Delrie Cole established his farmers market in 2012 on a three acre plot of land on Jonas Road, the main road that links Pares Village Road on the eastern side of the island with All Saints village at its centre. By then he had over 30 years experience as a farmer. The land is good agricultural land, suitable for cultivating high quality fruit and vegetables. In order to create a dependable water supply he excavated 5 mini-reservoirs on adjacent land, with a natural water-gut fed from rain water from the hills above All Saints village. He installed a water pump and a generator to run it, and put in a controlled irrigation system. He knew that weather conditions were not always conducive to growing top quality fruit and vegetables, and within the first eighteen months of operation he developed a simple, practical way to conserve water and to protect his plants from the drying heat of the midday sun. He was on his way.
As the first of seven children born to Leoster Cole and his wife,Delrie worked on the land from the age of 5, when his father taught him how plants grew. He became a knowledgeable and resourceful farmer, always looking for better ways to grow good quality produce. And he knows from experience that there is a large market in Antigua for fresh fruit and vegetables.When Delrie was 17 his father one day filled a truck with 2,000 lb of fresh fruit and vegetables, handed him the keys and said, “Go and sell them. Let’s see what you can do.” With nothing but his knowledge of the island to guide him, he drove his truck from Pineapple Beach to Mamora Bay to English Harbour, stopping along the way at Bailey’s,
and sold whatever was left to people passing by in the Admiral’s Inn parking lot. He went back to the farm for a second load, and went round the valley from Curtain Bluff to Jolly Beach, selling out again. He took a third load west to Hawksbill and Galley Bay, and finally realized that there was an almost untapped market for fresh fruits and vegetables on the island, and that it could be his market. As he continued to work for his father he began to dream of having his own farm, of persuading other farmers to add their products to those he would grow himself, and of supplying this market with the best quality fruit, vegetables, salad greens and herbs, all grown in Antigua.
By the summer of 2012 Delrie had his farming land, fulfilling a dream that had never died. His first crops were tomatoes and spinach, and later, papayas. These are still his best selling produce. In 2013 he decided to experiment with a lightly shaded tomato bed roughly 40 ft by 50 ft in area, to see whether this would conserve enough moisture in the soil to make a difference to the yield of the tomato crops. He used discarded greenheart lumber recycled from a torn down building, to construct a sturdy frame along the edges of the bed, with a scaffolding of light rails all round the top. The rails were then covered with a 35% sunscreen mesh. He ran irrigation lines along the built-up rows of beds, leaving narrow pathways between each row for his field hands to work the beds, and planted tomatoes. As the plants grew he placed small plastic horticultural rings around the main stem of each plant and tied them with adjustable strings fixed to the rails above, lifting the plants erect, improving air circulation between them and so the fruit never touched the ground. As a comparison experiment, he planted a similar, unshaded bed of tomatoes adjacent to the shaded bed. The amount of water fed to the two beds was exactly the same. The earth in the shade bed remained slightly damp, and could be compressed into a ball when squeezed lightly in the hand. The earth in the unshaded bed fell like dust through the fingers. The difference in yield was an astonishing 40% more from the shade bed. Shade beds for spinach and celery soon followed, and by the end of April, 2014, all the farm beds were screened with shade netting.
Colesome Farmers Market employs 5 regular field hands, including Delrie’s son, Kashif, and Rhys Actie, Steveroy Miller, Orain Halstead and Brian Hunt. They also handle tent sales. Two interns from the Gilbert Agricultural Rural Development Center are usually on staff as well. They grow eggplants, cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers, zucchini, cabbage, green (pole) beans, Swiss chard, and a variety of lettuces. They also grow spring onions and herbs; basil, thyme, tarragon, parsley and cilantro, and passion fruit trained up the poles of the shade beds, in addition to tomatoes, spinach and papayas. They buy a variety of other fruits and vegetables to round out their offerings, and you will find every fruit in season here, including sapodillas, sugar apples, custard and mamie apples, melons, avocados, oranges and grapefruit, and also root vegetables like beets, eddoes, cassava, yams, and ginger root.
The source of such an abundance of choice is a group of small farmers, or backyard gardeners, who are part of the Zero Hunger Challenge, a project funded by the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO). When the Zero Hunger Challenge was launched in Antigua 200 farmers responded, and were given high quality seeds and offered advice to improve their yields of various fruit and vegetables. A number of these farmers now supply Colesome Farmers Market, and are paid a fair price for their produce, or can barter their crops in exchange for Cole produce.
The resort and restaurant market for fresh produce that Delrie Cole discovered as a young man has grown. He supplies restaurants like the Copper and Lumber Store and Admiral’s Inn, and resorts including Carlisle Bay, Sandals, and Nonsuch Bay. He delivers produce regularly to the large student body at American University of Antigua, and more recently to the seasonal yachting community in Falmouth. Of the large international yachts that winter in and around Antigua, the chef on Leander, among others, is a regular and enthusiastic buyer. And as the word goes out, a growing number of local people stop by the farm on Jonas Road to select the basics or discover rare treats in season. He has introduced fresh local eggs supplied by the Princess Margaret Secondary School agricultural students, and locally produced and packaged dried fruit and nuts, pepper sauces and seasoning sauces, handmade soaps and herbal cosmetics.
With so much accomplished, the dream has expanded. The next project at Colesome Farmers Market will be to develop a line of pickles, pastes and relishes from the abundance of produce available. Most fruit and vegetable farmers lose about 40% of their yield in spoilage because they can’t sell it quickly enough. The solution to this problem is to turn excess produce into high quality saleable goods.
Delrie’s new dream is to build a small kitchen and a salad and juice bar on the premises, offering his customers a place to sit and refresh themselves, and to buy fresh tomato paste and basil pesto, cucumber pickles and a variety of relishes under the Colesome Farmers Market label. Also new on the culinary scene is Lion Pavilion, a vegetarian restaurant located at East Bus Station, where Delrie has started to create memorable dishes from the produce of his farm. All of the initiatives he has taken to date have been funded out of farm profits, as it is difficult to get bank loans for small farming projects. There is no stopping this man. The sky’s the limit.