Diana ‘Lady Di’ Thompson and Mrs. Lena Johnson cut the ceremonial ribbon to reopen the Hatchet Bay Packing House.

Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Family Island Affairs the Hon. Clay Sweeting officially re-opened the Hatchet Bay Packing House on Friday morning, February 18th, 2022. Hatchet Bay, said the minister, was the first stop on a country-wide mission to encourage farmers in particular and Bahamians generally to cultivate the habit of helping to grow what we eat.

The Packing House which was closed for several years is now open to accept fruits and vegetables from registered farmers in Eleuthera which will be sold at the Produce Exchange in New Providence. The minister also announced that a building for a food processing plant and a fish and farm store will be constructed on the grounds of the Packing House in Hatchet Bay.

Participating in the ribbon cutting ceremony along with Minister Sweeting was his wife Mrs. Sweeting, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Mr. Leonardo Lightbourne, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Mrs. Phedra Rahming-Turnquest, Diana “Lady Di” Thompson, Mrs. Lena Johnson, a retired employee of the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation, Executive Chairman of BAIC Mr. Leroy Major, Executive Chairman of the Bahamas Agriculture Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) Senator Tyrell Young and General Manager of BAIC Mr. Troy Sampson.

During the reopening ceremony, Minister Sweeting commented, “I’m very excited about Hatchet Bay and the reopening of the Packing House after five long years. The importance of this is not just reopening the Packing House – but this will be an agri-business center where farmers will be able to have access to seeds, fertilizer, animal feed, other equipment that they need to be properly equipped to be successful farmers. That’s what’s most important about today – bringing agriculture back and ensuring that people have support from the government, support from my ministry, and as Member of Parliament for Central and South Eleuthera I want to ensure that Eleuthera feels the impact.

Pictured (L-R): Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Leonardo Lightbourne; Minister Clay Sweeting and Mrs. Sweeting; Retired BAIC employee, Mrs. Lena Johnson, and Farrmer extraordinaire, Diana 'Lady Di' Thompson.
Pictured (L-R): Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Leonardo Lightbourne; Minister Clay Sweeting and Mrs. Sweeting; Retired BAIC employee, Mrs. Lena Johnson, and Farrmer extraordinaire, Diana ‘Lady Di’ Thompson.

“This [Hatchet Bay] will run as a pilot project to be the first agri-business center in the country, not just Eleuthera.  This is at a central location – where people from both north and south can have access. The packing houses in the north and south will still stay open and we will continue to rebrand those as well, but Hatchet Bay will be the hub for the agri-business center. We are intending by the end of the year to also have a processing facility here. It is called a ‘full kitchen’ where people who have extra tomatoes or other fruits and vegetables, can change them into sauces or jams and jellies. We are really trying to revive this industry, and we hope to see a real difference in a few years.”

Describing his ministry’s plans for and current actions in agriculture, he explained, “Dorian came for us in 2019 and we had no plan for agriculture and marine networks. We had no plans on how to remediate the soil following the scarring of salt water and decomposing remains. Covid-19 came and we had no plans on how to feed ourselves and manufacture and process our own foods. Now that the pandemic is almost over, many farms across the world are bankrupt and those that can produce cannot keep up with the demands worldwide. Foods that are being processed cannot go on the shelves before the product expires because of shipping delays. Foods that are arriving have an increased price tag. These are global problems. We are here to help provide a local solution.

“The reopening of this Packing House presents an opportunity for farmers to have a place to bring their goods to be examined, packaged, marketed and sold… At this Packing House we will pilot a one-stop-shop for farmers. On this compound, we will have a stores unit to sell feed for animals, nationally approved pesticides – we will also sell seeds and seedlings to farmers. By the end of the year, right here in Hatchet Bay we will construct a food processing plant at this site to ensure that no food goes to waste. This food processing plant will be able process these raw materials into jams, jellies, dehydrated fruits and other canned and bottled foods. At this Packing House we will install, along with BAMSI, a greenhouse and a shade house. We will begin vertical farming. We will host classes in backyard gardening, pest/pesticide management, and other short courses and certified courses through BAMSI – to create a cadre of farming professionals that are prepared to take this industry to the next level.

