Beneath the Blue: Life in the Land of Blue Mountain Coffee

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Andrew P. Smith



Andrew P. Smith





Cover: A farmer walks to work near Hollywell Recreational Park. Previous page: Clouds enshroud the Blue Mountains at Penlyne Castle, St. Thomas. 4

The Cascade Waterfall, one of Jamaica’s highest waterfalls, located at Green Hill, Portland.

Beneath the Blue Scattered throughout eastern Jamaica’s mountainous interior are small farmers that face innumerable challenges to produce one of the world’s most famous beverages – Blue Mountain Coffee. Located on steep and unstable slopes, these farmers expose themselves to economic and environmental vagaries on a daily basis to produce a brew that is enjoyed by discerning coffee connoisseurs around the world.

In addition to the economic challenges faced by growing coffee, the residents of the Blue Mountains face many other issues. Every year they face the potential damage caused by hurricanes and tropical storms. Over the past six years this has resulted in landslides, the destruction of buildings and the disruption of water supplies. These landslides have led to their roads, bridges and water supplies being cut off.

Originally introduced to Temple Hall in St. Andrew in 1725 from Martinique, commercial coffee cultivation spread eastwards to the Blue Mountains. Here the altitude of over one thousand metres and the cool climate resulted in coffee berries taking a longer time to mature than at lower altitudes. This results in the coffee’s unique flavour and led to the establishment of large coffee estates, some of which are still operational.

This has resulted in residents being unable to carry their produce to market. Getting to Kingston from Cascade in Portland for food supplies, health care and employment has to be done via the north coast, a fifty mile journey that takes up to 3 hours. When the roads were repaired, the direct journey took less than half that time. Water pipes that were destroyed five years ago in Swift River have not been repaired. This is ironic in a region that is the source of water for eastern Jamaica’s population of over one million persons.

After their emancipation in 1838, freed slaves moved into the mountains, where their descendants still live. Apart from growing cash crops such as carrots, tomato and yam, these small farmers also grow and sell coffee to various factories in the mountains. They are also seasonally employed on coffee estates to pick coffee berries, sort and select berries and fertilize and nurture the crops. One might assume that cultivating the world’s most expensive coffee would lead to great wealth for those who grow the crop. While this might be true for the large estates, this is not so for the small coffee farmers. These farmers sell their berries to licensed processing factories which process and sell the beans locally and overseas. For the 2008/09 crop, farmers are paid a maximum of JA$3,500.00 (US$45.00) for a 60 pound box of coffee berries. When roasted, this yields between 8 to 10 pounds of roasted beans which sells for up to US$45.00 per pound. In addition, when the chemical inputs of fertilizers and pesticides are taken into account, as Bertram, a coffee farmer claims “I could make more money running a taxi for six months than from coffee for a year.” 5

The cultural and natural heritage of the Blue Mountains is also world renown. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the mountains provided refuge for runaway African slaves (known as Maroons) who escaped from sugar plantations and successfully fought guerrilla wars against the British. The Maroons were granted their freedom in 1739 and their descendants still live in villages within the Blue Mountains. It is also the main mountain range of the 76,000 hectare Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park which was established in 1993 to protect the area’s unique biodiversity. In 2009, the Park will be nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thus, many residents believe that the Blue Mountains have great potential for heritage and adventure tourism. The region has already caught the attention of a few intrepid travellers. However, residents believe that with more marketing from Jamaica’s tourism development, other sources of income for the residents could be generated.



Above: Sunrise at the Yallahs River at Mahogany Vale in St. Thomas.

Previous Page: School friends Shemeka (left) and Kasheena of Ness Castle in St. Thomas.

A female red-billed streamer-tail hummingbird feeds from a Heliconia flower in Green Hill. This hummingbird is found only in Jamaica.

The Jamaican Giant Anole (Anolis garmani) in the forests near Joppa in St. Mary.


