The joy of farming
by Andre Skeete
To say that 90-year-old Clarence Thompson loves farming is an understatement.
However, if he decided tomorrow to “call it a day”, sit on his porch and enjoy the scenic view of the St. Andrew countryside he would certainly have earned it after years of service to agriculture.
But Clarence Thompson is not that type of person. While he readily admits his eyesight “is not what it used to be”, he is as sprightly and energetic as anyone half of his age, and can be seen daily tending his animals and toiling in the field with his crops.
He is a farmer and proud of it; a vocation he has pursued with passion for decades. His motto is “There is no such thing as hard work, just work”, and he has followed this philosophy his whole life.
Thompson, one of the oldest members of the Pig Farmers’ Cooperative, owns about 40 pigs and has a plot on his farm where he grows vegetables. Some years ago, he even grew fields of sugar cane.
His love for agriculture started at a very young age, and that passion took him to the United States, where he worked in a butcher’s shop, among other places.
“I was involved in farming basically all of my life, from school days… It is a joy for me. I have been to America working on all types of farms… My first trip to America was in 1944 working at the Campbell’s Soup Company in Camden, New Jersey, in the butcher shop boning beef at a record of 700 pounds an hour,” he recalled.
He laments that not many young Barbadians share the same joy about working in agriculture.
“A lot of young chaps come to me and say ‘I had enough of that’ or ‘I done with that’ and they are gone…, but I enjoy farming and I don’t feel as if I have had enough as yet.”
The St. Andrew resident laid the blame for the poor perception of this sector squarely at the feet of Barbadians, who have failed to realise the important role farmers play in feeding the nation.
And he believes it is time that they are given their due.
“A lot of parents after my generation have broken down farming. They say ‘I don’t want my child to come and do what I do’, so when children hear that, they believe it. Every person should be educated, but it does not mean that because you are educated, you can’t cut grass or get involved in agriculture,” he remarked.
Stressing that the sector still has a lot to offer Barbados, Thompson said he believes that its benefits can only be realised if farmers are given more support.
He suggested that the establishment of a large scale farmers market would be one way to do so. This entity, he added, would provide an outlet for all farmers to sell their produce, as well as interact with retailers and buyers.
“Farming here is nice and it can be profitable, but it should be set up a different way. You go and produce [your crops or livestock] and then you have to be scrambling about looking for a buyer. What we really want is that farmers produce and then you have one place for your products to go. And all of the retailers would go there to buy.
“There are a lot of young chaps who would go into farming in Barbados, but it needs to be set up differently, on a better scale,” he suggested.
In addition, the nonagenarian says that Barbadians must seek to grow more of what they eat.
“We have no right importing sweet potatoes, or yams. All of that makes the food bill [high],” the St. Andrew farmer said.
Thompson could also be described as an innovator and forward-thinker, since he used traditional agricultural practices along with modern techniques. Since the 1990s, he has been using a digester on his pig farm. This device converts pig waste into usable energy.
His interest in this technology was piqued when he saw one of the devices at Morgan Lewis, and soon after receiving advice on its construction, he took it upon himself to build one.
“I use it mostly for cooking now because it brings the bill down. Buying cylinder bottles can cost a lot of money… You can also burn electricity from the digester, even use a fridge,” he pointed out.
The veteran farmer believes that employing such technology would augur well for the local agricultural sector, and as such is encouraging more of his colleagues to make use of them.
Thompson is a son of the soil in the truest sense of the term; a proud farmer who is devoted to his profession. While he readily admits that being a farmer can have its challenges, he would not trade his journey into agriculture for anything.
“Farming is very rewarding. It is a nice job. Without it what would we do? I have heard plenty Barbadians say it is a lot of hard work or the sun is too hot, … but I have worked in America with tobacco and it was 107 degrees in the shade… I would tell any young chap that wants to get into it to do so,” Thompson stressed.