With COVID-19 crippling business at the bustling farmers market in Couva last year, a young farmer decided to find an innovative way to sell his produce.
While many other vendors began setting up illegal sheds along the roadsides, Satyam Gerome Ramcharan decided to set up a mobile food market, under his company SGR Productions.
Today, the 31-year-old farmer drives his mobile market to Palmiste in South Trinidad, where customers can get a wide array of tomatoes, sweet peppers, kale, various seasons and ground provisions.
Ramcharan told Guardian Media his mobile market has been well-received in the residential community.
“People can come out of their homes and get the produce almost at their doorstep,” he said.
Ramcharan, who studied economics and agri-business at the University of the West Indies, said although COVID-19 brought pain and suffering, it also brought great growth opportunities.
“With the birth of my son, I realised the risk of selling in a market. I always had the idea of a mobile market and when COVID came, I decided to press ahead to do it,” Ramcharan said.
Even though he has another job in the Public Service, Ramcharan realised the importance of having a second income, so that if he too became unemployed, he will still be able to care for his family.
He started planting Moruga hot peppers and later decided to utilise technology in his farming.
After consulting with hydroponic specialist Plant Doctors Hydro-Aqua Limited, he set up a vertical hydroponic system in Couva. Ramcharan started growing kale, celery, chive, arugula and parsley.
“I used one lot of rented land and today I produce over 200 pounds of kale per week,” Ramcharan said. All of this is sold at Khan’s Poultry and several wholesale buyers.
Unlike many other kale producers, Ramcharan said his produce is organically-treated.
He uses natural bacteria to keep away pests.
“We did testing in Namdevco and they were amazed because our kale lasted for months in the chiller,” he revealed.
Ramcharan said he wanted to grow many other crops but was short of land and funding.
Even though he owned a farmers card and was entitled to subsidies, the young farmer said there were often problems with accessing them.
“Some of the challenges we face as young farmers are that we don’t get enough help from the ministry. The larger farmers with vast amounts of land produce less than what we produce on a small plot of land but for us, the small farmers, we do not get the support,” he added.
Ramcharan also said that it was important not to waste precious food.
He recalled that when COVID-19 hit, hundreds of pounds of produce stayed on his hands.
“Things were slow. Some farmers left their stuff to rot, but I gave away my crops to charities. I kept my kale running and that was the best decision. Then everything flipped. And when people realised that COVID-19 would impact on food supplies, the demands for produce increased. Where some people had to replant, I already had my production going so I continued to supply,” he said.
Now that he has a niche market in Palmiste, Ramcharan said he hopes to set up the mobile markets in other residential communities.
“I think people appreciate good quality stuff and they want to stay healthy. We are happy to provide this,” he said.
With his mobile truck fully on stream, Ramcharan is now hoping to expand.
“We want people to see how we can turn around a bad situation and make good out of it. COVID-19 was painful in many ways but it also enabled us to realise this dream of having a mobile fresh produce market,” he said.
“We have to be prepared for the future. And this means making the most of our opportunities,” he added.