Career & Education

Farming over medicine, actuarial science

Matthew Jones chooses less travelled route

Sunday, September 22, 2019

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A career in agriculture was the furthest thing from Matthew Jones' mind throughout high school and university. In fact, he wanted to become a medical doctor, and studied actuarial science.

“I always loved farming but I only thought of it as a hobby rather than a business; I avoided my dream, as I believed that it was not a viable option,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “I wanted to do medicine because it was the popular choice. Why wouldn't you want to be a doctor? When I finally was accepted to the programme, I paused and asked myself if I really wanted to do this. I could not wholeheartedly say 'Yes', so I opted to do actuarial science. Clicking 'Reject' was a strange feeling, but I have no regrets.”

Today, at 25, Jones is the proud owner of Fidelis Harvests, producing castor beans, okra and Scotch bonnet pepper for local and overseas markets. The farm sits on a 21-acre property near Ebony Park in Clarendon which he and business partner Jaymeon Jones leased.

Matthew traces his intrigue with agriculture to his days as a lad.

“While accompanying my father to places in the countryside as a boy, I would always travel with a rope just in case I got the chance to catch a goat. And as I got older, I started to become more interested in how plants produce and began to wonder why people bought food when they can grow it,” he said.

Jones is from Manchester. He studied at de Carteret College and later at The University of the West Indies (UWI).

“I did actuarial science at UWI...because it was a favoured alternative to medicine. I wasn't 100 per cent sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I liked business and math,” he said, explaining that “actuarial science is the discipline that applies mathematical and statistical methods to assess risk in insurance, finance and other industries”.

But upon graduating Jones had a conversation with an established farmer which rekindled his interest in the field. So, four years ago, rather than land a number-crunching risk assessment job, he went about setting up Fidelis. It hasn't been a walk in the park.

“I graduated with a degree that would be more useful in finance and insurance, so the learning curve was very steep. Overall, crop management is much more complex than I ever imagined; another issue was dishonest workers. Dishonest workers are a huge setback, as this slows down your immediate goals.”

Speaking to the choice of crops to cultivate, farmer Jones said the decision was made primarily through trial and error.

“We ventured into castor bean production due to the demand for the oil. However, we found out that there are many misconceptions about the varieties and its overall viability as a crop, which pushed us into Scotch bonnet pepper and okra production.”

He continued: “In the beginning what we thought was gold was actually coal, as our inexperience paired with misinformation lead us to our first major learning lesson. Currently, we still cultivate castor beans, but with much better management practices.”

Th young farmer described his journey to date as “testing, but at the same time very rewarding”.

“God has provided every step of the way and we give thanks for that. I understand that everything we do in life has a higher purpose and farming has allowed me to provide employment; it has also exposed me to many business opportunities, and it provided proof to one of my mother's favourite sayings, 'What you sow is what you reap', he said

The produce from Fidelis Harvest Farms is sold to vendors in local markets as well as processors who utilise the peppers in sauces and other products. With the assistance of CARITA Jamaica, some of the produce is exported to markets in New York and other cities around the world. The business employs two permanent workers and three on a temporary basis.

Jones has plans to expand his operation.

“We definitely plan to expand the operation. We also intend to enter the food processing market but we do not want to begin with the “best” hot pepper sauce as that has been claimed and produced many times over. We are also currently researching a few unique products that will make food preparation more efficient,” he revealed.

Jones is a Nutramix Youth in Agriculture ambassador and he appears on the company's 12-page glossy 2019 calendar. It is an achievement which he holds dear to his heart.

“It is the perfect opportunity to educate people who had similar misconceptions about the profession as I did when I was a boy. It is not often that you find corporate companies investing so much in the country's future so I am very pleased to be able to contribute to this initiative. Major props to Nutramix and the rest of the Youth in Agriculture ambassadors,” he said.


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