Twenty-two years ago, Andrea Farley found herself alone, without a job, and with an infant daughter to take care of. Desperate to find a source of income to support herself and her little girl, Farley sent up a prayer for help.
“I said ‘Lord, open a door for me. Make a way for me where there seems to be none’,” she recalled. Shortly afterwards, farmer Michael Best approached her to assist him in tilling his land.
Farley, however, wasn’t keen about the offer. “I said ‘I’m not coming. I ain’t interested in no gardening work’,” the Gibbons Boggs, Christ Church resident recalled. She eventually had second thoughts, however, and started working with Best, albeit reluctantly.
As it turned out, what started out as “something to make ends meet” for herself and infant daughter has grown into a full-time job and lifestyle. “…As the days went on, I became more and more into it and I’m still there,” she said.
It was at work in the field where Barbados TODAY caught up with Farley one late February afternoon. She was tending to an assortment of vegetables on the four acres of land where she works with Best.
The lush vegetation betrays the fact that Barbados is going through a prolonged drought and that an oil spill had affected nearby farms only a few years ago. Despite her initial misgivings, Farley has no regrets about her decision to take up farming as a full-time job.
“I used to do it before back where I lived, back down the road,” she said. “I used to work on a small piece of land behind me but then because of … the oil issue, where I lived is an irrigation well and the oil was coming up through to the well and went into the farm area. So I stopped planting behind me and then took on working with him full-time.”
Considering that agriculture makes a significant contribution to the Barbados economy and the current emphasis being placed by Government and other organizations on promoting healthy eating, Farley is proud to be helping to feed the nation and happily takes on the task every day. “If you want to succeed, you got to find something. It does be a challenge but you have to do what you have to do,” she said. “This is an everyday something.
You don’t get no day off. We just work right through. Bank holidays is the same thing.” The work is hard, she acknowledged, but Farley and Best do not spend the entire day on the farm.
“When we get here by 6:00-6:30 a.m., we will start to work and by 9:30-10, we’ll be wrapping up,” she explained. “And this time [late afternoon], we will come back in the field to finish off. So I will still get home to do my odds and ends.”
Farley pointed to certain challenges from which she and other farmers cannot escape. For example, environmental hazards like the oil spill in her community, and natural disasters which can wipe out crops which are the fruits of their labour. “That’s something we just got to deal with. And when you get through the produce and so on, the prices could fluctuate so that’s another thing,” she explained.
At a personal level, farming can sometimes take a toll on the body, proving that it can be really back-breaking work. “Because of my shortness, and I’m constantly bending, the doctors tell me it has pinched a nerve in my back,” she said. “It affects my knees and what not. Right now, all of my joints hurting me.” However, being the sole breadwinner of her household, and with a five-year-old grandchild and another on the way, she continues to turn up faithfully for work every day.
“Paying rent and bills and what’s not, I’m the breadwinner of the home. I have to undertake everything on my own,” she said. Farley opined that while a farmer’s life can be rewarding, it is also not easy. She recalled that as a young single mother, she had to rely on the help of a sister to raise her daughter. “My sister used to take on the responsibility if I had to leave early on mornings … and she would deal with her and then as she grew older, she would manage herself,” she told Barbados TODAY.
“Thank God for washing machines because many a day I wouldn’t wash. Cooking-wise, my daughter would assist wherever possible but it’s not easy.
And then when you leave the field to make the deliveries, sometimes you don’t get back home till after hours.” Her daughter, now fully grown-up, is pursuing a career in hairdressing and has no interest in agriculture.
If she had to, would Farley encourage young women to follow in her footsteps? She responded: “If there are other women out there that want to take on the challenge, then so be it, but everybody has their own mind to make.
I cannot choose for you or nothing so. Everybody got to decide what they want in life.”