Today is our anniversary and while it’s been another interesting year, there’s still so much room for growth. Exotic Secrets was born out of the most surprising circumstances actually. I initially had no intention of making this particular passion my business but like I said, I am very passionate about it. People have been asking so I’ve decided you deserve an answer. I’m going to share how and why Exotic Secrets was born a little over a year ago.
About Kerece: A Little History
I grew up knowing to the very core, the land of wood and water – the pristine, captivating beaches of crystal waves dancing onto pearly sands above which Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) and seagrapes (Coccoloba uvifera) proudly display their virtues. I grew up where music and laughter are timeless and infectious; where cooking and spices are divine arts always begging for exploration and finding fulfillment in our homes. I grew up where fresh, exotic fruit, vegetable, roots and flora are more abundant than people… I grew up in Jamaica and while I never took my home for granted, I most certainly lacked the exposure to fully grasp how blessed we are as a people until I left.
About Kerece: Moving to New York
Of course, I just had to be the unfortunate soul that decided to move to New York from a tropical island in mid-September when things in New York usually take a turn for the worse in my now seasoned opinion. It was 80 degrees at 11am and 35 degrees 6 hours later. As if it wasn’t bad enough that maple – which bears no fruit – was the only sign of vegetation for miles, it was also losing said foliage this time of year. Yes, it was colorful for the first day or two but after a good shower of rain, it was all a miserable soupy sight with blotches of brown and grey slosh dumped on cars, in the drains and on the sidewalks.
Before all of that though, I had about a week of “not-so-abnormal weather”.
I remember my first time taking a stroll down my street in Yonkers. From the apartment window I could see the park across the street, a few brick structures behind and the sprawling Hudson River in the distance. It all seemed so inviting, so I decided to familiarize myself with the neighborhood.
I emerged from the front door beaming and excited and returned an hour later feeling confused and a bit self-conscious. I had greeted everyone I walked by politely with a pleasant “good afternoon” or “hello” but no one spoke to me. No one responded. In fact, they generally reacted by looking at me as if I was crazy or out of place. One guy actually grabbed his little girl’s wrist and swept her across the street to the opposite side as I smiled and said “hello” upon approaching them. I began to think, ‘perhaps a bird had pooped on my head and everyone could see it but was too uncomfortable to say anything’, or, ‘was I tracking dog poop?’ I checked and decided it was neither, so what was it?
I got off the elevator and approached the apartment perplexed. Dad was cooking stew chicken. The aroma of simmering onions, carrots and spices assailed me as I entered and locked the door behind me. I told him of the strange event my walk tuned out to be. He shrugged and said, “oh yeah!” like a light-bulb had just lit up over his head, “people here won’t talk to you. It’s not natural for them to greet you unless you’re someone they know,” he explained as he continued to work on his simmering masterpiece. I was stunned. What he was saying seemed unnatural to me. He looked up from his pot for a moment and must have seen the shock registered on my face because he chuckled. He found it amusing.
The Catalyst: The Seed
Dad continued, “I’ve lived here in this building for almost three years and I still don’t know a single one of my neighbors on this floor alone.” I couldn’t believe my ears! This was a new concept for me. It was one of many new concepts – none of which I found favorable by the way – and I soon came to the realization that the only way I was going to be happy in this city is if this country girl could create an exotic oasis – a small reminder of home.
The Hardest Christmas
Christmas came quickly – too quickly. I awoke the morning feeling like a flattened salt-fish fritter that had been made with no rising agent and no spices, fried in old oil – flavorless; blah! It didn’t help that I was constantly thinking about the stages of our family’s Christmas traditions that I would have been joining in had I been back home: who would be taking turns creaming butter for the six or so rum cakes it would take to sustain our large family up until Boxing Day; who would be raking the yard, washing, polishing and shining the floors; who would be butchering the goat, minding the giant pot of mannish wata (goat soup) over the wood fire and fighting over the choicest pieces of roasted goat meat; who was likely to get a proper ass’n at the domino table after Christmas dinner…
The Candle In The Dark
Fortunately for me, Dad knew an angel in the form of a woman named Sandy who’d flown up from Jamaica to visit her family in New York for Christmas. She knew this was my first Christmas here and brought some ‘goodies’ for me: a pack of peanut punch flavored Lasco, some roti, gizzada (pinch), and a small pot of houseplants. That pot sat proudly inside my bedroom window thereafter and everything else forged Christmas dinner and a salve for my longing heart. Thank you ‘Angel Sandy’!
