The world is constantly changing, evolving by the second. We are in an age where the globe’s occupants live fast paced lives and are driven by quick results and everything being done at a faster pace, with greater yields. So it comes as no surprise that this school of thought would exist within all spheres of life and the correlated industries. The agricultural industry, without a doubt has grown with time and technological advancements, resulting in greater yields- as we would anticipate, based on how viable one of the word’s oldest industries has continued to be.
We were pleased to speak with Allison “Debbie” Turner- an innovator and game changer, who teamed up with her husband and business partner , Oral Turner, operators of Turner Innovations Limited to create a Sorrel Harvesting Machine.
The Turners are an award-winning dynamic duo (Photo Credit: Turner Innovations Limited)
When asked to briefly tell us something about herself she stated “Debbie is an entrepreneur; she doesn’t believe in taking no for an answer- every no is a chance to get a yes, because no does not exist. She is creative, determined and innovative- great spirit of will for change and improving life.” The story that followed as she spoke with us made that brief description most validated. It is that creativity, determination and great spirit of will for change, while not taking no for an answer which created a path for Debbie and Oral to changing the face of Sorrel Harvesting worldwide- potentially catalyzing change in agriculture as an industry.
To get a little background information on how her innate passions could have added to a part of her drive to get involved in the engineering/ agriculture industry- we asked Debbie for some insight regarding her childhood aspirations. At about age 7, Debbie recalled wanting to be an ice cream lady in the then future. This was clearly an early indication of her natural inclination to travel uncharted paths as her story resembled that of many Caribbean children, whose parents’ dream was for her to become a Lawyer or Medical Doctor. “Everybody’s kid was supposed to be something great…but I wanted to be an ice cream lady because I loved ice cream and Iwanted to have it all to myself.” By her teenage years, her angle changed a bit, but was still within the food industry; she wanted to be a food critic. “Which foodie wouldn’t want their job to be tasting food?” she said followed by laughter.
Through the years, as she developed as a brilliant young lady, sheexplained that she always had that gut feeling that she was different, that she had something which made her a little different from others. Debbie didn’t know exactly what she would have done, but she knew when she did it, it would be great.
Fast forward to the year 2010- “It started with me just seeing so many opportunities everywhere.” She illustrated her love for solving problems and where she sees a need and an opportunity, she will confidently take on the project. “I didn’t search for sorrel…it found me”. Her husband owns a farm store, which allowed her to interface with farmers on a regular basis- through these interactions and exchanges she saw a need which involved an opportunity related to sorrel being harvested speedily- a lightbulb came on, and she went drawing board.
Before the project picked up great momentum however, they threw the blanket over it due to hurricanes and the delays and inconveniences that hurricanes and natural disasters take with them and luxuries and comforts they take away. But on a random night Debbie stated that she suddenly woke up in the middle of the night feeling inspired- a strong need to reawaken the project. Herself and her husband later discussed, did more research and realized that no one else was doing it. These kinds of projects involving inventions do not happen very often within the Caribbean context, and when they do, it rarely happens on a large scale- and definitely expedited by persons and cooperations with massive capital fuel. “There weren’t even any other inventors in Jamaica at the time. In a country like Jamaica, where we love to find easier ways to get everything done…” And it is in that line of thought that she saw even more reason, opportunity and potential.
By following through with the project, shenow looks back at how she expited what she hoped to have done. Apart from an invention- she wanted to deliver a message, to change the story of modern inventors and creators. “Inventors don’t have to be rich, they don’t have to go to Ivy League schools.” Turner rewrote the story and added toa shelf of inspirational stories of the “average man” believing, working, growing and creating his/ her own wealth and opportunities.
Team Turner continued on their journey of establishing new trends and opening new doors where they may have seemed to have been only walls. “ We were the first private company to be given a grant funding from Development Bank of Jamaica.” She approached the organization and was granted funding in response to a relatable vision which was more than enough reason to believe and get on board. In the face of nay sayers and challenges that came along with being a small entrepreneur, Turner worked relentlessly. Through the visions and actions of the Turners, which was followed by the growth and success of the project- the Development Bank of Jamaica created a fund called IGNITE where 30 loans are given out specifically to inventors. After speaking of the blessing that was that grant, Debbie exclaimed “…that is how we bring about change, by working and by not listening to no. No does not exist! We had also pitched the idea to First Angels Jamaica, chaired by Joseph Matalon, and they were interested in investing…” She later found out that the chairman himself had invested, and he is now sitting on their board. Turner reflected on that point, stating that “…the project, at that point had been going for a long time before anyone would hear us out. But after hearing that Joseph Matalon was on board, a lot of persons realized that it had to be a worthwhile venture and wanted to come on board.”
Another interaction that assisted in propelling the project, in perfect timing, like something that was destined, her and her husband met an engineer from Canada. This engineer isGrant Seabrooke, CEO of Machine Dynamics Limited. He found their project absolutely amazing, and according to Debbie “it was right up his alley and he wanted to discuss further.” Long and short- after visiting Jamaica and spending time with the Turners at their home in St. Elizabeth and sharing their ideas and concepts, Seabrooke was moved to become an investor and mentor- later assisting in the process of reworking the machine.
Today Debbie can speak for herself and her husband and business partner, Oral, in saying ”…we are changing an industry…it is a lot of responsibility- people are watching us as examples”. Turner can proudly say that that have revolutionized the harvesting process for one of Jamaica’s most loved- sorrel, setting a new standard for the harvesting of other crops. Debbie further indicated that China is the worlds largest consumers of sorrel, so there is a demand for sorrel in large numbers outside Jamaica and the region on a whole- and in that she reiterated the importance of following through on a novel dream. Apart from continuing to grow as a co- business owner and inventor, Debbie has walked a journey so far that now gives her experiences to share that can be of immeasurable value. A journey that has given her messages which now translates as inspirational talks in schools.
In true Debbie Turner fashion, before ending our conversation she had another story. The story starts with her and her husband being in Kingston to carry out business transactions, but then decided to go to the movies before heading home to St. Elizabeth. They decided to go to the movies at Sovereign Centre in Liguanae, wearing what she referred to as “some very chill clothes”. On reaching the cinema, Debbie and Oral realized that it was a premiere. Everyone was fashionably dressed, so they felt like they may have stood our in the crowd. However, Debbie did not care. They just moved with the crowd toward the box office to possibly buy tickets. To their dismay, the ticket booth was closed. They had no idea how they would get pass the security, but Debbie remained hopeful. To cut a long story short, Debbie soon after saw her lawyer, who had complementary tickets- so the timing was perfect for her husband to get in. Debbie and Oral were so lucky, that they had lucky seats and won baskets and tokens. Turner shared this story, not to advise that it is acceptable to sneak into a movie premiere; but instead as a lesson onthe importance of remaining hopeful and positive,-to believe in endless possibilities, and to trust that doors do exist where we only see walls. At the end of the story she repeated, “hearing no isn’t leading us closer to a yes…No just doesn’t exist.”
Allison “Debbie” Turner is absolutely grateful for what she calls an amazing journey so far. |P|