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Farm store in St Catherine adapts to shutdown

Rayon Edwards

Since April 15 when Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared a 14-day shutdown of St Catherine to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), residents there have been on pins and needles. But for operators of Knollis Farm Store in the town of Bog Walk, the show must go on.

In business for 13 years, Knollis Farm Store is owned by Mertis Westcarr, who operates it with her daughters Patrina Nelson and Talisa Taylor. It provides service to farmers in the parish’s central region, from towns such as Linstead, Riversdale, West Prospect, Troja, John Crow Spring, and Crawle.

Due to restrictions placed on St Catherine, which includes “no-movement days”, the family has had to reduce business hours. Before the pandemic intensified in late March, the store opened Mondays to Saturdays from 8 am to 5 pm; now, it is accessible on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Despite economic challenges resulting from the coronavirus outbreak, Westcarr told the Jamaica Observer that her company holds its own.

“Animal feeds have increased in demand. However, surprisingly, the issue of food security is now topical due to the spread of the virus, so we suspect that our customers have ventured into backyard farming. As such, seeds and farming supplies have also been in demand,” she said.

Westcarr disclosed that while Knollis Farm Store caters to the region’s diverse farming community, most of its clientele are into livestock. The business offers a variety of animal feed, medicines, vitamins, along with insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, seeds, fertilisers, farming tools, and small hardware supplies.

On Monday, Holness announced the establishment of a COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force to oversee a phased return of the Jamaican economy which has been hard hit by the disease. A member of that team is Audley Shaw, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.

According to Westcarr, Knollis Farm Store has already reached out to struggling farmers.

“Farmers are the backbone of the Jamaican economy. Agriculture is essential especially now when our food security is being questioned, so we are trying our best to cater to our customers during this time. In light of this we have facilitated several payment plans for our loyal customers who are finding it difficult to purchase much-needed items,” she said.

Nelson, who is the company’s managing director, added that safety-first measures are firmly adhered to.

“We believe that the Government is doing an excellent job in outlining these strategies to help flatten the curve, so we are simply playing our part by insisting that customers stand six feet apart at the order areas and that they wear masks.”

As of April 29, the Ministry of Health and Wellness reported 396 cases of COVID-19 in Jamaica and seven deaths. The St Catherine-based call centre company, Alorica, is reportedly responsible for 182 of those cases which influenced Holness’s decision to shut down the parish.

Holness extended the shutdown to May 1 amid fears of a spike in cases throughout St Catherine.



Observer senior writer

Friday, May 01, 2020

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