Deleen Powell: The New Face of Farming
A small, lush four-and-a-half-acre farm in Brae's River, St Elizabeth, is the weekend office of Deleen Powell - a charismatic young professional and new pig farmer.
Intelligent, with an electric smile and welcoming nature, Powell is serious about the business of farming and is currently maturing 41 piglets to market weight along with four sows on her farm.
Despite having a full-time job as the public relations officer at the National Environment and Planning Agency, Powell finds time to commute from Kingston to St Elizabeth on the weekends to manage her fledgling farm. She is also pursuing a master's degree in telecommunication management and telecom policy at the Mona School of Business and Management.
Getting Started in the Business
Originally from Mandeville, Manchester, Powell's farm is a joint venture with her business partner, Damion Newman. A young Jamaican who is currently living overseas, Newman plans to return to Jamaica to assist with the operation of the farm by the end of the year.
It was Newman's desire that first got them into farming. Encouraged by him, Powell encountered a NutramixFeeds' exhibit at the annual Denbigh Agricultural Show, introducing her to the company Newport Genetics and their plan to sell impregnated gilts (young female domestic pigs). Newport Genetics and Nutramix are both part of the CB Group, which also produces the brand Copperwood Pork - in fact, it's Copperwood with whom Powell now has an arrangement to supply pigs.
Powell was among the first group of farmers to receive impregnated gilts from Newport Genetics in November 2014. She tells Flair that her success so far led her to purchase another four gilts which will be delivered in June.
Farming in the 21st Century
Powell's farm is entirely off the grid, using solar power for lighting as well as for warming the piglets after the gilts have farrowed. She uses a river and spring on the farm for all of her freshwater needs, and is also looking to implement a system to convert the biogas from the animal waste to use for power.
While Powell's farm and attitude are modern, her biggest concern is an old one that faces all Jamaican farmers - praedial larceny. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries estimates some $5 billion is lost to praedeial thieves every year, and Powell knows that without vigilance, her investments could be ruined. She has registered with the Rural Agricultural Development, Authority which is trying to implement measures to prevent praedial larceny, and tries to give her community a sense of ownership when it comes to her farm, and an interest in keeping it secure.
Perception of farming
Powell's farmhand lives on the property, which, she says, "Offers some peace of mind and security. We have tried to really forge ties with the community, too ... even in construction, we try to hire community members and involve them in the farm ... . Wherever we can, we keep it local."
Powell feels that she can help change the way other young professionals and those in her community view farming and agriculture: "I want to contribute to the evolution of the idea of what a farmer should look or sound like. To have persons understand that farming is important - we have to eat, so farmers are important, too. Farming is not a last resort, it's a science and should be something that people are looking to equip themselves to get into, and that business people are in, and it should be respected."
To further her own knowledge, Powell hopes to do some short courses in agriculture, and is considering doing an MSc in Agriculture at the University of the West Indies. She tells Flair; "Research is critical and to know your stuff, but especially as a woman going into a male-dominated field, it may be a little more difficult. But once you know your stuff and present yourself as someone who is knowledgeable, then you will gain respect. Also, you have to be humble and don't be afraid to ask what you don't know."
She is of the view that other young women should enter this very important sector. "It can be extremely challenging, especially at first, but if they (women) do the necessary research and put in the effort, they can reap the benefits. It's hard work, but worth it. It requires long hours, long nights, and lots of strategising and research, especially if it's not an arena you're trained in. But seeing something you've conceptualised and brought to this stage of maturity - there's nothing that can beat that. It gives you a sense of accomplishment that you can't get working for someone else. The sense of pride of taking it to completion is unparalleled, and it's also contributing to national development, so that doesn't hurt."
But she cautioned, "In a male-dominated arena it's not necessary for you to lose your femininity just because you want to be successful in the field. Its not necessary to be abrasive; you can be calm and collected and still get your point across."
While it is something she would go into full-time, Powell is a woman of varying interest. "It is something I have thought about (going into farming full-time), but I have so many interests that I don't ever really see myself doing only one thing."