Story and photos by Shahein Fitzpatrick
A trio of local women who are making waves in the farming sector have shared how their successful partnership came about, the challenges they face and the importance of local entrepreneurship.
Roberta Williams, 72, is proud to be the oldest of the business team, which also includes Carolyn McCoy, 60, and Kathleen Forde.
“We are a part of Seasonz; that is the name of our business. Roberta and I are agriculturists by training, Carolyn is a banker by training, we are all now into agriculture,” Forde told Observer.
She said the farming venture the ladies launched earlier this year in Freemans Village uses the soil-less practice of hydroponics.
“There are different types of hydroponics; ours is the nutrient film technique. It basically has the nutrients in the water which pass over the roots and provide the nutrients for the plants,” Forde explained.
“We have three different types of lettuce thus far – romaine, green leaf and red leaf. We anticipate that we will go into other leafy products in the future such as kale, arugula, and other sorts of shallow-rooted, greeny leaf products.
“The beauty about the hydroponics system is that it recycles the water, and we are helping the environment in terms of conserving water,” Forde said.
Williams said hydroponics is less physically gruelling than traditional farming.
“In terms of dealing with our age, it is much easier on us rather than having to farm in the ground,” she said.
She continued that she had been looking for a way to bring in an income when she retired two years ago. The idea came about during discussions with Forde.
“The Gard Centre, where I used to work, were actually doing some training and that gave us a great idea of the possibility of us going into this area,” Williams said.
McCoy said she had retired from Antigua Commercial Bank in November after 35 years.
“The timing was right and it provided an opportunity to do something different, something new, something out of doors.
“I like the outdoors. Whereas at the bank I was more often inside or with air conditioning, this project suited me,” she explained.
Forde said, “I have reached the stage in my life, where I didn’t want to take instructions from anybody. This has turned out to be really good, we get along, we have our different ways of doing things, different opinions, but we respect each other.
“We have been able to work well so far and we anticipate that we will work well in the future; we all know what needs to be done, and we get it done,” she said.
When asked about their biggest challenges Forde said, “We have been having a little bit of a pest problem but so far we have been able to maintain an organic product by using organic pesticides.”
Williams said support from locals had been “marvellous”.
“Our own children have helped us as well and they’ve got us into Facebook, and all their blogs and this and that.
“Many of the hotels have been closed but we have one or two that are working with us, and supermarkets and restaurants. We are really excited. Everybody is responding to our Facebook page,” Williams enthused.
McCoy added, “It is important that we hone our skills as local people and produce and try to get our people to buy and support what is ours. This helps citizenship, it helps who we are as a nation, it helps us to produce our own, eat our own, like our own, appreciate our own.”
Williams said the Covid-19 pandemic had increased the need for the country to be more self-sufficient and “serious” about local business.
“Having our own local businesses, supplying food, clothing, whatever else it is, is extremely important,” she said.
“We need to support our local craftsmen, our local businessmen and women, whatever is local. Good stuff can come out of Antigua if we put our minds to it,” Forde said. “We can do so much if we don’t see the other persons as our competitor, but as building critical mass within our country.”
Williams agreed, saying, working together and pooling resources is key.
Forde added, “We are happy with what we are doing, that we are able to contribute, we are happy to be producing and not just simply consuming.”