Before long I had gotten a job working for a retail chain full-time and also started school full-time. Both school and work were over an hour away from home by bus and on the rare occasion I wasn’t occupied with either, I was at church. Looking back now I realize that was an insanely packed schedule. Most days, I was either tired or tense but always nostalgic; always longing for home.
Of Orchids & Desire Rekindled
There was a Trader Joe’s store not far from work and I found myself sauntering in one evening after work. I immediately lit up! The doors slid open and right before my eyes was a large display of potted plants and arrangements from which orchids shone in every color, shape, and size imaginable – cymbidium, dendrobium, phalaenopsis, brassia, miltonia, paphiopedilum, vanda, odontoglossum, miltoniopsis… they were all there like a mesmerizing siren’s song luring me to want them all. I heeded the call and within two months I had an impressive collection of orchids. We’d moved to a more spacious home in the suburbs and my orchids resided in the foyer.
Sprouting Anew Is Hope
The next year I discovered the beautiful art of hydroponics and indoor gardening and decided to push the boundaries a bit further and expand the oasis I had created by planting a few tropical items indoors. I started with something easy – Jamaican sweet potato. It was a rewarding experience. I harvested a few roots from my pot but you know that didn’t bring total satisfaction, right? Once a wood-nymph finds a path back to the rainforest, she’s staying on it. Take my word for it – there will be no diversions, Buster! …so began my year-long experiment with tropical, indoor gardening in New York.
The most challenging part of the process was obtaining seeds and plants. I could hardly find sellers online with the items I wanted until I did, or did I? I found a seller halfway around the world with some unfamiliar species belonging to familiar plant families. They were expensive (USD$50-for-10-strawberry-seeds kind of expensive) but I didn’t mind. I really wanted the seeds, the site showed that their products had been purchased hundreds of times over and that gave me the confidence to buy from them.
The service was average but the seeds arrived (6 weeks later) and that’s really all I cared about. I treated them; I planted them and waited. A few of them grew and flourished under my now loving and expert hand and they yielded but I was grossly disappointed with the yield. Every last one of the plants that grew produced the species I had been familiar with and NOT what had been advertised!
Hell Hath No Fury Like A Wood Nymph Conned!
I was furious! I felt cheated! I had spent a lot of money on seeds that turned out to be anything but what I’d expected. The worse part was, it was too late for recourse at that point. It was too late for me to leave reviews or file reports because months had passed between the transaction date and my first harvest! Nonetheless, I conducted my own investigation. I started by doing a google search on one of the images this seller had used to advertise their ‘mystical fruit’ and found an almost identical image (the original), only this image gave naturally golden color to the fruit’s skin where the seller’s image was purple… and so one and so forth. I concluded that they had doctored the images and fabricated the information. How dishonest!
All Around Me Are Wolf In Sheep Clothing
It turns out I was not their only victim and they were not the only ‘exotic illusionists’. I discovered other sellers I suspected were conducting fraudulent activity and I also found some online forums where other gardeners shared their disappointment with dishonest sellers exploiting their desires and not delivering advertised product. It was quite honestly discouraging but i persevered. By the next year, I had found a local supplier of exotic fruit. The fruit was available in small doses and cost me an arm, a leg, an eye and a kidney but it was worth it. When I planted the seeds I got from the fruit, I was certain of what would come back to me.
The Rebirth Of Eden
We Jamaicans aren’t selfish people – anything but. If you’ve met a selfish Jamaican, then I’m sorry to be the one to tell you my friend but they’ve either forgotten or have never known the true heart of Jamaica. hence, when my garden started overflowing I decided to sell a few seeds online so I could share my blessings with others who wanted to create their own oasis and the response was overwhelmingly positive. From this seed, Exotic Secrets was born. I decided to really invest in this. I did some more research, networked with my family back home and continued to expand my piece of paradise until I’d moved into a much larger apartment and turned the living room into a greenhouse. As my garden grew, so did my inventory and my relationship with plant lovers worldwide.
It gives me great joy to do what I love every day and to teach others how to love it and get the most out of it as I do. I vowed never to misrepresent myself, my country or the gifts of nature we share. We’ve grown since and to date, We’ve kept that promise. I see no reason to change that now… so here’s to the next year of growing together! [Raises glass] Thank you for joining us!