Following the reopening ceremony, members of the Eleuthera farming community toured the interior of the Packing House.
Following the reopening ceremony, members of the Eleuthera farming community toured the interior of the Packing House.

“In short order we will be having Extension officers stationed on Eleuthera to assist the Ministry with capturing the data in creating farm maps for all the farms on Eleuthera. We will be able to identify the fruits and vegetables, where they will be harvested, and even before harvest time. This will allow farmers to access markets that they have not had access to before, to sell their produce more easily, and more efficiently. We will assist farmers in soil testing and understanding which plants are more advantageous to grow and in what season. Our farmers will get the one-on-one assistance that is needed to help them succeed… Our goal is that every method of farming that can be realized in these islands are done. We want to encourage every type of farmer. We will assist the seasoned farmers with tilling their lands and with getting access to potable water. We will engage and encourage our women to use modern technology and innovation to farm efficiently, with less effort…”

Sweeting emphasized,”This administration is serious about food security and more importantly, we are serious about you and we want to help you succeed. When you succeed, we succeed and our country thrives. We will meet our mandate to provide local organic foods that are healthier options to be sold, first locally, second to hotels and cruiselines, and third for export when we are able to provide a surplus. We will meet our mandate to reduce our current expenditure on imports, and we will increase our revenue by producing and processing enough to export.”

Mrs. Marilyn LaFleur, a local farmer in the Hatchet Bay area, as well as the Agricultural Officer for BAMSI in the Eleuthera office, while prepping sets of seedlings prepared to give out to interested farmers and backyard farmers following the reopening ceremony, said that she was elated with the current refocus on agriculture. “For some months now, the packing house has been – just here. The mere fact that life has returned to the packing house, I think it’s good for the Hatchet Bay area which is known on the island of Eleuthera to be farm country. Bringing the farm supplies store here is vitally important.  For some time they [government] have been trying to get the farmers and the farming cooperatives to take on this portfolio, but it has not happened. Agriculture has at this time become one of the main focuses of the country in terms of feeding ourselves and looking to lower the food import deficit… I’m excited, really, really excited. I believe that I won’t have to wait for three and four weeks to get supplies from Nassau – because my list went in and there are other farmers in front of me in the queue. We now have it right here on Eleuthera. I think it’s a brilliant idea at this time. We can only do better in farming from here on.

BAMSI Agricultural Officer, Mrs. Marilyn Lafleur (far right), stands with her colleagues under the greenhouse on-site, where seedlings are nurtured.
BAMSI Agricultural Officer, Mrs. Marilyn Lafleur (far right), stands with her colleagues under the greenhouse on-site, where seedlings are nurtured.

She continued, “I work in Extension services, and what has been amazing for me also is that I’ve had some other training in the area as well as food processing. I’m not just an extension person, but well-rounded in the agricultural sector. So, I am excited to assist people… I’m here to help. I’m not a person who’s afraid to get my hands dirty. If you are a new farmer needing information. I am prepared to come out there and literally get you started… I’m not afraid to get down with the farmers to do what needs to be done… We have quite a number of very young people, under the age of 35, who have taken on the mantle to farm. So, I’m adamant about trying to help them get started.”

The Minister of Agriculture along with officials of BAIC and BAMSI also hosted a community meeting with farmers and tenants of BAIC at St. Mark’s Methodist Church in Hatchet Bay on Thursday evening, February 17th. Farmers and BAIC tenants got an opportunity to voice their concerns and to interact with the minister and his panel to get answers to their many questions concerning the Government’s plans for the island of Eleuthera and longstanding challenges and issues experienced by farmers throughout the island.