Negril businessman turns 4,000-acre property into forestry paradise
Three decades ago, hotelier and farmer Ricky Jackson pumped US$1.5 million into the acquisition of a 4,000 acre property that has become his passion and environmental cause.
Over time he has developed Moreland Hill Estate, located at the border of Hanover and Westmoreland, into a forestry and a place for animals to roam, through “sheer hard work and natural ability”.
“This is my bank,” Jackson declared in an interview with the Financial Gleaner on a tour of the expansive estate last Friday.
“I bought this place for US$1.5 million. I invested probably another million or two and since then I keep spending money – half a million per year, sometimes a quarter million a year for 30 years, so that adds up to be quite a bit of money; I would say about half a billion dollars so far,” he said.
When he bought Moreland, Jackson said the property was covered with cows and sugar cane, and that people just burned fires all the time, decimating the land in the process.
“I looked on it and said it is a waste; a terrible thing to do. So I started out planting trees. Some people mocked me at the time and said I was a crazy person,” he recalled.
His critics included his late father who felt the family would be better served utilising the land for commercial purposes.
Jimmy Jackson wanted to hew the trees for sale and raise cattle, but Ricky, although he has no agricultural training, wanted a rainforest and an organic farming operation.
“My father cut some of the trees and we were at odds over that. He believed in cutting and replacing,” Jackson said.
The hotelier said he has been reforesting the 4,000 acre property for more than three decades and so far has planted more than 500,000 trees, inclusive of Jamaican mahogany, local cedar, Columbian cedar, Spanish elm and dogwood sourced from Jamaica’s Forestry Department, as well as a variety of tropical fruit trees such as sweetsop, breadfruit, soursop and mangoes.
“It was simply decision to pump our money into agro-forestry and organic agriculture on the property which also supplies beef and other produce to various hotels in Negril,” the businessman added.
Jackson’s business ventures also include Coral Seas hotel in the resort town of Negril. He was the first to open a cambio and operate a cable company in Negril, and at one time ran a company that offered limousine services there.
Jackson has also ventured into aquaculture. There are several fish ponds on the Moreland site from which persons in the surrounding communities are allowed to make their daily catch unhindered.
“People fish from the pond and I don’t stop them. Certain things they can take. It is not everything that I do for money and this is one of the things,” he said.
“I would want to think I am playing my little bit and want to contribute this to Jamaica. I have done a lot of things in my time, but this place is what I would like to be remembered by.”
While he is cognizant of the huge tourism potential of the property, Jackson is wary of it being labelled another attraction, preferring to simply call it a rainforest, with environmental education about subjects like rainforests and water cycles at the forefront. The property also features a sculpture park and art gallery.
“You can do a lot of things. You can use the four-wheel quads. You can use the ziplines. You can do bird-watching. I have cut trails through it. It could be a huge attraction but I am not into attractions,” he said.
“In the future we are going to have some paintings for sale; but right now we are going to make the art gallery and a sculpture park more like a museum -- something with a good view ...,” Jackson added.
Moreland has a staff of 16. All the water used there is harvested as the property gets copious amounts of rainfall “every two or three days”, and the food is grown pesticide-free.
Jackson also plans to develop a solar field to provide all of Moreland Hill’s requisite energy needs.