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Photographer-turned-farmer Sanjae Hudson holds up a seedling of a pepper tree on his family's farm in Manchester, Jamaica.

Promising Jamaican photographer pivots to pepper farming

Photographer-turned-farmer Sanjae Hudson holds up a seedling of a pepper tree on his family's farm in Manchester, Jamaica.

The uncertainty of a pandemic can fog the lens of any hopeful individual when they try to scope out the future for themselves. The hazy picture that is left forces one to reframe their prospects, and for freelance photographer Sanjae Hudson, this changing world has given him a new focus.

Coming from a family of farmers from Spur Tree, Manchester, 24-year-old Hudson appreciated the profession but said he never had the time it required before.

Sanjae Hudson, photographer-turned-farmer from Manchester, Jamaica, waters his Scotch bonnet pepper trees.

“Since I started doing photography, I have been up and about all over the island, so I didn’t have the time to focus on farming because it requires your full attention. But when the pandemic hit, I said, ‘OK, this is the perfect time to do some farming,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

“It started out with me just planting some vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, and corn for myself and my family. The first set of crops that I planted were in two old refrigerators that I filled with soil because I didn’t want to start out too big when I didn’t know what I was doing,” he shared.

Growth and expansion

When that was successful, Hudson said he then used a quarter acre of the family’s property to expand the vegetable crops to include potatoes and Scotch bonnet peppers.

“One day I was in the farm and picking peppers off the six pepper trees that I had and I said, ‘What if I just did Scotch bonnet peppers?’…because pepper will always be used, you have to have it in your pot and also the market is there for it,” Hudson recalled.

A harvest of Scotch bonnet peepers from Sanjae Hudson’s farm in Manchester, Jamaica.

Six trees quickly turned to 100, which then expanded into 400.

Having documented his farming journey through a series of pictures and videos, Hudson had garnered a following on social media.

“I do graphic designing as well, so when the first crop came in I posted it on social media to say they were now available. The first batch of peppers went by real quick,” he said, noting that a majority of the peppers went to a minimart in Kingsland, Manchester.

Hudson’s support system

While he currently supplies two cook shops, and receives orders over the Internet, as well as relying on word of mouth from customers, Hudson told the Business Observer that his goal is to ultimately supply hotels, manufacturers and middlemen with Scotch bonnet peppers.

“The goal is use the whole quarter acre to plant peppers, implement a water system and from there to just keep growing. Small farmers just really need a boost, so once they have the idea and the drive then I don’t see why the Government, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, or any other agency will be unwilling to invest. Agriculture plays a major part in our economy and small farmers can contribute to larger manufacturers,” he contended.

He added that above all, support from family and friends have kept him on track and credit his cousins as his main support system.

“I’m known in my community and when I told them that I was going into farming they were very proud and gave me advice on any and every little thing. I didn’t know it would be like this or I would feel this way. Even on social media, strangers reach out and offer advice and encouragement,” he shared.

Farming as an alternate profession

Hudson describes himself as one with nature and therefore considers farming as an escape.

“Young people don’t want to get their hands dirty, or go into the bushes so they wouldn’t look to farming. But I don’t think they know how beneficial it is, not even from an economic standpoint, but just to go out into your farm and connect with nature, detaching from the stress and pressure from life and social media,” he told the Business Observer.

“It offers peace of mind and some quiet time. You plant a one tomato tree and the joy you get when you get to watch it grow and then pick from it to eat,” he said.

Hudson continued, “I love nature and when I travel for work, other than taking the pictures, my favourite thing is just being able to be one with nature again. As an artist, just being able to get that quiet time is important — definitely one of the reasons why I started farming”.