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FEATURE STORY November 1, 2018

Entrepreneur is Testing Eco-Friendly Techniques in the Green Heart of Jamaica

Founded 10 years ago by Lise Charron and her husband Michael Alexander, the eco-lodge was developed applying permaculture principles to be fully self-sufficient.

This feature is an outcome of infoDev, a multi-donor program administered by the World Bank Group, with a focus on entrepreneurs in developing economies. This piece was originally published on March 12, 2018. 

In Breadnut Hill, St. Ann, Jamaica, near the famous Dunn’s River Falls, the eco-farm and lodge Durga’s Den sits right in front of one of the most breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea. The farm is growing in popularity by attracting visitors and volunteers from all over the world looking for a nature-immersive, hands-on learning vacation.

Founded 10 years ago by Lise Charron and her husband Michael Alexander, the eco-lodge was developed applying permaculture principles to be fully self-sufficient.

“It is a demonstrative and experimental site where international volunteers are welcome to share their knowledge of resilience with the help of regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and appropriate technology,” said Charron. “We teach through example, living the­­ experience and sharing that knowledge through workshops.”

Durga’s Den is a five-acre farm where people can test and refine eco-friendly solutions to the most pressing problems of water and soil protection, retention, and regeneration.

“We aim at creating abundance by finding and demonstrating how permaculture and regenerative agriculture techniques can help to deal with critical limiting factors, such as water and soil scarcity and climate change conditions,” said Charron.­­

The techniques showcased at Durga’s Den include harvesting rainwater, recycling gray water, and composting organic matter. Thanks to its green mission, the farm was nominated in the 2016 Regeneration International’s project competition.

“We researched together on different systems for shelter, food, water, and sanitation,” Charron said. “We came up with prototypes, tested on site, and demonstrated them.”

Durga’s Den uses solar energy to power the farm’s operations, and the cottages have been designed as eco-friendly buildings, with green roofs, natural plaster and paints, and ecological toilets. Volunteers and visitors alike are encouraged to try a more natural and healthy living that includes rainwater showers, organic food, hikes, yoga, and meditation practices.

In addition to the lodge, the farm is producing green products, such as organic food, body care lotions, and an eco-friendly composting toilet called “Way 2 Go,” now commercialized across the island.

Durga’s Den has very little competition. Way 2 Go is a unique product that has no local competitors, only systems imported from abroad. In the agro-ecotourism sector, the lodge operates in a niche market where currently there is also little local competition.

Charron and Alexander promote their accommodations through the company’s website and Airbnb. They also use WWOOF and HelpX, which link organic farms with volunteers who want to help for a period of time. “In exchange for free accommodation they give some of their time to help on the farm and use their time off (four hours per day and weekends) to relax on the hill or explore the island,” she added.

“We first learned about the Caribbean Climate Innovation Centre at a Cuso meeting in Kingston, where we did a presentation of our agro forestry workshops,” said Charron. “We were encouraged to look at the website and filled in the entry form.”

The rest is history. “We have done the prototype for our Way 2 Go sanitation system, tested it, and started sale and distribution,” Charron said. “With the help of CCIC, we are looking for support in setting up the financial aspect, control, budget and accounting decisions. I am sure the best is to come. We are looking forward to it.”

Charron had some valuable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Find your passion, something you believe in. It does not have to be glamorous, but rather something you are convinced of.”