When Bobbie Garbutt, 4th generation cocoa and spice farmer, was growing up in between the Caribbean island of Grenada and the United Kingdom, she never envisioned that agroecology would become her life’s mission. This is her story.
Whilst the pandemic changed many things globally, for Bobbie, it brought a new perspective of something very close to her heart. Her career began in London working as a production assistant in fashion, but Bobbie’s interest in food systems carried her onto a different journey of catering, until the pandemic brought that to a grinding halt.
A travel ban forcing her to extend her visit home in Grenada, gifting her precious time to rediscover her mother’s family farm on the Island and it’s unique significance.
Bobbie currently works for regenerative agro-ecological initiatives across East Africa and Grenada, whilst steering the family farm into the future. She’s on a mission to inspire a movement back to the land– making farming prosperous by rewarding nature-friendly growing, as well as creating climate solutions.
This is her story. Call it a love letter to her fellow islanders, hope for our global future.
Every Sunday, my parents, sisters and I would go to visit L’Esterre, our family estate in the country. Where we would sit down for lunch, with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins, amidst seventy acres of biodiverse flora and fauna—our family’s nutmeg and cocoa estate.
And I dreaded it.
The restlessly windy journey through the rainforest was the only route. It was hot and clammy, sandflies perpetually nibbed at your ankles and always guaranteed wascar sickness. On foot I would sweat through my socks that were tucked into my jeans, the ground was always muddy and with it the intense odour of cocoa. I found it so uncomfortable.
This is what I focused on, it was how I viewed my visits to L’Esterre growing up. I was totally ignorant. Totally unappreciative.
It bore no resemblance to the farms I’d seen on TV or in books growing up; the neat rows, singular crops and tractors were nowhere to be found. I was conditioned to thinking the way we were growing was messy.
A way of growing that echoes nature’s mechanisms. And nature knows best, right?
Ironically today, my life’s work is to ensure this beautiful messiness both thrives and continues.
Grenada is more than what the eye sees. We live and stand on an island and under our feet, is gold. We are living on gold, the best soil in the world. In the words of my Uncle, ‘you plant a cricket bat, it will grow’. Some magical stuff is happening under our feet and it’s pretty significant.
Our soil is volcanic and fertile. We have a favourable climate with regular rainfall and sunshine. A perfect combination with the lush tropical rainforest and close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean sea. Alongside the very limited history of chemical farming on the island, these elements play a crucial role in this resulting terrain and thriving soil.
How we grow and what we grow also impacts this. Remarkably we created the conditions for an extremely bold flavour and high quality produce. You will find that breadfruit trees are friendly neighbours to guavas, nutmegs, mangoes, cinnamon and cloves, surrounding and feeding each other through their intelligent root networks underneath our feet. And we don’t see most of this magic at work. Sometimes, we even take it for granted, because it’s all we’ve ever known.
Conversations with particular individuals at certain points throughout my life truly opened my vision up to these facts. Whenever I would describe L’Esterre, people thought I was nuts to be living worlds away in a big city.
At the time, I was so desperately trying to carve my own path away from home. To forge a new story. Not realising the true significance and unique standpoint of the story that was already mine, waiting for me back home.
The more people I met. The more places I visited around the world. The more research I did. The more books I read. The more I learnt about agriculture. Farming systems. Climate change. Human beings. Design. The answer was clear, I knew where I had to be.
The pandemic made sure of that. I paused. We all paused. Trying to search for a reason for all of this happening. Everything needs a reason. We were told to stay at home. That’s when I discovered my home.
But what I discovered at L’Esterre was not just what we were growing. But how we grow and how what we’re doing here plays a key role in a much wider, global significance. For solving climate change. For feeding the world sustainably. For producing high quality, nutritious food that makes people’s imagination run wild.
So I did my research; I learnt my trade. I reached out to everyone and anyone doing good in the industry. I learnt the magic of regenerative systems at work from my uncle, who had been at work for over 4 generations, caretaking the land. We’ve been growing this way for generations and the world is only waking up to this.
Full disclosure, I haven’t been in the farming world for long. It was only fairly recently that I discovered the importance of good growing, that with nature. Also I woke up to how important spices are too, because they represent my home island, Grenada.
But, we all know that it’s happening. The beauty of it is that there is a solution to the mess that we’re in. And it’s in regenerative agriculture. By using chemical free farming that mimics nature, we can revitalise the soil, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, encourage biodiversity and create sustainable food systems that nourish without waste and detriment to this one planet we call home.
We have been farming regeneratively for a very long time and the beautiful spices and cocoa we grow at L’esterre play a pivotal role in this.
The first island to be completely organic.
The first island to grow regeneratively.
The first island to be self-sufficient in our food and water supply.
The first truly circular-island-economy.
My ambition for my island may be big. but it’s necessary and possible.
How will we achieve this? By firstly making farming prosperous once again. By putting a financial reward behind growing well and connecting to customers who care about your product, as much as you do; in its flavour, quality and how it’s grown. This will make farming function like a business again so it can continue to grow.
Through access to a community of like-minded individuals. Through access to capital that will transform a farmer’s raw product into a value-added one. Through access to knowledge and education, their future will be prosperous and they can continue to grow. By doing this, we’ll remove the global stigma that comes with farming. That it’s a backward, lowly vocation that only peasants do. Working in agriculture can be aspirational.
I know that it is easy to make these grand sweeping statements. but we need to back it up with action. It’s easy to feel helpless and ignore the situation we’re in. That’s the easy way out. That’s the comfortable way out, but the pandemic made us uncomfortable.
It made us question everything it meant to be a human being on this earth. It made us re-evaluate the way we’re treating our world and those around us. I hope this is our wake up call. To learn our lesson. To work with our world. With nature. In better and exciting ways.
We cannot wait for others to make things happen for us to change. We can be ahead of our time. We need to change things ourselves, and radically so.
The way forward? We work together. As a global community. When people come together for a cause greater than themselves, magical things happen.
Let us be the first. Let our island be an example of a better way for others to follow. Let us pave a path towards a nature-positive agricultural revolution.
We need to farm like the world depends on it. Because it does.
The beating heart behind L’Esterre is the Ramdhanny family. Well ingrained within the Grenadian community, the family’s roots on the island can be traced back to 1857, coinciding with the arrival of Indian immigrants to the country.
At its heart is Lawrence ‘Ram’ Ramdhanny—born in Grenada at the advent of the 20th century to JJ and Jessie, a peasant farmer and daughter of money lenders. Ambitious as a young man, though with no secondary education behind him, he took on extra jobs working the land. Stretching beyond his vocation as a pharmacist, he became a successful businessman and commodities trader. Dreaming big paid off, Lawrence and his wife Gladys found themselves in a position to purchase L’Esterre Estate in 1949. Their small family soon grew to six children, in tandem with the growth of their thriving cocoa and nutmeg estate. Lawrence and Gladys resided the rest of their lives at L’Esterre, until his death in 1990, followed by Gladys in 2003.
Today, their Estate is succeeded by their children and grandchildren. Scroll to learn more about the estate today.