This Caribbean Cooperative Organic Mushroom Farm is a Huge Success

Plant Grow Eat is a sustainable agriculture model that can provide food and jobs in rural areas.

Sep 5, 2019

(Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock.com)

Worker's farm cooperatives are a great way to provide jobs and fair wages for growers. If the food is organic and sustainably grown that is a big bonus. It's an even bigger bonus if the cooperative is located in an area that usually has to import most of its food, like St. Lucia in the Caribbean.

Marquis River Farm in St. Lucia – also called Plant Grow Eat – is empowering 15 young people in their 20s to become successful agri-preneurs using the cooperative farm model.

Peter Dillon is described by Forbes as, "a man on a mission" provided the land and the initial capital and is training the young people to run, build, and make the farm profitable. The profits will be used to pay the workers and to pay back the investment. When the money has been fully paid, the ownership will be transferred to  the youth.

Farm cooperatives also give the young people a sense of community and a mutual support system according to Dillon. Both the risk and the profits are diversified.

Dillon told Forbes that the profit-share and worker-ownership model “challenges the discourse of plantation agriculture by getting ownership back into the hands of young people doing the work.”

The five-year-old business is a huge success. A big part of that is due to Marquis River Farm’s organic mushroom line, “Simply Mushrooms". Close to a ton of mushrooms are sold every week. “The tourist industry is begging for it and they buy almost everything available,” Dillon said.

The island has imported an average of $1.25 million of mushrooms a year but Dillon asked, “How can there not be bountiful opportunities in this sector when most of the countries in the Caribbean import the vast majority of what they eat?”

The climate and weather of the island have not lent themselves to mushroom growing according to the Ministry of Agriculture. "The main challenge for the production of the commercial strains of mushrooms here in St Lucia is the temperature management leading to high set up costs,” explains Thaddeus Constantine, an agronomist at the Ministry of Agriculture. “The main forms of cooling are with the use of air condition units and wet walls.”

Marquis River Farm has managed to grow mushrooms sustainably due to new technology. The mushrooms are grown with climate-controlled and solar-powered indoor facilities. The button mushrooms are organic and available all year long.

Plant Grow Eat also produces cherry tomatoes, salad greens, and shoots. The greens use the compost left from growing mushrooms.

Dillon has been involved in philanthropic agricultural projects in the region for over 15 years and sees the cooperative, and others like it, as a way to create financial opportunities for young people according to Forbes

“My intention is to develop a thriving youth-owned agricultural business and to provide jobs in poor rural communities,” Dillon said.

With an unemployment rate of over 20 percent in 2018, this business and others like it can have a big impact on the economy of the Island.

Plant Grow Eat shows that this type of growing model works and can help break the plantation style of agriculture in the Caribbean that lead to the island's dependence on imported food. Hopefully, this model will be done one crop at a time, one island at a time to help grow the economy of the Caribbean and give its people a better future.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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