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Woman, 26, battles the land

Friday, January 22, 2016
Facing snakes, thieves...
Shelly Ann Cameron tends to her vegetable garden with her son Aiden.

Shelly Ann Cameron, 26, rises at 4 am every morning and while it is yet dark begins the half-mile trek, sometimes with her dog Sparkles, to her vegetable garden in North Manzanilla.

Shielded against the coming sun and insects in her tall boots and long pants and armed with her cutlass, Cameron strides along the pitch road prepared for battle on her plot of land.

She is on a mission to grow her own food, one inspired by a conviction that, sooner or later, there will be a food shortage crisis.

With her earnings from the garden, she takes care of her two-year old son. Her crops also help put food on the family’s table.

Cameron, born into a home of market vendors, began selling on her own at age 12. 

She has developed a passion for agriculture and has a never-ending sense of wonder of the miracle of growth.

“It’s awesome. I grow a plant and see the flowers and see the food later coming out of it and wonder how that happens.”

Cameron left her husband’s home in Las Lomas to return to her North Manzanilla hometown in May last year to cultivate seven acres she said her stepfather “blessed” her with.

With her swiper and a little help from her sisters, she cleared a small patch. “It’s all I could afford to clear. Three-quarters still in bush,” she said.

Cameron paid an “excavator man” to dig a pond at the bottom of a hill into which a canal flowed and, mostly on her own, began to plant the land.

Last week, she reaped four bags of pimentoes, three bags of baigan and two buckets of sweet peppers.

With her only helper, Carl, she toted the produce along a rough dirt trace to her waiting stepfather parked up on the pitch road.

Cameron does this every Thursday and her stepfather takes the produce to the Central Market in Port-of-Spain to sell it.

With the dry season coming in now, she started carrying her son, Aiden, with her to the garden when there is no one to watch him.

“I carry a hammock and tie it in a shed I have in the garden for him. Last week, he helped me pick sweet peppers.”

Cameron said she feels a joy working in her garden. “It’s so peaceful and quiet with me and my garden alone.

“When I am alone in the garden, I pray a lot. I talk to my plants. Sometimes, I kick off my boots and walk barefoot to feel the dirt and the grass.

“Sometimes, I want to sleep in the garden but the mosquitoes and them don’t want me to stay here,” she said.

Cameron was appointed secretary of the North Manzanilla Farmers Group and said president of the Agriculture Society of T&T, Dhano Sookoo, was a main source of inspiration to her.

Cameron tries to encourage unemployed young men in her village to get into agriculture and laments that, to date, there has never been any serious plan for that sector.

“If the Government saw agriculture as important as oil and gas, we would not have such a high food import bill.”

She feels, one day, imported food will not be so easy to come by. 

“I think one of the greatest things in life is to grow your own food. So you would not have to depend on others to get food,” she said.

Cameron has no easy time in her garden, however.

Thieves constantly lie in wait to reap the vegetables she and other farmers work so hard to grow.

With Carl, she has to go to the garden early in the morning and at night to try and keep them away. 

And there are snakes in the garden. “I killed a snake in the garden Monday night. I had to. If Aiden saw it, he would have wanted to play with it.”

Wetting her crops has been difficult and Cameron is bracing herself for the first dry season she will be encountering on the land.

“The pond is far from the crops and we tote water in buckets to wet them. I have to get some barrels. This is all I can afford right now. I don’t have the finance to do more.”

And the access road remains a challenge. “The pitch road stops at a point and there’s only a dirt trace in a very bad condition. We have to manually bring out all the produce from the garden.

“It’s hard but I am serious. I am not leaving this and going nowhere,” Cameron vowed.