Following page: The barracks of the Jamaica Defence Camp at Newcastle, established

Mists forests near Section, Portland.

in 1841 on the grounds of a former coffee estate.




Ripe coffee berries along the trail between Clydesdale and Cinchona in St. Andrew


Viviene Walters picking coffee in Chepstow, Portland.

Following page: Susie Osavo picking ripe coffee berries in Bangor Ridge. Portland.




Dorian Samuels selecting coffee for Coffee Traders at Coolshade, Portland.


Lawrence Henry sun-dries coffee beans at his home in Cascade, Portland.


Lisa sorts aged coffee beans at the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory in St. Andrew. Seventy-five percent of the factory’s green beans are exported to Japan. 18

Various brands of Blue Mountain Coffe. From left, JABLUM from Mavis Bank, Craighton Estate from Jamaica UCC and Wallenford Blue Mountain Coffee.

A passerby looks in the window at Cafe Blue in Liguanea, St. Andrew, operated by Coffee Traders.




The Life of Lawrence At 69 years old, Lawrence Henry has spent all his life in Cascade. He continues to farm his two plots of land and also pick coffee on large coffee estates. He is a living testament to the expression, “work ‘til ‘im dead”, and he does so to provide for his family, primarily his wife Bernice, daughter Kerry and eight-year old grand-daughter Taika. Kerry is an architecture student at the University of Technology, while his elder daughter Hyacinth works at a supermarket in Kingston. Henry’s life and struggles are indicative of the collective struggle of his community. In 2004 Hurricane Ivan decimated the entire coffee crop, and the community still has not recovered, neither from the loss of income from that crop, nor from the crop damage. The money which should have come from the Dyoll Insurance Company was minimal and the company actually became bankrupt after Ivan, because it was unable to cover all of the hurricane claims. Henry used to be able to produce 100 boxes per crop, but now produces less than half of that. He is now unable to purchase fertilizer for his crop because of major health expenses. Henry has a prostate condition which requires him to travel every six weeks to the Annotto Bay hospital on the north coast. Each trip costs him JA$3,500.00 (US$45.00) - the earning equivalent of one box of coffee berries. In January he is scheduled to have an ultrasound US $56.00, and possibly an operation on his prostate, which will keep him off his feet for several weeks. Yet compared to Bernice, he is healthy. Two years ago she was diagnosed with a kidney ailment by doctors in Annotto Bay. They referred her to the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) for further medical attention. Since then, she has been between Cascade and her sister in Kingston, undergoing medical tests. While at her sister last month, she suffered a slight Stroke, and is now also partially blind in her right eye. Sending his daughter Kerry to study architecture at The University of Technology costs US$106.00 per month. Henry doesn’t know where this money is coming from, but is adamant that she continues her education.

Lawrence Henry repairing the path to his home.


Previous page: Lawrence on his farm in Cascade.

Bernice Henry at her sister’s home in Grants Pen in Kingston.


Bernice at her home in Cascade.


Taika at her grandfather’s home .

Following page: Lawrence outside of his house.






Previous page: A local farmer carries his daughter over a landslide that destroyed the road at Cascade, Portland in December 2004.

Illegal logging in the forest reserve near Section in Portland.


Forest fires can either be set by farmers to clear land, or sometimes occur by natural causes.


Athniel Vernon carries containers to collect water in a wheelbarrow above one of four landslides on the Buff Bay Valley road.


The Hope River in spate, carrying sediments from the Blue Mountains into the Kingston Harbour, killing marine life and silting the harbour.


Students of Cascade Primary & Junior High School walking to school from Regale in Portland because the vehicles that used to carry them can no longer drive on the road.

A Land Rover carries residents of Penlyne Castle, St. Thomas over the Yallahs River fording which was built by the community and is impassable during heavy rains. The footbridge in the background was damaged during Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. 34

Remnants of the post office at Penlyne Castle in St. Thomas which was destroyed during tropical storm Gustav in August 2008.

