Tropical Harvest's founder, Kishana Mills Story
Written By: Christine Garcia
Kishana Mills was born and raised in a farming community in Johnson Mountain, Saint Thomas, Jamaica. She specifically grew up within the Johncrow Mountains range, located in the hills of the Blue Mountain where “the world’s best coffee is grown”. Growing up constantly surrounded by endless nature allowed Kishana to develop a unique perspective on life and what the world has to offer without even realizing it. It is what she considered to be an “unspoken language” that she never got the chance to acknowledge until her later life became vastly different.
When it came time for Kishana to go to school in the city she quickly noticed the difference in the scenery. Before, she had the pleasure of being surrounded by various types of trees, many of which grew fresh fruits and a wide variety of the same kind. Kishana went from being able to go from tree to tree, tasting the fruit as she went, to merely eating what was available to her in order to survive. Although fruits were sold in the city, they were not as fresh as fruits within the farmlands. Not to mention that Kishana no longer had the option to choose from that wide variety in regards to which fruit she specifically wanted from which tree. In Kishana’s words, “what is important now is not the best or the finest to eat but to eat what's available […..] when mom is trying to just feed you with what she had or could afford.” That once hefty choice of abundance and variety was now not an option.
While on externship for high school in the city, Kishana met Ms. Brown, the Home Economic Officer for the Parish of St Thomas at the time. Although Kishana was on an externship for Agricultural Science and she was already paired with an Agricultural Field officer, the department heads felt it was important in pairing her with Ms Brown in order for her to observe how produce goes beyond just farming and can be utilized in various different ways. They instantly connected and Ms. Brown became her mentor.
After leaving the externship Kishana and Ms. Brown stayed in touch. She later invited Kishana to accompany her to the Lloyd’s community for a demonstration with the women of the community showing them how to utilize farm produce in making value-added products and several different foods. While there Kishana observed what was being taught to the women in regards to how to use produce such as pumpkin and not let a single part go to waste. Kishana recalls, “even the seeds were roasted.” The women were also taught about the nutritional value of what they would be consuming and the various parts of the fruit in terms of the nutrition it would provide. Ms Brown was very influential in helping Kishana make the connection of farm produce to products, byproducts and ultimately how vital this is to small farmers and communities with limited resources as they can substitute certain produce for others. For example, in a household where a member cannot or does not eat pork or the family craves pork but they do not have a pork to eat, it is easy to substitute chicken to make it taste like ham.
Years later, after migrating to the United States, the lessons that Ms. Brown taught her on fresh produce and nutrition, not to mention her own experiences growing up with her grandmother who she said “is a boss in the kitchen at creativity and resourcefulness”, resonated with her, as she tried to make a new life for herself. Once her sons reached their teenage years, she decided to send them to Jamaica for two years to attend school at Monroe College in the hills of St. Elizabeth. She ultimately did this so that they too could experience the beauty of the country side and all it has to offer such as fresh fruit, nature and the culture. Once they returned to the United States, they began asking Kishana to make them juices and to bake, traditional things she knew how to make because of her experience with being brought up in the farmlands as well as the influence of Ms. Brown, her grandmother, and her overall community had on her as a child.
Although her children are not picky eaters, Kishana says their food “has to taste, look, and feel like what they expect it to be or know.” This mindset ultimately relates to her own childhood in regards to the various options she would have of the best fruits to harvest, quite similar to what her sons may have experienced when they went to Jamaica as they now knew what fresh, flavorful fruit tastes like and craved it.
Having lived in the United States, specifically the melting pot that is New York, where various different types of cuisines are available, she has had the opportunity of partaking in such an amazing experience. However, she notes “having a fresh fruit at its finest being in its natural state and form, that flavor cannot not be replicated.”
Kishana’s experiences are truly unique. The beauty she has been able to find in every day farm produce has not only allowed her to thrive as a business owner, but as a person as well as she is able to navigate through new locations without fearing that she lacks the skill to do what she knows best, using any farm produce down to the seeds to create tasty and nutritious food. Although Kishana no longer lives in the Caribbean, she is still able to collaborate with various farmers there in order to receive the fresh produce she needs
that is not often farmed within the U.S. Not to mention that she also works with farmers within the Tristate area as she looks for the freshest fruit possible in order for her juices to have the best quality for her customers and her business, Tropical Harvest Slushies and Juices Corporation.
Kishana is very passionate about farmers and agricultural produce as she notes “Farmers earn the least from their produce.” Therefore, her ultimate goal is to help farmers develop their farm produce into value added products. She has plans to help farmers around the world to better utilize their farm produce into products and by-products so they can earn more revenue from their produce to foster greater economic development in farming and rural communities. Her mission is to champion tropical Harvest slushies and Juices Corporation as a hope or a model for this endeavor.
Overall, Kishana believes that as we transition from childhood to adulthood we are blessed with innate abilities and through our life experiences and people we form a culture and path of our own and it is for us to figure out what all these experiences and resources garnered can do not for money but for the greater good of the advancement of mankind. Nevertheless, she believes that even though her experiences and resources could have a vast impact, she had to physically and spiritually pray to connect the dots. In her own words “ we are only vessels to which things are brought forth and so with my experiences, resourcefulness and God given talent, Tropical Harvest Slushies and juices was brought forth”.