Better known to locals as Lady Di, Dianna Thompson has been farming pineapples on the slender Bahamian island of Eleuthera for over 45 years — a particular variety called “sugar loaf.” After biting into a slice of her sunny nectarous fruit, you’ll agree with Lady Di that “There’s no other pineapple as sweet.”
“You work hard until you know what to do,” she claims in her cheerful Caribbean accent. Now a central figure of Bahamian pineapple farming, Lady Di started learning to cultivate the spiky fruits when she moved to Eleuthera in 1974 from Long Island (Bahamas). She worked alongside her brothers who were well-established farmers, and they taught her to cultivate fruits and vegetables including melons, mangos, avocados, key limes, peppers, cabbage, greens and herbs. But most of all, Lady Di adored growing pineapples.
She eventually wanted to farm her own plot of land and asked her brother Lyn to help clear “a little piece ‘a pine” for herself. He helped Lady Di prepare a dedicated field to farm, and she was officially on her own. Her first few years proved difficult, and pineapples’ 18-month harvesting cycle requires a special kind of patience. “You can’t force the pine,” she explains. After a successful but small initial yield, she started expanding. Little by little, her pineapple farm grew, and more land was cleared for future pineapple fields. She learned as she went and kept an open attitude.
What makes her pineapples so sweet? “We plant them in the red clay soil,” she explains. Eleuthera’s red soil actually originates in Africa’s Sahara Desert, where it is swept up in powerful dust storms and then blown across the Atlantic. This colorful dirt is high in iron and raises the acidity of the alkaline Bahamian soil, making the land better suited for farming.
Lady Di remains a keen source of farming knowledge throughout the islands and fellow Bahamians frequently seek her agricultural expertise. Her reputation as a master cultivator of fruits and vegetables has drawn the attention of both backyard and commercial farmers.
And business on her farm is booming. She recently started doing business with rum maker Bacardí and regularly ships massive quantities of pineapples to use in their spirits. In fact, if you’re sipping Bacardí’s Pineapple Fusion Rum, Pineapple Mai Tai, Rum Punch or Tropical Rum, you’re likely tasting Lady Di’s sugar loaf pineapples.
As for favorite family recipes using pineapples, Lady Di’s daughter Sabrina Thompson says they make pineapple jam, pineapple pepper jelly and piña coladas using fresh pineapple juice. On special occasions, Sabrina and her brother make “Mr. Cool Pineapple Wine” in honor of their late father. The recipe remains a secret.
Before their home became a travel destination for beachgoers, sport fishermen and pleasure boaters, most Eleutheran locals made their living farming crops. As early as 1845, Eleuthera was known as the premier pineapple-growing island in The Bahamas and supplied the United States and England with thousands of succulent fruits each year. By the late 19th century, The Bahamas dominated the commercial pineapple market — with Eleuthera notorious for yielding the sweetest crop.
Ultimately, overproduction led to soil exhaustion and plant disease on Eleuthera, and the booming pineapple industry started to falter in the early 20th century. Meanwhile, Hawaiian-grown pineapples started hitting the market and posed significant competition.
The Eleutheran pineapple business was on the brink of collapse by the late 1900s, and only a handful of aging farmers remained. The next generation of would-be farmers, preferring a steady paycheck to a life tending the fields, chose to work in hotels and other tourism-related trades. It was only a matter of time before pineapple farming on Eleuthera died out altogether.
But recently Eleuthera has enjoyed a resurgence of pineapple farming, thanks in part to the wisdom of Lady Di. Young farmers, frustrated with high-priced, pesticide-ridden imported fruits and vegetables, have started farming on Eleuthera again. As produce prices continue to rise and the farm-to-table movement gains popularity, more folks consider farming as a legitimate profession. And Lady Di supports them in their efforts, offering planting tips and tricks to newcomers.
“This isn’t the ‘90s anymore. You can make money in farming,” Sabrina Thompson asserts. Growers are launching farms on Eleuthera, sparking a substantial resurgence of agriculture on the island. In the last five years alone, Eleuthera has welcomed roughly 20 new farmers. Many work normal day jobs until they can get their small farms off the ground.
This past September, Lady Di was awarded the Minister’s Choice Lifetime Achievement Award by the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture. At 69 years young, she continues to serve as a beacon of light for her fellow Bahamian farmers. If you visit Eleuthera, be sure to call Lady Di for a tour of her farm at 242-335-5006.
Eleuthera entices travelers from across the globe with its charming fishing villages, untouched beaches and swimming pigs. Locals and visitors celebrate their pineapple-growing heritage every June at Pineapple Fest, a celebration with food, games and music held in Gregory Town, Eleuthera’s agricultural center.
Referred to as “the sweetest festival in The Islands of The Bahamas,” the multi- day event features culinary competitions for dishes including Pineapple Rum Cake, Pineapple Custard and Pineapple Coconut Cookie Cups. You might be fortunate enough to witness Lady Di herself cooking her mouthwatering pineapple jams.
A classic Bahamian cocktail, the Goombay Smash is found on the drink menu at nearly every bar in the archipelago. Although no two recipes are alike, this concoction is best known for packing an island-flavor punch. Mix up a pitcher at your next boat party and whisk your guests off to the tropics.
2 ounces coconut rum
2 ounces apricot brandy
3 1⁄2 ounces dark rum
1 1⁄2 cups pineapple juice
1 cup orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
Fresh orange and pineapple slices for garnish
Fill a pitcher 2⁄3 with ice. Combine all ingredients and stir. Serve over ice. Garnish with orange and pineapple slices. Serves four guests.