At full moon on a Saturday night, head to Pedro Plains, the “breadbasket of Jamaica”, to feast al fresco on top-notch organic fare produced by local farmersNungwi Village
I am sipping a mango bellini at sunset, under a full moon, beneath the very tree the fruit was picked, about to have dinner on Dool’s organic farm, where much of the food we will eat was grown. Words like “organic” and “locally sourced” have become such lazy prefixes in poncey food journalism they barely register, but this place couldn’t be truer to these principles. And Dool’s is anything but poncey. There is no farmhouse on this smallholding, the only 100% organic farm in Pedro Plains, on the south of the island, known as “the breadbasket of Jamaica”.
By the light cast by the rising full moon, I can make out the tops of the Saint Elizabeth hills in the distance and the dirt track that leads down to our table – a short stroll down a lantern-lit path, cut through a field of shoulder-high yam vines. The table is simply laid with white linen, silver cutlery and small wildflower arrangements set in a clearing beneath a fruit tree festooned with hanging lights. Against a backdrop of murmuring wildlife, such humble surroundings demand guests to relax into the gentle, unpretentious mood. It’s impossible to resist the convivial goodwill and the family-style seating will always throw up a surprise dining partner or two.
This farm-to-table dinner is held monthly, on the closest Saturday to full moon, and features organic ingredients grown at Dool’s and other small farms in the area, prepared table-side. Food is passed round in traditional Jamaican dutchies, but what is in them is far more sophisticated than jerk chicken and rice. The menu rotates according to season, and is paired to an appropriate wine. We had a goat’s cheese crostini with a pea-and-mint salad – so fresh you could almost taste the farm – followed by lamb with a rich coconut and spice sauce.
The following day I went to meet Dool (aka Rudolph McLean), who proudly shows me all his crops – breadfruit, coconut, banana and cashew trees, peppermint, scallion (or spring onion, prized in Jamaica), cassava, pumpkin, sweet potato, gungo peas … all covered in mulch rather than chemical fertiliser. He’s a simple farmer but switched-on and passionate about his organic mission. “Me eat all organic and me healthy and strong!” says the sixtysomething, thumping his chest. “Me no go doctor!”
The dinner is run by Jakes, one of the most progressive hotels in the Caribbean (though non-guests can attend) and is one of several local-community projects it supports. The boutique hotel in the fishing village of Treasure Beach might cultivate a shabby-chic vibe and have supermodels and New York hipsters lounging around its beachside pool, but it is firmly rooted in the local community. Initiatives in sustainable fishing and farming, or community projects, are driven by the hotel’s owner Jason Henzell, a white Jamaican who takes me on a whirlwind tour of the area.Nungwi Village
It’s Saturday morning and he’s had just three hours’ sleep after being up all night at a Beenie Man gig, but he’s a ball of positive energy, his enthusiasm contagious. One minute we’re drinking beer and talking to old boys in a roadside rum shack, the next we’re meeting the Jamaican prime minister, who’s in the area to open a well.
Henzell ups the patois with the rum-shack boys but, impressively given the deep divisions in Jamaican society, talks to them and the politicians on the same level – he winds down the car window and greets the prime minister with a breezy, “Hi there PM!” We then stop to look at the four new classrooms his community-action group, Breds, has built at a local school and to chat with a group of teenage boys to gauge their opinion on whether Treasure Beach could spearhead Jamaica’s bid to host an international beach-soccer championship. (It clearly can’t, lacking the tourist infrastructure and photogenic white beaches of a Montego Bay, but that won’t stop Henzell trying).
Jamaica is great fun and there was a lot I loved about the country, but there’s a post-colonial air to it which is opaque and difficult to define (certainly on a two-week holiday) that feels quite heavy at times. I felt it in the places I stayed or visited; everywhere, that is, except Jakes, which felt like a microcosm of how you’d like modern Jamaica to be, as both a country and a destination.
• Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7777, virgin-atlantic.com) flies direct from Gatwick to Montego Bay from £721 return. Dinner $95pp, including transfers from Jakes (jakeshotel.com), every month (except October) on the closest Saturday to full moon. Where to stay: Jakes (booked through Island Outpost, +1 876 960 8134, islandoutpost.com). Rooms from US $115 a night