When you hear the name Marley, you think about music. Rohan Marley, son of the legendary musician Bob Marley, is adding something else to his family's legacy -- coffee.
In 1999 after a stint playing college and professional football and feeling uncertain about his future, he purchased a 52-acre coffee farm atop the Blue Mountains in Jamaica and never looked back. What started as a two-man operation has blossomed into a successful fair trade, sustainable and organic coffee business: Marley Coffee. Marley is the business’ chairman and co-founder.
Jennifer Russell: Your family’s name is synonymous with music -- not farming and not coffee.
Rohan Marley: Right.
JR: But farming is in your blood, isn’t it?
RM: Yes, because originally my father grew up on a farm. Then as a Rastafarian, a Rastafari, we think that it’s awesome that we can farm our own food. So it’s always been in my blood. The coffee was by chance, it was just a part of my destiny.
After college I played some football in Canada and after that I went to live in New Jersey. I used to ask myself, being Bob’s son, “What’s going to be my thing? Am I just going to sit around and collect royalties and do nothing?” Inside of me I had something I wanted to give, I wanted to do more from inside.
A friend of mine called me from Jamaica, where there was this beautiful property available. It was so nice and luscious, this property, and the water was so blue and pristine that I couldn’t believe that I had the opportunity to have this land, to bring this land into the family. I thought it was a conspiracy because here I am 26 years old, I know nothing about farming, I know nothing about anything besides football. The guy sold the property to me right there on the spot.
I said, “What’s in this community? What’s this property known for?” He said, “Oh, Mr. Marley, this is coffee land. You’re in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. You have Blue Mountain coffee here.” I guess I’m in the coffee business then. Then I said -- thinking about my principles and as a human being -- my first instinct out of my mouth was, “Listen, if we’re going to grow coffee here, you cannot use any chemicals on the land.” He said, “All right, Mr. Marley. We’re going to do it your way.”
Jamaica's Blue Mountains
That was in 1999. It took me some time to understand what it was I was doing. I had no clue that I had to get all these licenses to export the coffee, I had no clue that I had to do all this work. It took me 10 years to really understand what it was I was doing. It’s a learning process.
JR: I think it’s cool you talk about promoting happiness and prosperity.
RM: I’m joyful. I don’t want burdens. Having this farm and seeing that the farmers are happy and that they’re able to send their kids to school and they’re just so thankful for what it is I’ve done and I’ve done nothing. They’re so thankful for my efforts it just makes us happy -- both of us: myself and the community. I brought Ziggy down to the community. Ziggy rebuilt the school. That was kind of how I got into coffee.
JR: A lot of people probably don’t know that your father, Bob Marley, had a strong desire to become a farmer himself.
RM: He would always say in his interviews that one day he was going to stop playing music and go back to the farm. On the other side now, I am my father’s dream. I’m doing that because he said he wanted to do that. But it’s really for myself, my own life as a man, and leaving something for your children’s children’s children -- to bring something into my family’s legacy outside of music that we can now create an international business throughout the world.
Jennifer Russell is a founding producer at The Splendid Table. Before coming to radio, she made historical and arts and cultural programming for public television. She claims to have come out of the womb a food lover -- when other girls played house, she played restaurateur. Follow her comings and goings on Twitter: @jenejentweets.