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Farmer for life

Anesta Henry

Farmer for life

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HE IS NOT making any boast about it, but Elkins Le Roy Ward thinks he is one of the best farmers Barbados has ever seen. “In those days” he was considered as “the man of merit”, because, he was the man who put a face to farming on the island. Ward pioneered Barbados’ milk industry, and the largest pig and poultry farms, among other things. The 93-year-old, who originated from the “Ward Tribe”, started his farming career at five on Oxford Plantation in St Lucy, where he was born to his plantation owner father and domestic worker mother. At that age, he could be seen forking and sprinkling seeds, or even milking his calf, given to him on his fifth birthday by his father who saw his “potential”.At 16, Ward graduated from The Parry School with a dream to leave the island’s shores for his journey to a medical career. However he was forced to abandon the dream once he woke up to the reality his father was already paying for two of his 48 offspring to study abroad.“He told me you have to go and work the estate. So I went and I did a good job working on the estate, and he paid me $10 a month, which was a lot of money.Good job“Then, I remember in 1935 he came home and he said, ‘I got a good job for you today . . . . You are going to work with your uncle in Christ Church on his estate. So I went and work up there for $30 a month. I worked with him until 1939,” said the shareholder in Mount Gay Rum Distilleries, who has received over 200 awards for his pioneering work.In 1939 World War II broke out and it forced the Barbados Government to look for an alternative to providing “food crops” for islanders. Ward was a “young man”, but when Government called him, this Barbadian took up his fork and experience “and travelled through the island and got land cultivated specifically for growing vegetables”. “Before [my father died in 1948], he came to me and said, ‘You are working your piece of land well, you continue; because someday you are going to be looking after a lot of land in this country. Your services will be wanted. People like you can’t get away.“By 1950, one landowner who had three plantations came to me and said, ‘Mr Ward, you are a good young farmer and I have some estates that I want to get rid of. I will give them to you without taking any money from you. You will work them and then pay me. “I went and worked with him, and then I started managing estates for three other people,” remembered the Commander of the Order of The British Empire who has lunched and dined with the Queen on many occasions and has had several “interesting conversations with Oprah [Winfrey]”.Wanted to help“The Government then wanted me to help them set up a school meals programme to give the children in the primary schools milk and lunch. I got along extremely well with that. I put up the first big dairy farm on the island from which I supplied milk to all the schools and almshouses. “Shortly after that, the Government called me and told me they had another project for me; and that project was the Agricultural Development Corporation [ADC]. They put me in charge of the ADC, and I bought all the estates in Government and ran them,” said the father of three who declared that “Pine Hill Dairy’s first pint of milk came from my dairy farm”.Ward, who has a strong liking for sea-island cotton, pointed out that he pushed the growth of “this special cotton” locally and regionally. He told the SUNDAY SUN that he tried his best to save the industry.“It was a very cheap product, but during the war years they stopped planting it because they wanted the same land to grow food. They did not start back the cotton industry until 1944 when the British government saw the war was coming to an end. And they ran out of cotton because all the parachutes they used during the war were made from sea-island cotton. “The Government asked me if I would grow some cotton for them and I started around 1946. I was the first person who grew cotton in that era, and the results were so good that they ask me if I would do it the next year . . . . Now, the industry is falling,” said the former president of the Cotton Association in the Caribbean.The former church warden of 39 years at the St Lucy Parish Church says that some days he sits and looks back at his beginnings. He often travels back in time to his first calf and how his father nurtured him. According to him, these memories make him very proud of the contributions he has made to his country. However he reflects that “everybody is greedy, jealous, lazy and untrustworthy. When it comes to agriculture, it will survive, but not to bring in any great amount of money like what it used to do before”. “I believe the sugar industry is on its way out. And no matter how much money they spend on it, they can’t get it back to how it was. At one time, you could have said sugar is king, today now you say sport is king and feteing is queen. “These days people may not get as much food as they used to, but they are living and they will continue to live – long too,” quipped the former farmer, who still directs a number of businesses at his age.