Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Pursuing a passion for farming

Published:Monday | July 4, 2016 | 7:00 AMChristopher Serju
Michelle Black plays with one of the ram goats which adds to the diversity of the 36-acre mixed crop and livestock farm in Brown’s Town. St Ann.
Michelle Black, the female champion farmer for 2015, shows off one of the ‘chocolate’ bell peppers, so called because of its dark brown colour.
The bell peppers are grown under controlled conditions, which must be maintained at all times to guarantee success.
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Endeavour Property is so far off the beaten track that the word remote doesn't even begin to capture the isolation of the 36-acre farm in the hinterlands of Golden Grove, St Ann, where Michelle Black pursues her passion for agriculture.

Once there, at first glance, there doesn't seem to be much to justify the journey to a place so far removed from the creature comforts of modern society. That is, until you walk the property and get some understanding of the hard work that went into transforming this wilderness into an award-winning farm.

Black was adjudged 2015 Champion Female Farmer and was runner-up in the National Champion Farmer competition, based on the diverse crop offerings successfully cultivated at Endeavour.

The absence of piped water and inadequacy of rainwater did not deter the St Ann resident, who admits that even after clearing sections of the land with a D-9 tractor and creating a pond to harvest and store rainwater, the farm is still a work in progress.

"When I came here, I realised that I only had a fraction of arable land," she told The Gleaner during a recent visit. However, instead of being deterred, Black, who studied agriculture up to General Certificate Education Ordinary Level at Dinthill Technical High School in St Catherine, undertook a detailed assessment of topography of the land and investing in soil tests.

Most of the rocky terrain has since been fenced off and divided into paddocks for rearing 70 goats. The 26 pigs, which also add to her livestock portfolio, are actually an accidental undertaking.

"When we were exporting yams, we had a lot of peel and cuttings and it was too much for composting, so me say 'you know what, let me have a pig'," Black explained.

The early success with yam was what really pulled Black, who had early ambitions of being a veterinary surgeon and is also an accomplished cabaret singer.

She explains, "My family couldn't afford it so I started singing. I sing at nights at a hotel, but I was still empty. I didn't have anything to do with farming and I say 'no sah, I have to do suppen', so I started planting a little bit of yam."

 

GROWING DEMAND

 

Starting with 600 hills of the 'stem tuber in Bamboo, St.Ann, Black began selling it out of her car, before graduating to a van, based on the growing demand for the produce.

It is no surprise that yam was the first major crop planted at Endeavour, but Black, who is always challenging herself, soon got the cultivation of exotic vegetables for which there is a lucrative market. However, she is not satisfied with just holding her own.

"I have a passion for this. I make sure that everything is done correctly. I am not the average farmer who just plants stuff. Every area here is soil-tested to make sure that whatever I plant gets the right fertiliser, the right formulation - everything is done the right way," she disclosed.

However, if you are looking to purchase vegetables, you are not likely to find them at Endeavour, and this is by the choice, the champion farmer explained, highlighting the vision that guides her cultivation.

"You can't be doing the same thing everybody is doing. I plant things that are totally different. I don't plant iceberg lettuce - everybody plants it. We also do a different type of squash, called 'patty pan' squash.

"When I'm buying these seeds, I research the temperature, soil type, and everything I need to know, such as which crops can be planted next to each other."

In Black's greenhouse is a colourful variety of bell (sweet) peppers. Smokers are not allowed, and I had to convince her of my non-smoker status because of the risk of tobacco mosaic infestation to the crop.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com