Since September 2012 a hydroponics farm based in Schooner Bay has provided local produce to market. Operating first as Lightbourn Family Farms, and, later in January 2015, as Driftwood Food Company, the farm has grown vegetables in an area of the 100 acre parcel of Crown Land known as The Commons.
On November 20, 2017, Driftwood Food Company was forced to stop growing and harvesting after Schooner Bay Ventures alerted the owners, Glen and Tracy Kelly, that their water supply was being cut off. The Kellys had approximately $20,000 worth of produce at the site.
Panicked, the Kellys put out a call for help to the Abaco community – which responded. Customers and neighbours joined the staff of Driftwood Farms to save as much of the crops as they could. The Casuarina Volunteer Fire Department made trips to the farm to fill water tanks which helped prolong the window of time. Only twenty percent of the growth was rescued and moved to private property available to the Kellys.
The Commons is Crown Land originally intended to be leased to Schooner Bay Ventures to be used for farming, recreation, community, arts/sciences and small business incubation.
The Commons was to be managed under a Foundation with a Board of Director of local stakeholders. Permission for this was granted by the government in early 2009.
Unexpectedly to The Foundation members, documentation for The Foundation was never registered. Instead, the non-exclusive license for the 100 acres was issued directly to Schooner Bay Ventures (SBV). SBV never sanctioned The Foundation rendering it an unofficial body. Regardless, the Foundation and its Board met for several years – ending in 2014.
Because SBV held the license, Bahamian businesses such as Driftwood Food Company operated on the Crown Land with SBV’s permission. Driftwood, and formally Lightbourn, were never able to obtain a written lease from SBV and proceeded under a verbal agreement.
In April 2015 SBV once again rejected the terms from Driftwoods written proposal. Further, SBV asserted that Driftwood Farms could not claim ownership of the majority of trees on the farm claiming that many were planted, at cost, by SBV who then contracted Lightbourn Farms to manage the area. SBV further stated that ownership of the plants did not pass on to Driftwood Farms when the Kellys took over the business from Lightbourn.
Driftwood Farms was given 60 days notice at this time to vacate the farm.
In July 2015 The Bahamas Investment Authority contacted SBV to reiterate the government’s position that The Commons be used for “for the benefit of all residents of Abaco,” including incubating small businesses and farming. They further requested SBV review its position regarding Driftwood Farms.
The Abaco Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting in February 26 of 2016 for people of the South Abaco community (including aggrieved business owners operating within The Commons) to meet with representatives of SBV to discuss differences that had risen and make plans for the way forward. SBV sent no representatives to that meeting or several other that followed.
Following this, Driftwood Farms continued to operate the hydroponics farm in The Commons until November 2017 when their water supply was cut. During this time they reached out to the Abaco Chamber of Commerce, Local Government and relevant government ministers and representatives as well as applying directly for Crown Land.
After water was cut on November 20, 2017 the Kellys again appealed to relevant authorities who have attempted to assist with little success due largely in part to the legal framework SBV operates under.
Though Driftwood Farms managed to save some of their crop and move it to private property it is too cost prohibitive to salvage much of the equipment – such as the piping necessary to operate a hydroponics farm.
Though the Kellys hope to continue serving the Abaco community, their business has been dealt a devastating blow. They thanked their supporters in an email
“We have had an overwhelming amount of help this morning that we have moved all that is possible to move to our new location. If you hadn’t made it out thank you for wanting to help but we are finished. Thank you so much for the great support and help.”