Passion, responsibility and drive are the words that sum up my impression of Shadel Nyack-Compton. She is credited with the transformation of Belmont Estate from a declining traditional cocoa and nutmeg plantation to a thriving agri-tourism business, successfully producing a range of value-added products, and one of the top visitor attractions on the island.
Shadel grew up on the estate in St. Patrick, which was owned by her grandparents, the first Grenadians of Indian descent to own a large plantation. She fondly remembers a very happy childhood at Belmont:
“My grandparents showed me first-hand the rewards of hard work and dedication, although I never imagined I would lead the family business at the estate one day.”
After attending law school in the United States, home tugged at the heartstrings, and Shadel decided to return to Grenada, wanting to spend time with her aging grandmother. She was disappointed to find Belmont Estate in serious decline, a shadow of its former glory. The estate had gone from employing over 100 to about 10. This was an accurate representation of the state of the agriculture industry across Grenada. With the loss of preferential UK market access for bananas, and social, political and economic changes on the island, large plantations suffered and several were subdivided into small farms. Many farmers reduced their reliance on farming and resorted to finding more stable employment.
Through her travels, Shadel had seen agri-tourism in action, and developed a vision for Belmont Estate. She knew it had huge potential as a beautiful historic place with an authentic story to tell. Shadel pitched the idea for funding without much success; the concept of agri-tourism was new and untested in Grenada, but she was determined and persisted, starting to slowly implement small scale projects with her mum Leah and her staff. Together they built an open-air creole restaurant that sat 25 people and a heritage museum to showcase the estate’s history. She invited tour operators to visit and to see what she was doing and opened their eyes to her agri-tourism endeavour.
Over the years, there have been successes and setbacks. The passing of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was particularly devastating, destroying much of the estate and the restaurant. The tourism aspect of the business was closed for three years, to slowly rebuild. But with every fall, Belmont Estate has risen stronger, and grown and evolved under Shadel’s leadership and her drive to succeed. The core business is still farming with the 300-acre estate producing cocoa, nutmeg, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and more. But Shadel explains that the approach has changed:
“Traditional agriculture was not enough to sustain and develop the business, and employ more people as we planned. So we had to diversify and expand the product and service offerings.”
Today, Belmont Estate offers over 100 organically-certified fresh produce items and value-added products including chocolates, spices, jams and confectionaries, sauces, and more.
Early on, she collaborated with Mott Green of the Grenada Chocolate Company (GCC), the pioneer of the bean-to-bar chocolate industry in Grenada. With the GCC, they worked to set up a farmer’s cooperative, so farmers could benefit from ownership in the company. Grenada’s innovation has made the island a world leader in the tree-to-bar chocolate industry. Today there are five chocolate companies on the island, all making high quality tree-to-bar chocolates, with Belmont Estate Chocolate one of the premiere chocolate-makers offering fine quality dark, milk and white organic chocolates. The entire process is available for guests to experience through the estate’s tree-to-bar tour.
Environmental sustainability is high on Shadel’s agenda for Belmont Estate, which became certified organic by CERES in 2003, and she’s driven to push this beyond the estate:
“I dream of Grenada becoming the first organic island in the Caribbean! It’s an achievable goal. We have fertile and organic soil that can grow the healthiest produce.”
Maintaining organic certification, implementing waste management and composting, and installing a biodigester to turn organic waste into cooking gas are all components of their dynamic environmental programme. Shadel is currently ‘greening up’ the chocolate factory, installing solar panels through a Caribbean Export grant, something she’s keen to encourage others to do, to reduce Grenada’s reliance on fossil fuels:
“Sunshine is God’s gift – let’s use it.”
The estate also has its own goat farm and dairy, set up in collaboration with Christine Curry of the Grenada Goat Dairy Project (GDP). The objective of the goat dairy project was to produce healthy milk for making high-quality cheese and training of local farmers. The GDP through a Kickstarter programme was able to fund an educational dairy facility specifically aimed at youth development at the St. Patrick Anglican school. It offers a fully functioning goat farm, complete with barn and milk production capacity. The milk from the school is sold to Belmont Estate to process into cheese. To date, Belmont Estate is the only enterprise producing goat’s cheese for the local market, and the initiative shows Shadel’s commitment to involving the local community in Belmont Estate’s successes.
It is clear that Shadel’s passion for the business is rooted in honouring her grandparents’ legacy, and what they worked their entire lives to achieve, but she also feels a strong sense of responsibility for people around her today – the estate’s staff and the local community. She explains that the social agenda of the business is integral to what they do:
“We are like a family here; supporting each other on and off the job. I have an opportunity to serve my people and to drive organisational and cultural change in a positive way, away from the typical ‘plantation mentality’ of inequality, servitude and dependency, to one of respect, equality, fairness, self-development and empowerment.”
The company works to create opportunities for people to reach their potential through scholarship opportunities and local and international internship programmes.
At the helm of Belmont Estate, Shadel and her team have transformed the company into one of the leading agri-tourism businesses in the region, and her achievements have not gone unrecognised. In 2013 Shadel was named Businesswoman of the Year by the Grenada Chamber of Industry and Commerce and recognised by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation in 2014. She is also the first Grenadian and woman to win the Award for Entrepreneurship from the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence in 2017. In October 2019, Shadel travelled to Paris for the International Cocoa Awards where Belmont Estate was named as one of the top 50 cocoa beans in the world out of 223 global entries.
Shadel credits her strong faith in God, sound strategic planning, supportive parents, talented and dedicated staff and a commitment to excellence for her success. She considers the transformation of Belmont Estate from a symbol of slavery into a beacon of hope as her biggest achievement and explains,
“The rebirth of the estate into a thriving agri-tourism destination is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. It is an inspiration for every business owner that with perseverance, hard work and dedication to a higher cause, success can be achieved.”