Meet the farmers. These wonderful men are vital to our virgin coconut oil business as they supply our chemical free coconuts.
In the 1980s, Loughman Charlie saw life on Tanna Island change dramatically as companies on the mainland stopped buying dried coconut kernels. His family lost its income, and the coconuts in their plantation rotted on the ground, unused. “In 1993 I started growing cattle, as we couldn’t use the coconuts.”
These days Loughman still has a small cattle farm, but its income is bolstered by a revitalised coconut plantation, providing his family with the money needed for school fees and other expenses.
He sees the impact of the Tanna Farms coconut oil mill on many families. “It encourages the community not to just rely on their old coconut trees and to start planting new ones. It also shows them there are other uses for coconuts and not just the traditional ones.”
For Loughman, the pace of life on Tanna Island is just right. “I love it. I was born in Lamatuka in Tanna and have only left two times to go to Port Vila. I didn’t like it — it’s too busy with too many people.”
Our oil begins with 20 meter-tall trees swaying in the ocean breeze, where night’s silence is often broken by the crack of a falling coconut.
In the early morning, when the air is still cool and a drift of sea mist is draped over Tanna Island, Jonah Robert heads to his family’s plantation at Waisisi, in the shadow of a live volcano. Jonah was born in the village neighbouring the plantation, and he grew up working here with his family, singing and laughing through the day: “That’s how we are here. Life is simple and good.” He and his men gather the fallen coconuts then husk them using sharp spikes of wood or metal called kakers, which are thrust into the fibrous shells and pulled back to reveal the nut inside. At midday, when the skies are a wide stretch of blue carrying the tang of smoke from village fires, women bring lunch to the workers. In woven baskets they carry taro and yam cooked in the fire along with Simboro, a traditional food of kumala, banana and taro wrapped in island cabbage and cooked in coconut cream.
A truck arrives in the early evening to collect the harvest, driving back across volcanic ash at the base of Mount Yasur and on to Lenakel on the western side of the island. Here the coconuts are halved by hand, then ground and dried at the Tanna Farms oil mill, ready to go into the press for extraction for coconut oil. In island culture nothing goes to waste and so it is here, with husks and shells used to fire the drying tables, and any residual oil used to make natural soaps. And you’ll not find sophisticated machinery in our simple mill, because we go through this process step by step, hand by hand.
Tanna Farms also grows coffee beans on an 8 hectare plantation in Middle Bush, in the rainy and fertile hills towards the northern part of Tanna. The plantation also grows local produce such as peanuts, kumala, taro, yam, corn, pumpkin, cucumber and capsicums to sell at the local market.
Locals say the coconut oil mill and plantation have revived the local economy by providing the first work since demand for copra — the dried kernel of the coconut – dried up in the 1980s. Now an abundant natural produce is being utilised and trees are being planted again, bringing choice and opportunity to villages like Jonah’s.
At day’s end, he and his family sleep in their simple home, under a roof of coconut fronds, as silence descends on the plantation, broken only by the crack of a falling coconut.