Maggi highlights women flourishing in agriculture Maggi highlights women flourishing in agriculture

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People visiting the Maggi Farmers’ Market in Mandela Park, Half-Way-Tree last Friday could not miss the fact that many of the farmers selling produce were women.

“We women always love to plant. When we plant and the things grow, they look pretty,” Rosemarie Graham, a farmer from Bog walk in St Catherine, told the Jamaica Observer. “Me a do this from long time, from me pickney. Farming and selling send all of my kids them to school, and now them a big man and big woman. The last one is 27.”

Graham said that tilling the soil is not a bed of roses, especially when the market is saturated by some crops. “Sometimes the things get very cheap…and if we have to buy fertiliser and pay man to help, we nuh getting nothing out of it. But sometimes you win and sometimes you lose in everything; it’s the same with farming.”

While she plants sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, coconuts and June plums, she added that she has to buy some crops from farmers in other parishes, which can be expensive at times.

Another farmer, Maxine Fender, said she loves farming because of the flexibility that comes with working on your own terms.

“It’s a very independent occupation to me. I work whenever I want and I just have a love for the soil. I like planting things and seeing them grow,” the Woodford, St Andrew, resident said.

Though none of her parents were farmers, Fender said she developed a love for fresh produce from trips to Coronation Market with her grandmother, who used to buy and sell produce there.

“I was going there with her from I was like seven or so, and I just grew to have a love for farming,” she said. “I’ve been doing this about 30 years now. I have four boys; sometimes they are not all that you want them to be, but I sent them through high school from the farm.”

Fender has found a niche with tropical fruits such as pineapples, papayas and ripe bananas, but also buys and sells other crops, especially in summer, when there is a decrease in her clientle.

“The lowest season is in July to August when school is out, because I sell a lot of ripe bananas. You will find that they don’t sell as much when the children are on holiday.”

Egg farming is another area of agriculture in which women have found a steady footing. Marcia Brown left her managerial position in a corporate job to start an egg farm in the 1990s and hasn’t looked back.

“A friend of my husband’s, who was in the industry, introduced us to the layers. We started with 200 hens and it blossomed. In the earlier years it was up and down, but it has reached a point where it is taking form,” she said, beaming that her farm now has about 4,200 layer hens.

She shared that although she has her husband for support as a business partner, she still faces some gender biases in the industry.

“Sometimes people tend to look down on you because you are a woman, and feel as if they have an edge or even that you can’t stand on your own as a woman,” she pointed out. “But I don’t worry about them because my job before this one prepared me for people like that.”

Brown shared that the success of her farm, which is located in Palmetto Pen, Clarendon, is from her ability to find the market for the eggs.

“You have to mix and diversify so that you can have a balance when some markets dip a little,” she divulged. “We sell to wholesales and supermarkets and gas stations, supply some businesses on the north coast. We even sell them retail.”

Another area in which women have reaped success is in horticulture. Monica Hamilton always enjoyed gardening as a hobby, but it was not until a few years ago that her friend Debbie Lee-Holt encouraged her to take it more seriously.

“Although we make money from the plants, it’s mostly for the pleasure,” Hamilton shared. “When you have a stressful day and you come out and look at the plants blooming, there is a sense of ease and relief. You enjoy what you see. It takes your mind off the cares and the troubles of the world.”

Her husband, Ernie, added that they have been the champion exhibitors at the annual Jamaica Horticultural Society show for the last three years.

“In 2018 we exhibited 120 plants. We got 20 first-place prizes, 27 second-place, 21 third-place, and eight trophies,” he said.

Monica added that the plants have been a beautiful part of their marriage, especially now that they have retired and the children have left the nest.

“Sometimes we quarrel because I might want to do this and he wants to do that, but otherwise, it brings us together. We work in the garden together and mow the lawn together; we have been doing it for years. And we are almost empty nesters now, so the flowers are fulfilling for us.”

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