“Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,” sing Simon and Garfunkel in “Scarborough Fair” on the sound track of The Graduate.
Paramin is NOT Scarborough. But although for most people in Trinidad and Tobago, Paramin is synonymous with parang, precious few are aware that this bustling, difficult-to-access little village nestling in the Maraval Hills is also home to a thriving farming community which produces so much of the seasoning that goes into the making of that other typically seasonal product, the Christmas pastelle.
People simply don’t know that many of those who inhabit Paramin earn their living planting so much of the seasoning—maybe not rosemary and sage but certainly parsley and thyme and celery and chive—and so much else besides. And if they did know, argues one of these hard-working farmers who, at 28, is relatively young in years but old in experience, it would perhaps make little difference to the way they view the members of his community.
“Everybody tends to look down on farming because they see it as a degrading job,” he says. “Nobody really wants to call himself a farmer. In reality, a farmer is one of the most important people in society because they are the ones who provide a lot of home-grown products for the market and grocery shelves.”
He doesn’t quite beat his chest with his fist but his words, delivered slowly, deliberately, carefully, have the same effect.
“I provide food for the nation.”
Here is more of what this proud Paramin native has to say about the fruits of his labour as a young farmer:
How long have you been working as a farmer?
For about five years.
What are your job specs?
My job specs are to plant the plants, make sure they get water or they don’t get too much water. I also have to make sure insects such as mole crickets and bachacs don’t cut the plants because if they do, they will die. Also, I have to make sure they get the proper nutrients.
What type of crops do you plant?
In the rainy season, I usually plant tomatoes, celery, sweet peppers or parsley. In the dry season, I mostly plant chives, thyme and parsley. Those are the only things you can really reap as a farmer on the hill in the dry season. There’s not enough water to wet any large crop area such as tomatoes and sweet peppers like in the rainy season.
You work in hilly areas. Where and why?[I work in] Paramin mostly because that’s where my land is. I prefer to plant in Paramin than anywhere else. In the flat lands, there is a lot of backbreaking work; you have to bend down more to plant and you have to bend down more to tie tomatoes and all the [other] things that require bending down in farming.
What are your hours of work?
My hours of work would be from 6 in the morning to 11 am and from 2 [in the afternoon] to 6 in the evening. Between the times of half 11 to half 1, the sun is so hot that you can’t really do anything; you can’t do anything to the plants.
What time do you get up?
I would normally wake up at 4:00 a.m.
What (apart from the obvious things, of course) are the things you generally need to do between the time you get up and the time you leave for work?
From the time I wake up, I would need to make sure that I have everything I need to go to the garden because when you’re there, you can’t leave to go get chemicals or food or anything like that. You have to make sure you have everything before you leave for work.
A very smart man once said that, “In Trinidad (not so much in Tobago), getting to work is work.” What is getting to work like for you?
Getting to work, for me, is not hard. I don’t have any real traffic to beat because of the time my wife and I would wake up and leave for work. It’s not hard; it’s not challenging at all; it’s pretty easy.
Does your job generally allow you time for a proper lunch or do you often have to have lunch on the hoof?
It actually gives you time for a proper lunch. You would have time to go home or cook in your garden because you can’t work during those hours. You have enough time to have two lunches, which we normally do. (Smiles). We would have lunch at 12 and have teatime at about 1, just before we go back [to work].
What (apart from the obvious things, of course) are the things you generally need to do between the time you leave work and the time you go to bed?
When I leave work, or just before I leave, I have to make sure that everything is properly secured and there aren’t any chemicals outside, so that hunters in the night don’t pass and steal anything or if there are chemicals outside, you don’t want dogs to pass and sniff or eat anything that might have poison because then they would die.
Before I go to bed, I would definitely have to shower properly. I normally shower for about 10-15 minutes just because I really love to shower and be clean. Also, sometimes there can be traces of chemicals on your skin and you don’t want to take that to bed with you.
If I asked you for a single adjective to describe your job, what would that be?
I would say it’s exciting. It’s very exciting because you get to choose what you do and how you do it. I just love working in the garden. There’s nobody over you to tell you what you have to do. You need to know what you have to do for yourself and you get to do it at your own pace but you still have to be mindful that everything has to be done within a certain time-frame.
Another smart man once said that people never at the end of their lives say they wish that they had spent more time at the office. Do you allow your work to get in the way of your family life or are you able to keep the two in separate compartments?
I am able to keep the two in separate compartments, but at some point in everybody’s life, for any professional or anybody that works on the whole, a full-time job sometimes gets between your family life. There are times you would have to go to work and your family would want you to stay home and do something with them but you have to go do what you have to do work-wise in order to increase your profit or do a little overtime because there are always things that pile up on you unexpectedly. So, you may need to do a little extra, and that extra sometimes takes away from your family time.
How do you make money from farming?
I only sell wholesale; I don’t have the time for retail. Retail is for people who don’t plant.
Will you share with our readers something truly memorable that happened to you in the work environment?
(Ponders). I can’t say there’s something very memorable for the five years I’ve been farming. The most I can say is that if you put in enough work, you would see great profit once you know what to plant and when to plant it.
If you had to do it all again, would you choose the same career path or would you want to change things? Why?
If I had to do it all over again, I would probably do something different. I truly love the ocean and I always wanted to be a sailor. I just love the ocean. I do love working as a farmer. I do love that, but I love the ocean a lot more. I have two years’ experience working on a cargo ship between Trinidad and Tobago.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The most challenging aspect is determining what your plants need because they can’t speak to you, so the most you can do is look at them on a morning to figure out what it is you actually need to do. You have to walk through the garden and look at the plants; you may have to [uproot] a tree or two to see how the roots are forming. From that, you would be able to determine what nutrients the plants need. To me, that is actually one of the most challenging things.
The other challenging thing is when I reap, because I don’t have transportation reaching directly in my garden, I have to carry [produce] on my head to reach out to the main road where my truck is parked. That is the second most challenging part of my job.
What do you most like about farming?
I mostly like the freedom and the hours, again, that you choose to work. I just like being able to work at my own pace and in my own time.
What do you believe are common misconceptions about your job?
The common misconception about my job is that it’s hard work. Everybody thinks that farming is so hard and they can’t do it and the sun is so hot and you’re dirty. Everybody tends to look down on farming because they see it as a degrading job; nobody really wants to call themself a farmer. In reality, a farmer is one of the most important people in society because they are the ones who provide a lot of home-grown products for the market and grocery shelves.[With] a lot of imported fruit and vegetables, you don’t know what preservatives or what chemicals they put on those things to keep them looking nice and shiny in the grocery for so long; you don’t know how long those things have been out there.
Why do you believe your field of work is important?
I provide food for the nation.
Is your job rewarding or satisfying to you?
It’s both rewarding and satisfying. It’s rewarding because I make great profit and satisfying because I get to do something I love every single day.