By CHESTER ROBARDS
Tribune Senior Reporter
THE SHERATON Resort’s general manager stood in the middle of a row of butternut squash plants at North Andros High School and handed his mobile phone to the crop’s caretaker. On the line was the Sheraton’s executive chef, who wanted to sort out his product order for the coming weeks.
When the resort receives its shipment of fruits and vegetables grown and harvested by the students of North Andros High in coming days, it will be the third yield from the school to be consumed at the hotel.
The hotel’s general manager, Glenn Sampert, along with representatives from the Ministry of Tourism and the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC), took a trip to the school Wednesday to view the farm that provides food for Sheraton’s guests. It was Mr Sampert’s first trip to the farm and to Andros.
“I have been very impressed today,” he said. “It’s been wonderful to meet the students, to see the ones who are actually producing the work.
“The fields are larger than what I expected to see and the shade houses and other aspects of the operation are really surprising.
“We already had some produce last year and we were really happy with the initial results.”
The project, which sees high school students farm top-class produce in a field behind their school for a five star resort, began last year when a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Sheraton and the Ministry of Education.
The school’s agricultural programme has existed much longer though.
Mr Sampert said the Sheraton pays the school market price for the products and will appraise their guests of the surprising origin of some of their meals.
Head of the agricultural programme at the North Andros High School, Rai Budhu, said 135 students are farming tomatoes, peppers, parsley, papaya and thyme – crops requested specifically by the Sheraton.
On Wednesday, Mr Sampert and Mr Budhu discussed the possibility of farming watermelons for one of the hotel’s signature pool-side salads.
“We view what’s been happening so far as just the beginning,” he said, adding that the school’s produce is as good or better than what the hotel procures from large, international growers.
Mr Budhu said the school has been setting trends in agriculture for 20 years, and continues to do so with its partnership with the Sheraton.
Both boys and girls are responsible for raising the crops at the NAHS.
Grade 10 student, Bianca Arnette, said she and her classmates work hard to be successful in growing the products on the schools farm.
“We weed and we water and plant seeds,” she said. “Basically all of these (fruits, vegetables and herbs) I helped to plant.”
The initiative is also supported by the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Ministry of Tourism.