at growing (and selling) what Cayman residents and visitors want to eat.
Though Cayman, for reasons of geography and geology, will never become a hub for “agri-tourism” or seize the title of the Caribbean’s breadbasket, we and many residents will argue that pound-for-pound, and tomato-for-tomato, Cayman’s farmers are producing some of the finest foodstuff to be found anywhere.
While our local agriculture industry will probably remain a cottage industry, it must be recognized that, since Minister Tibbetts made his big announcement in 2006, the market landscape for local farming has changed, and continues to change, for the better.
That is why we are pleased to hear Cayman Agricultural Society President George Smith say they are exploring new ways this year to utilize The Grounds in Lower Valley at least once a month, in addition to the Saturday farmers market and annual Agricultural Show, which remains the most well-attended single-day event in Cayman. (The remainder of the year, during the week, typically the Grounds are eerily unoccupied.)
In light of this positive evolution, it behooves the government to reexamine its approach to the encouragement of farming generally, and the function of The Grounds specifically. Now that the farmers are on their own recognizance seeking “new and exciting opportunities elsewhere,” our public officials should be taking a serious look at the future of The Grounds, and its requisite funding, in order to prevent the Lower Valley agricultural site from devolving into another of those tax-devouring entities that annually require significant subsidies.