Canaan farmer Jabez Van John, 25, is working to promote a healthy lifestyle in Tobago by providing fresh food to eat.
Van John's efforts were recognised last week at the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Division of Sport and Youth Affairs' Youth Awards 2019 held at the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort, Lowlands. He copped the prize for agriculture, a feat he never expected to accomplish.
Speaking to Newsday on Monday he said, "I did not look forward to winning nor was I expecting to win, because one of my best farmer friends, Omari Cox, who won the National Youth Award for agriculture, was also nominated. However, I am grateful to God that I have won because winning this award increases the visibility and credibility of my company – Van John Foods.”
The former student of the Scarborough Secondary School is currently enrolled at the West Indies School of Theology, Tobago campus, majoring in Pastoral Studies. Van John said he got an epiphany to get into farming after seeing hid dad suffer from a lifestyle disease and become incapacitated.
“A traumatic experience triggered my passion for health, which was watching my father, whom I looked up to as the world’s most driven man, be defeated and shut down after he lost all his toes and a leg to type two diabetes, caused by an unhealthy eating lifestyle....As a self-employed guy, he wasn't able to continue to work... Out of this traumatic experience a passion for health was developed. And with this passion perpetually boiling inside, a dream and a goal was birthed – Van John Foods.”
He said having heard a speech by Goldsborough Farmer’s Association president Roland Murray at a church-based men’s leadership conference, he was fully inspired. Having worked at TSTT for three years, Van John said he resigned to train under Murray, who took him under his tutelage, teaching him everything he needed to know about agriculture.
“I am currently self-employed; this move has always been one of my goals. I would describe myself as driven thinker who believes in capitalism. After spending six months interning on Murray’s Goldsborough Farm, I started my own farm and business.”
John focuses mainly on salad-based crops, packages them under his company brand and sells to local supermarkets as well as juice and salad bars.
“I believe that plant-based foods have the ability to heal and sustain the human body. My number one crop is organic kale, which is loaded with tons of micro nutrients. I also grow lettuce, patchoi, cucumbers, flavour peppers, tomatoes and other leafy crops and herbs for the hot retail seasons like Easter, World Food Day and Christmas.
“I believe that what I am doing is different because I am not just throwing crops in a bag and selling to customers. I take pride in every aspect of the production process, essentially making sure that the customer gets not only a healthy option or a carefully packaged and branded product, but a product that gives the customer reasonable value for money.”
Despite his growing success John said there are numerous challenged in agriculture as a youth.
He pointed to the lack of incentives given by the Assembly, especially for people who have not received formal training in agriculture, labelling it as quite a blow and a burden to many.
“But in spite of it, and my continuous efforts to succeed in all that I do, I continue to press toward my goal. I have indeed been inspired by the many youths who are taking advantage of the creativity given to them by God. I have been inspired by my senior mentors: Roland Murray, Vern Joseph and Cassandra Powder and I thank them for their transferred wisdom.
“I am continuously inspired by my unfathomable God, the Creator who has given me the knowledge, wisdom and the understanding to do all that he says I can do through His son who strengthens me,” he said.
Currently, Van John is actively putting things in place to grow his business to increase his output and also begin to control the environment where the crops are produced.
“I also have plans to enrol at UWI studying Agricultural Science in the upcoming year, 2020. Apart from my business goals, my educational goal is to be qualified to be an agronomist,” he said.