Carolyn Jones with a group of Dominican students. The president of Happy Earth Inc. has worked with students on several community cleanups.

Local business planting seeds of opportunity in the Dominican Republic

Beaches and tropical weather are on most people’s minds when they travel to the Caribbean. Carolyn Jones thinks about organic produce and community betterment.

Beaches and tropical weather are on most people’s minds when they travel to the Caribbean.

Carolyn Jones thinks about organic produce and community betterment.

The president of Happy Earth Inc. is developing a farm in the Dominican Republic that she hopes will supply domestic and export markets, create business opportunities for local producers, and provide support for the impoverished.

Happy Earth Inc. Ranchero consists of about 20 acres near Punta Cana, on the east side of the island country. Since Jones bought the abandoned farm three years ago, she’s been busy clearing, planting and developing waterways. The Delburne resident also arranged for a road to be built into the site.

“It took me two years and a considerable amount of negotiating to get a road.”

She’s expecting her first banana harvest this year. But most of the farm’s production will occur inside a greenhouse, which should be in place by next spring.

Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, spinach and snap peas are among the products that Happy Earth Inc. Ranchero will grow, and hopefully supply to tourist resorts in the Dominican Republic.

“They’re all very happy to participate,” said Jones of the resorts. “It gives us years and years of growth to meet that market alone.”

A big attraction of the farm’s produce is the fact it will be chemical-free. With input from Jones, the national government recently adopted European Union organic standards.

Happy Earth Inc. Ranchero will seek certification as soon work on the greenhouse begins, and Jones anticipates approval will come about 12 months later.

“I will be the first actual certified organic farm in the Dominican.”

That will appeal to the resorts, whose guests often insist on naturally grown food. Currently, much of the organic produce consumed there comes from Florida and California.

Not only does Jones plan to expand her greenhouse production over time, she’s making arrangements to bring local farmers into the organic operation. She’s struck a deal with the national government to place Happy Earth Inc. Ranchero’s taxes into a fund, which will be used to provide farmers with low-interest loans to finance development of their own greenhouses.

“Then we provide them with all of the standards, all of the training, all of the mentoring, all of the markets — everything.”

In addition to the local resorts, Jones expects to sell the resulting crops to Canadian buyers. She’s also had inquiries from Europe, the Middle East and South America.

Ecotourism is another business opportunity Jones sees in the Dominican Republic.

She’s already operating a guest house with a Dominican partner, and has been investigating environmentally sustainable activities in the area: horseback riding, swimming, whale watching, farm tours and jungle zip line excursions, among others.

“If we don’t do something to develop this as an ecotourism area, that tourism — where they just pave everything and put resort to resort to resort — is just going to keep sweeping west, and there won’t be anything left here.”

Jones’s interest in the Dominican Republic dates back to 2007, when she travelled there on vacation. During that and subsequent trips, Jones resolved to help improve the country’s meagre health care system.

“It started out for me as a rural children’s public health program,” she recalled.

But this focus soon expanded.

With the help of a Canadian friend, who works as a medical systems development consultant, Jones is sourcing badly needed surgical equipment. She’s spearheading a clean water program for rural areas, has led several community cleanups and is organizing community redevelopment campaigns.

Jones said she spends about four months a year in the Dominican Republic, but expects this time to increase to about six months annually as her projects intensify.

Born and raised in Central Alberta, she said her desire to better the lives of others reflects her upbringing.

“That’s how I grew up, is you help your neighbour and your neighbour helps you.”

Happy Earth Inc.’s mandate is to promote community economic and social development. In April, it organized a business resource fair in Delburne, where representatives of municipal, provincial, federal and non-profit organizations that offer supports for businesses gathered to share information.

More information about Happy Earth Inc. and Happy Earth Inc. Ranchero can be found online at happyearth.ca.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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