William H. Ebanks and the simple life

  Upon meeting William H. Ebanks, one immediately realises they are in the presence of a very unique individual.
   The quintessential farmer, who lives in the North Side doesn’t let very much get him too worked up and his personal constitution seems to be the wind beneath his wings.
   “I went to sea but I didn’t care much for the water cause it was too deep out there and I didn’t like the heights on the ships either.
   “I am a land man and I like my feet on solid ground. That’s what I am used to and I don’t part from that,” he declared.
   Mr. Ebanks explains that he has been tilling the soil from as far back as his first memories can take him and he even remembers the hardships with a certain fondness, as when they had to light fires under the chicken’s roosts in order to thwart the onslaught of mosquitoes that was a fact of life in the Cayman Islands back in the 60’s.
   The farmer chuckles saying “Oh yeah, back then was quite a different time.
   “No one wanted beach land because you couldn’t farm on it and it was the first thing that was sold,’ he added while pensively turning his head from left to right.
    “It’s funny how things changed with time, because the exact opposite is the case today and what was seen as important then isn’t the same. That applies to more than just land.”   
   A reservoir of historical reference, Mr. Ebanks speaks of a Cayman that sounded like a wild frontier, with all the trappings of prairie living.
   It was a time when many men owned shotguns and farmers and licensed gun owners were paid six pence per parrot head and one and six pence for an agouti head.
   The government also issued shots during the period and the money earned from turning in what was deemed as vermin back then, was used as a means to protect crops.
   Mr. Ebanks says to this day his idea of a good vacation is taking his shotgun and a few shells and heading out to look for some rabbit to hunt.
   He is currently expanding his 17 acre property to include a new crop of breadfruit trees and more mangos, and emphasised that he did not come from a wealthy family but rather had to work from scratch to get to where he is today.
   Though he laments that the industry which he loves so much and has worked so hard to build up having to go head to head against an import model that is impossible to compete with.
   Mr. Ebanks says the reason for this is that foreign countries are able to source labour on a weekly basis for what we have to pay workers in Cayman for one hour of work.
   He says  that farmers then started to have to go to the bank to pay their workers and there was no profit to re-invest.
   “That is what killed the business here,” he opined, before elaborating: “Back then what you had going on was a lot of partnering, meaning that you would work another man’s land or part of it and pay him a dividend. People would work and live together that way but what you have now is a situation where Caymanians don’t have access to those kinds of opportunities anymore.”
   The plight of the farmer in the Cayman Islands is one that has caused public concern. Factors facing the industry include dire realities such as lack of fertile land, the cost of doing business and the stigma associated with tiling the land.
   Faced with these harsh realities, Mr. Ebanks says he still considers himself very lucky, as his wife Zelman Lee has joined him in the fields, after retiring from many years service as a school principal.
   The farmer added that there were few people who could say they have a wife that they can trust with everything.
   I could not help but be charmed by this gentleman, who had spent his life in the bushes and seemed at total peace with the world and all in it.
    Mr. Ebanks does not use a cell phone and says the last time he visited a bank for business was roughly 30 years ago to acquire financing for a failing roof.
   “It’s been years since I’ve been to George Town,” he exclaimed.
   He is an anomaly in many respects but his reasoning reveals a simplicity that is exquisitely rare and therefore complex.
   Like many Caymanians of yesteryear, Mr. Ebanks did briefly go to sea from 1961-1967 but said he realised a calling for the working the land very early. His father was also a farmer or “sufferer,” in William’s words and this helped to cultivate his keen interest.
   He said as far as education about agriculture, his motto was. “Work seven days a week and at night visualise and listen to your inner voice for the answers to any questions you may have. The rest is trial and error.”            
   He said because it is more expensive for him to produce crop than it is for people to import, his clientele are different in that they operate on taste.
   This is what drives the people who get their food from William H. Ebanks and the farmer knows it.
   “If you want to taste the best fruit, follow the parrot and look at what he is eating,” he riddled, before going on to say that though the National Bird was great at recommending cuisine, they could also be a farmer’s worse nightmare by eating up all the crops and so there is a delicate balance to achieve.
   There are five-six employees usually at the farm, though eight-ten workers are needed during the harvest season to produce a large variety of crops.
   The most successful of which are the coconuts harvested from the operation for a wide range of uses.
   Mr. Ebanks’ fruits and products can be purchased at the Farmer’s Market at the Agriculture Grounds, Savannah on Saturday’s or daily at Willie’s Juice Stand next to Grand Harbour.

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