12 October 2022
Pictured above: Breadfruit taco shells are among the food items produced locally by farmer Patrick Panton and chef Sara Mair-Doak.
The concept of food security is being discussed worldwide due to several global events and may be of particular concern for small jurisdictions like the Cayman Islands. Conversations around local food security and food production are growing with 2021's census showing Cayman's population exceeding 71,000.
Patrick Panton and Sara Mair-Doak, a farmer and chef respectively, began collaborating in 2010 to create sustainable meals and food products that are delicious, nutritious and 100 percent local.
Panton, owner of Cayman Farm and Garden, grew up in Sarasota, Florida, with a natural aptitude for plants. A horticulturalist and landscape designer, Panton began produce farming in the years following Hurricane Ivan.
“I had 10.5 acres in Bodden Town that I had recently purchased with the intention of starting a tree farm. Nursery sales and landscape jobs had decreased, while the number of landscaping and gardening companies registered had quadrupled,” he says. “I reasoned that not everybody has to buy plants, but everybody has to buy food."
Panton met Mair-Doak, owner of Smokies BBQ and Cookin n Tings Food and Restaurant Consulting, during her time as Ortanique’s executive chef. “I can still remember the first farmers market I went to in Camana Bay,” she says. “There was Patrick with his stand of beautiful produce – he had all different types of veggies: Japanese eggplants, purple callaloo and not to forget, the most amazing tomatoes.”
Mair-Doak’s appreciation for farming began while working on an artisanal dairy farm in New Jersey.
“There is nothing like getting your hands dirty with something that gives life,” she says.
Since then, she has made it a point to build relationships with farmers, fishermen and butchers, including Panton.
“Our relationship has been constant throughout the years,” she says.
It had been Mair-Doak’s dream to grow Smokies’ charcuterie with heritage pigs and she reached out to Panton and he agreed, with Mair-Doak expanding his pantry division in return. Their line of pantry ingredients now includes a variety of ready-to-eat items, from Korean pickled carrots to tomato basil sauce and smoked fish dip. Panton also contributes to Mair-Doak’s popular breadfruit taco shells, made using breadfruit from across the island.
“The food chain is more fragile than we'd like to think,” Panton says. “We are currently in an unprecedented era of shortages.”
Supporting local food production may be one way to address food insecurity, Panton says. By buying local, consumers can help support farmers and contribute to a flourishing, self-sustaining market.
“It allows the farmers to sustain themselves, which in turn allows them to grow and produce more raw ingredients,” says Mair-Doak. “As a chef working with Patrick and seeing what produce he is growing, it shows that with the right knowledge, we can grow a more diverse crop in Cayman. We need to go back to basics and support each other in our community.”
Panton and Mair-Doak have more collaborations on the horizon. In addition to more pantry items, a farm-to-table dinner series is being planned for late 2022. Pantry items can be found at the Camana Bay Farmers & Artisans Market on Wednesdays and the Hamlin Stephenson Market at the Cricket Grounds on Saturdays.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.