Jamaica’s Gourmet Honey Innovator: Ecofarms™
by Karen Rollins May 13, 2019
Entrepreneur Grace Foster Reid looked to her father’s farm for inspiration when she found herself unemployed following the closure of two bauxite factories in the central Jamaican town of Mandeville.
Grace is an engineer, and graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), so innovation comes as second nature.
When she saw the bee hives on her father’s land, and learned about their versatility, she knew they could be made into a profitable business.
Hives provide five salable products – honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and wax.
Grace decided bees could provide employment for herself and at least 100 community members who were also made redundant by the factory closures.
Ecofarms™ becomes a reality
Grace experienced numerous obstacles while building her dream. Staffing issues, lack of capital and funding, and low profit margins all threatened to derail her social enterprise.
But she didn’t let these issues stop her as she set about producing a product with a difference.
Grace unveiled Buzz™ HoneyStix™ in 2011 – straw-shaped sachets, each with a teaspoon of honey. They include island infusions of cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass, mango, tamarind and watermelon.
The sachets are currently sold in over 50 stores across Jamaica, including in the global coffee giant Starbucks, which placed an initial order of 3,000 when they opened their doors on the island in 2017.
The product offerings at Ecofarms™ expanded in 2013 with the inclusion of Buzz™ Honey Wine, a product which came about after Grace accidentally left a bottled honey/passionfruit infusion in a cupboard. Six months later it had turned into mead honey wine.
Grace utilised science to commence production of an award-winning product with infusions of Malay (Otaheite) apple, sorrel and carambola.
Two new products are in the pipeline for Ecofarms™ – a drink and a confectionary. They are both slated for release in winter 2019.
What’s next for Ecofarms™?
Grace’s goal to assist vulnerable members of her community will see the company expand operations to the Jamaica Deaf Village, where they will mostly employ the hearing impaired. Two young people who are deaf are currently in training on the farm.
Grace says: “We plan on moving to the Jamaica Deaf Village next because the hearing impaired are…underemployed, and often paid below minimum wage.”
The social enterprise company is also scaling up, having recently purchased production lines for their HoneyStix™, Honey Wine and honey packaging. Ecofarms™ is also looking into select export markets in the Caribbean, North America and Europe, and is pursuing organic certification.
Grace hopes her export goals will be reached with the help of the Women Empowered through Export (We-Xport) programme implemented by Caribbean Export. We-Xport supports Caribbean women in business to start exporting or increase the exports of their products or services.
She says the greatest periods of growth for Ecofarms™ came during the most emotionally and financially trying times. Grace used these periods to innovate, increase productivity, improve efficiency and research the training and funding opportunities available.
Grace also has this advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Reassess those things you currently consider obstacles or setbacks, because in them, you just may find the fuel you need to keep going.”
She also warns against being overly optimistic.
“Our natural optimism as entrepreneurs can lead us to over projecting, failing to account for possible mishaps. So, halve your projected revenue and double your expenses, and then ask yourself if the business is still viable.”