Of the Earth, Off the Ground

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“Watch the machete at your feet,” says Adam Miller as I climb into his tank-like Land Rover Defender at 5:30 in the morning. “Anywhere you live on earth, I think morning is the best time,” he declares with a smile. Soon we are driving straight through neck-high sugar cane, fragrant lemon grass and beside the clear Martha Brae River on his farm called Potosi. This place is in a gloriously undeveloped part of Jamaica called Cockpit Country, and one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. “Mass production works for a lot of things, but not necessarily for food,” Adam says as he revs the gas and expertly steers, “it’s got to be environmentally counter-productive to send mangos from Florida to California.” Here at Potosi Farm, Adam and his wife Marika are growing vegetables for households, restaurants, villas and hotels all across the island—and are fast changing the perception of farming.

“You have two classes of farming,” Adam says, “big estates with 2000 acres and poor farmers with 5 acres or less. Medium-sized crop production is rare in Jamaica, and it’s usually one or two crops only.” Adam has planted a staggering 25 varieties of flourishing vegetables like Red Russian Kale, Slikpik Yellow Straightneck Squash and Bulls Blood Beets—and fruits are next. He points to “teenage” mango trees in the distance and a donkey meandering in the grass. After two years of hard prep work to dig up deep irrigation systems for the paw paw (papaya) that once grew here, to relentlessly readying the soil, Adam and Marika are in their fourth month of business. Now from deep in the country come gorgeously packaged boxes of sustainably grown, ultra-fresh vegetables—right to customers’ doors. “It’s such a simple concept to pack a box of vegetables for someone,” Adam says. But in Jamaica it’s never been done—and in no time, demand is astronomical. While Adam works the fields, Marika has been busy building a simple, special brand and masterfully managing outreach. A month before they even started selling, Adam and Marika were featured on a popular local show called Smile Jamaica and the phone started ringing immediately for orders. Then after just three weeks of deliveries, the couple was asked to participate in the prestigious Jamaica Observer Food Awards—and won food producer of the year and Jamaica’s 50th award where Potosi was ranked in the top-five most innovative businesses on the island. “We couldn’t begin to anticipate the exposure,” Marika says. But it works with their philosophy: “Most farmers grow and hustle to sell,” Adam says, but we find the market first—and then grow for it.”

Adam and Marika first came to this remote, nature-laden haven via Chris Blackwell, the legendary founder of Island Records who signed Bob Marley, U2 and countless more world-changing musicians to his label. He hired Adam to tend to the ultra-private farm on his 2000-acre property called Pantrepant. So Adam and Marika moved from a tiny Kingston neighborhood to what is best described as “bush”—and have never been happier. Adam spent much of his childhood on his family’s dairy farm in St. Thomas, and has never wanted to be anywhere but surrounded by nature. The “road” to Pantrepant is a rowdy trail of potholes and mud-splashing puddles—and then you emerge to see two homes nestled subtly between wafting palm fronds and beside a stone helicopter-landing pad. Although they have bought their own piece of land 20 minutes away, which is Potosi, Adam and Marika continue to live on Pantrepant across the hill from Chris. The concept of privacy here is like nothing else, and the feeling of being surrounded by nothing but nature is both unnerving and exhilarating. At night, the whole house is wide open to the cool, clear sky, rustling trees and soothing sounds of crickets.

For dinner we gather at a broad, round and locally made teak table encircled with wicker chairs from Chris Blackwell’s deceased wife’s collection called Royal Hut. A taste of Potosi farm’s Young Arugula is astounding. “It’s like wasabi, right?” Adam asks with a laugh. And it really is that brilliantly, stingingly flavorful. Another salad with Beatrice Italian Eggplant again delivers a taste that equally thrills. Dessert is Marika’s latest creation: cucumber and mint popsicles. Everything from the farm is grown with a local organic fertilizer called Johnson’s, and even though it’s a fraction of the cost of the commercial stuff, few know how to use it. So a significant part of Adam’s mission is to educate. He works with other farmers in this sprawling parish, and once they successfully grow sustainably, he’ll incorporate their staple crops like yams and potatoes into his vegetable boxes.

We go to sleep early to rise for the new day, when Adam will walk the rows of thriving vegetables and discern what they need: “Daily observation is critical. Plants tell you what they need. You learn what happens from moist cool mornings into the midday heat, what insects are doing to which crops, and you witness the process of growth.” They recently had a Rastafarian high priest bless the land, and though it’s been days since the ceremony, the embers need only a rustle to come back to life. “There’s little in life that truly provokes your senses,” Adam says as we climb once again into the hulking Defender, “love, pain and what you eat.” Full stop.

Digging Jamaica? Visit the 100m Shop and get your jerk-reggae-patois-sunshine fix. (Sunscreen recommended.)