WEDNESDAY WOMAN: Life of farming
GLAYDES SEARLE is known to most people in the market as Wendy, the prolific farmer and vendor.
The former secretary of the Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs (BARVEN) and a farmer of almost 30 years’ experience said she did not expect to be in the field but it just worked out that way.
She had left her job in bookkeeping because she wanted to be at home with her children and so she decided to use the acre of land she had at her Fairview, Christ Church home to do some gardening.
“I wanted to be with them so I was a homemaker. I figured I could be at home most of the time and still make a living,” Searle said.
No formal training
Though she had no formal training in agriculture, trial and error had led to her becoming a prolific farmer and being able to grow almost anything. Initially she grew mainly herbs – about nine varieties including thyme, marjoram, parsley, basil, celery and coriander.
“That used to go very well. At that time we had the Guyanese population here before most of them left about seven years ago. They would buy so much lettuce and Chinese cabbage I would specialise in growing that just for them,” Searle said.
Now she grows pumpkins, squash, marrow and turmeric. However, she has a lot of fruit trees, including guava, cherries, passion fruit and banana.
She sells most of her produce by making deliveries while she spends Saturday mornings in the BARVEN Temporary Outdoor Market.
Searle praised initiatives to bring more awareness to the local produce. She said: “Things are not as good as they used to be when we started. Sales have declined quite a bit and even though there was the healthy eating push many people still were not spending on eating healthy.”
She added that with the mass layoffs a few years ago a lot more people got into agriculture and this led to increased competition for all vendors. Searle said she tried her hands at making fresh seasoning but, unfortunately, with the exodus of the large number of Guyanese from the island, the market for that also dried up.
Searle said manufacturing was a good option for persons in agriculture but there was a need for agriculture in Barbados to be taken more seriously along with the use of local products.
“I would like to see the ‘eat local and grow your own food’ message become more than just talk but a reality. The Ministry of Agriculture always says plant and eat more local but when farmers go and plant a whole lot of produce there is no market for it. If I do not have people buying in bulk I will lose out,” Searle said.
A major concern for Searle was the impact of imported produce, which competes with what is grown locally.
“They do not have any taste, and I know they cannot have the nutritional value that you would find in the local foods grown in our rich soils,” Searle said.
She added that the major players who could buy the large amounts were not working with the small farmers and that was also a hindrance.
“They tell us they are going to take some of our stuff but that does not happen. Last year when I saw the import bill, I almost felt sick to see that it could be that high,” Searle said.
She said she was working on enhancing her greenhouse production to make a greater contribution to the availability of local produce year-round.
“We can produce most things here all year round but it just takes making the extra effort,” Searle said.
However, while noting that it was difficult to break into certain things because the cost was prohibitive, she said she had farming in her blood and would press on. She lamented that inputs such as seedlings had become very expensive and there was no guarantee the plant would reach maturity.
“All of these are things that make the job difficult, and then sometimes a challenge is you cannot get the crops sold,” she said with a chuckle.