PSFN On Location: Freshwater Creek Farm, Belize

PSFN Members John and Marijke Postema, owners of Marshland Orchards, Flower World, and Maltby Produce Market in Snohomish, WA, also operate a 700-acre farm in Belize. They bought the property about five years ago as a pre-retirement project, and have been developing the land and the business during Washington’s off-season. While on vacation, PSFN’s Emma Brewster was fortunate to catch up with John and Marijke and tour the gorgeous property. One this was for certain… we weren’t in Washington anymore….

I arrived at Freshwater Creek Farms, just outside of Hopkins Village, Belize, via motorcycle in the golden heat of the late afternoon. The mile-long driveway, flanked by citrus trees and palms, leads to the beautiful, expansive property which rolls from sea level up into the first forested foothills leading to the Belizean highlands.

They let me hop in the bed of their truck and generously toured me around the property:

The oranges grown on the property and in Belize in general are for the European market. While the oranges are green-rinded, they’re ripe, sweet, and juicy on the inside. Europeans don’t mind the green peel, but it doesn’t fly with consumers in the U.S. Because the US juice market is dominated by Florida and California oranges, Freshwater Creek’s oranges are exported to the European grocery and juice market.

Recently, the Asian citrus psyllid has taken a toll on citrus groves all over Mexico, Belize, and parts of the Southern US. Per national mandate, Marijke and John will have to rip out thousands of citrus trees on their property and start anew in an effort to control the outbreak.  While this is a huge setback for the farm, they have established one of the first certified nurseries in the country — an entirely enclosed and tightly controlled incubator for new citrus plants. Employees may only enter the nursery in the early morning hours before the psyllids are out so that they don’t introduce any of the pests to the new plants by coming and going.  Having this nursery ensures that the setback caused by pests will be as short as possible, especially compared to competitors.

While oranges are off the table for now, Freshwater also grows pineapple onsite. Fresh fruit can’t be exported from Belize to the US, so John and Marijke plan on investing in a wood-burning fruit dryer. This will help them productively use un-marketable scraps of wood from their saw mill on-site, and will enable them to create a value-added product for the U.S. market. Who knows, maybe you’ll see dried pineapple for sale at Maltby Produce Markets soon!

In the meantime, Freshwater is producing ornamental plants for the local and export market.  It’s quite and experience to recognize these plants from hotel lobbies and office buildings, then see them in both their natural habitat in the jungles of Belize, and also under cultivation on the farm in preparation for export.

Teak production is a mid-term project of the farm. These sinewy trees grow relatively quickly, shooting up twelve feet in a year! They’ll need to fill out a bit, and will be ready for export in a few years. They can be sold young, as whole trucks to be used for construction posts, or can be milled into lumber for building and furniture at a more developed state.  John and Marijke make sure the plants are strong by letting them grow to human height, then cutting the trunks down to about 12-24” and letting the trucks regrow. This strengthens the root system and channels growth into a strong trunk instead of new offshoots and leaves.

The farm, its outbuildings, and ultimately John and Marijke’s on-farm residence (still under construction) is largely hydro- and solar-powered. John demonstrated how the small hydro system operates, spinning small turbines which connect directly to overhead power lines. They’re in the process of building a larger dam and hydro pool which will generate more electricity for the farm, keeping them off the grid.

With all that’s going on at the farm, there’s serious potential for it to become a tourist destination for eco-conscious travelers. With the completion of the fruit dryer, tourists who visit the farm would have a product to take home, while fresh fruits and plants are not transportable internationally. I sure enjoyed visiting! If you ever find yourself in Belize, be sure to check it out!

For more pictures of Emma’s tour of Freshwater Creek Farms, check out our Facebook album

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