Making a living off the land

A farmer’s work can be difficult, especially during planting and harvesting season when they often work from sunrise to sunset. 

This is Margartio Chantilope’s life. Like most farmers he likes his job. He is his own boss and he loves working outdoors, but he rarely has days off. 

When he is not farming, the rest of the year is spent selling crops, fixing machinery and planning for next year’s crops. 

“The good thing about farming is, I go when I like and come when I please and I have to buy very little from the supermarkets,” he said. “I also get to decide when to plant, fertilise and sell my crops, which at times can be discouraging when selling to supermarkets.” 

Just crowned king at the recent Cayman Brac Agriculture show, Mr. Chantilope grew up in Creek in Cayman Brac watching and helping his father make a living as a farmer.  

When his father passed away he continued the farming; working long hours planting ground provisions, sometimes making a sizable profit by selling more than 1,000 pounds of the Cayman Brac White yams to the supermarket on Grand Cayman.  

A day on the plantation involves spending several hours with three assistants – either planting or harvesting. In his spare time he likes to fish, often selling his catch to local residents. 

“When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is turn on the kettle, when it starts screaming I make a cup of tea, take 2 medication tablets and turnout to the field, which extends from the house into many acres,” Mr. Chantilope said. “At first, my life was going to sea, coming back, helping my father with the farming, going to sea and when he could no longer handle it my seafaring days came to an end and I took up where he left off.” 

Mr. Chantilope’s green thumb expertise has him producing roots of cassava, pumpkins, peppers, green bananas, tomatoes, star fruits and pawpaw. He said the soil is much better in Cayman Brac than Grand Cayman, and it’s why he can harvest more than 40 pounds from one yam hole. 

This year, Mr. Chantilope harvested white yams from nine plots. If it was not for the drought, he said he would have had yams he didn’t know what to do with.  

In one picking, he harvested more than 300 pounds of Scotch bonnet peppers, but he had a hard time with the supermarkets accepting them.  

“It is very discouraging when this happens, to have a crop stay on your hands,” Mr. Chantilope said. “I stopped growing peppers and now plant a few for personal use.” 

Around his home are pineapple plants, pear trees, red beans, star fruits, Callao, avocado, mango tree, sweet tamarind, guava, thyme, herb and pepper mint tress. 

He said his best option is to send produce to Grand Cayman for purchase by grocery stores. Foster’s Food Fair takes 1,000 pounds every week, he said.  

“We the farmers are not making very much from selling the yams, the supermarkets are making the profit and killing the customers who buy,” he said. 

Every year, Mr. Chantilope finds virgin soil to plant his crop.  

“If I reap two crops of yam from a piece of land the third crop might not be that good, so I try to find a new spot,” he said. “When the land has rested, then it is time to replant with sweet potatoes.” 

“When planting yams, dig a hole and cut yam in four pieces,” he continued. “Each quarter will give you a yam hill. The head piece sprout in 20 to 21 days and the middle section of the yam will take up to 31 days.” 

Planting months are May through August. Harvesting can begin when the vines have dried, but as long as there is rain and the vines are green they may stay planted. 

The white yam is soft and good for either boiling or enjoying with favourite meats or baked in local heavy cake dishes. 

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Farmer Margartio Chantilope with Brac white yam.

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This root was on display last month at the Cayman Brac Agriculture Show. – Photos: Jewel Levy
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