Kadian Henderson tends Marlene’s Variety Shop, the main source of groceries in the upper Buff Bay Valley in Portland. The shop has not been fully stocked since December 2004 when the original landslide in Cascade occurred, resulting in many of the residents being unable to purchase basic food. 35

The Maroons “The Blue Mountains are the extent of our cultural boundaries”. These words of Frank Lumsden, Colonel of the Charles Town Maroons encapsulate the connection that the Maroons have with the Blue Mountains. The Maroons of the Blue Mountiains live in three villages. Moore Town in the Rio Grande Valley, Charles Town in the Buff Bay Valley and Scott’s Hall in the mountains of St. Mary. Collectively, they are known as the Windward Maroons, to distinguish them from the Leeward Maroons who live in western Jamaica. The Maroons are intimately connected with the plants living in the forests of the Blue Mountains. Many are recognised by the Maroons for their medicinal uses. These include the Annatto plant, the leaves of which are boiled for tea which is drunk for biliousness and also for the liver ailments and Arrow Root, a plant with tubers that produces a starchy substance, which is used in the treatment of diarrhea. The Maroons of the 21st century proudly retain their African heritage, and this is reflected in their dance, music and language. Traditional Kramanti dancing and the instruments used - the abeng (cow horn) and drums - originated from Western Africa. Dancing is done for pleasure and to call on the ancestors and the drums and white rum are integral parts of the dance, which allow for easier possession by ancestral spirits. The music of the Moore Town Maroons was declared by UNESCO in 2005 as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

A carving representing Maroon warriors at the entrance to the Maroon Safu Yard at Charles Town, Portland. This Safu Yard is a re-creation of a traditional parade ground and meeting place. 36

Colonel Frank Lumsden, leader of the Charles Town Maroons at the top of Sambo Hill, which was a strategic lookout point for the Maroons in their wars against the British.




Colonel Lumsden blows the abeng while holding a bottle of white rum which facilitates easy communication with the ancestors.

Previous page: Kramanti dance celebrations at Nanny Day celebrations in Moore Town, Portland.


Drummers play traditional Maroon drums, which also originated in West Africa. The drums are an integral part of Kramanti dancing.


From top, left - right: According to Colonel Lumsden, the young lady in red is being possessed by an ancestral spirit. She is being held to prevent injury and is administered rum (in the plastic cup) to appease the spirit, which leaves her. She then rejoins the dancing, led by Indi at left, the Queen (religious leader) of the Scotts Hall Maroons from St. Mary. 42


AC K N OW L E D G E M E N T S Firstly, I would like to thank the residents of the Blue Mountains who spared time to share with me the challenges and issues that they face on a daily basis. In particular, I owe an immense debt of gratitude to Lawrence and Bernice Henry who allowed me into their life for a few days to put a human face on the challenges faced by the thousands of small farmers who live in the Blue Mountains. Colonel Frank Lumsden of Charles Town shared with me the history and culture of his fellow Maroons. I also thank Athneil Vernon and Ava-Gail Gardiner who introduced me to many of the residents of Cascade in the Blue Mountains of Portland. Alton Bedward, tour guide at the Jamaica UCC Blue Mountain Coffee Company provided valuable insight into the operations of this company. My parents provided me with invaluable support which enabled me to undertake this course of study. Finally, I thank my lecturers at the Dalian centre of the University of Bolton’s MA Photography course. David J. Clarke, Ulla Marquardt, Professor Yang Xiaguang (may he rest in peace) and visiting lecturers Ian Beelsey, Dan Groshong, Pieter Van Der Houwen, Huang Wen, Brian Storm, Dirk Halstead, Robert Pledge, David Campbell, Dan Chung, Jim Dooley, Susan Dooley and Dirk Claus. My fellow rekindle my

classmates passion

also for

helped to photography.

All have provided me with opportunities and experiences for which I will forever be indebted