ST. ANN, Jamaica — Our world is shaking. Trees and sky come in and out of view through the windows of the 4-by-4 pickup climbing ever so slowly over an undulating dirt road through the hills of St. Ann, Jamaica.
We are in good hands, though. The hands at the wheel — the same hands that built that road some years ago — belong to Christopher Binns. He picked us up from the last point our rental car could access and is now ferrying us the rest of the way to Stush in the Bush, the organic farm, vegetarian kitchen and hilltop home he shares with his wife, Lisa.
"Jamaica's beauty is really curvaceous," Christopher said with a laugh. "Winding, twisting and curving, you’re feeling all those curves, your senses are going off, you're all excited. It's powerful, passionate love."
For the next few days, we will get a rare taste of this Jamaica, far from the walled gardens of the Caribbean island's popular resorts.
Located on a 15-acre organic farm called Zionites, Stush in the Bush (stush is Jamaican slang for "posh" and "snobbish") is a tropical farm-to-table destination in the truest sense. Full of romance and passion, it's a love story between two people from different parts of the world, told through food, hospitality and love for the land.
Christopher was born in Jamaica, in Free Hill. After attending university in Canada, he returned to the land that's been in his family for generations. Then he met Lisa, a Bajan who grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Lisa was vacationing in Jamaica when a mutual friend placed her hand in Christopher's as he introduced them at a party. They fell in love, got married and haven't let go since.
They spent some time in the States, but Brooklyn wasn't for Christopher — too big, too busy, too far away from the beauty and nature that soon called them to Jamaica. Starting out in a one-room bush hut, with no running water or electricity, and just an open fire to cook all of their meals, the couple built their current — more stush — home on the farm. Christopher now operates Zionites and harvests produce to sell in town while Lisa turns the bounty into delicious dishes for their tasting restaurant and a line of bottled dressings and sauces sold worldwide.
We arrive at the end of our bumpy ride, greeted with warm hugs from Lisa and a knowing smile from her daughter, Tyler, who serves us a delicious appetizer of fried breadfruit chips topped with vegan cheese and paired with chimichurri and pepper paste.
Next up are "fiyah" grilled pizzas with fresh vegan pesto, followed by a salad of greens and sorrel as complex in flavor as it is simple in presentation. We drink a beautiful tea made from ginger and lemongrass plucked from the ground mere moments ago.
Every item offered at Stush is sustainable and certified organic. From the open dining room, Christopher points out bananas trees, mango trees, mulberry bushes, coconut trees, breadfruit trees and many others.
The Binns are remarkably self-sufficient. Even their water is self-generated by capturing rain and storing it in a tank below their home — and thankfully, after a long draught in Jamaica, rain has been plentiful lately. You can’t help but chuckle at most self-proclaimed farm-to-table, locavore restaurants when you see Christopher pick greens for our salad mere feet from their kitchen.
Later in the day we join Lisa and Christopher on a run to the local market to buy the few ingredients they do not grow themselves — eggs, some garlic and a dragon-like red flower part that will later be turned into tea.
When we return, Christopher shows us around the farm and shares stories about building their home. Stush in the Bush isn't a farm in the way we might imagine a farm to look: it's trees, bushes and plants appear to be unruly jungle compared to the orderly rows of a classic American heartland tract.
Because it's about 2,000 feet above sea level, Lisa says, Free Hill has its own microclimate. "People refer to it as 'Little England,' just because it gets very foggy," she said. But the cool humidity is balanced out by the coastal sunshine, so "you kind of have the best of both worlds."
"The connection with the earth is intrinsic for me," Christopher said. "It's a respect, a love, an appreciation, and you become a protector of that same earth." And it's the restorative power of Jamaica's nature he wants to share with travelers who spend most of their time surrounded by concrete and steel. "I can disconnect from that for a moment and just walk out in my farm," he said. "When I come back, I'm a new man, I've been re-energized. So I say it's the earth; I say it's Mother Nature."
It is why Stush in the Bush is such an authentic Jamaican experience — an opportunity to visit the home of a Jamaican bushman and a down-to-earth Brooklyn girl, dine with them and learn all about the medicinal plants, indigenous ingredients and love they draw from the land.
And if you look at the ingredients on the labels of their dressings and sauces, "Love" and "Affection" top the list. So, yes, you can take a little bit of this rare Jamaica home in a bottle.