Woman power - Female farmers join forces to stave off tough times in St Thomas
Published: Tuesday | June 2, 2009
Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter
Bernadette 'Annie' Graham (left) and Patricia 'Aunt Pat' Garrick test mangoes on a farm in Leith Hall, St Thomas. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer
Farming is getting a boost in Dumfries, St Thomas, and a big part of that success story has to do with a group of female farmers who have come together to support each other.
"We have formed the Dumfries Farmers' Group, and what we do is help each other. During the week, we have a day when we decide on whose farm we will be working, and everybody goes there to do anything necessary," Bernadette Graham told The Gleaner.
"It is about 33 of us, mainly women, and we will work on my farm today, another farm the next time, and just go around the area," Graham added.
The Dumfries group has joined forces with a similar group in the nearby community of Leith Hall to bring more hands to each farm.
The women have been working together for the past year and now every member is seeing some success.
They sell their produce to any available market and operate a thriving barter system in the community.
"We grow everything and if I have banana, I will give you, and you might give me a chicken in exchange. Some persons have a square in their backyard while others have an acre or two, and some have farms of more than five. But it doesn't matter the size - everybody joins hands," said Graham, who heads the Dumfries group.
Graham, better known as Annie, is trained in steelwork, but with a downturn in the construction industry, she is concentrating on her backyard garden, which includes a small chicken coop, a greenhouse for her flowers, fruit trees, and cash crops.
"I walked through the district house by house and asked people to join the group. Some did not want to come because they said it was politics, and I had to convince them that we were only going to help each other," Graham said.
Monica Forsythe did not need any convincing despite her farming being limited to a small backyard plot.
"I don't mind working on someone's farm - which is several acres, even though when they come to my farm it is a little plot - because as they say, 'United we stand'," Forsythe said.
In Leith Hall, Patricia 'Aunt Pat' Garrick is living her dream of operating a farm in her retirement.
After spending 40 years in the United States, Aunt Pat returned to Jamaica and purchased the more- than-seven-acre property on which she now grows mangoes and ackees for export, plus other crops.
"I love the workdays and the help from the women who do all of the work, no matter how hard," Aunt Pat said.
While the groups are informal, there are strict rules governing the workdays.
"When we are on your farm, you have to provide lunch and juice for all the workers. No smoking is allowed on the farm on the workday, even if you are a smoker; and not even a ganja seed must be seen," Graham said.
The women are supported by the Island Special Constabulary Force anti-praedial larceny team in the parish.
"We cannot accept that big, strong men are stealing from these female farmers, so we visit the workdays and give the women tips on how to protect their farms," said Special Corporal Eathon Reid.
The women are trying and we are ready to support them in any way we can," Reid added.
The Dumfries group was voted the Most Improved Group in the Morant Bay area by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority last year, and the women farmers are upbeat and ready to win more awards as they plow the land this year.