Farming is not for everyone, but for one East End farmer, it’s been his entire life.
James Welcome’s longtime commitment to farming was recognized early this year when the government gave him a long service award at the 2016 Heroes Day celebration for his dedication to agriculture in the Cayman Islands.
“We were raised up in farming,” said Mr. Welcome.
“And he gives most of it away,” interjected his friend Armand Dilbert, sitting with Mr. Welcome recently under the shade of mahogany trees.
“The more you give, the better it grows … I just shared a 28 pound pumpkin with people in the community,” countered Mr. Welcome.
Mr. Welcome recently collected more than 1,000 pounds of yams from his farm in Winters Land, off Farm Road. He described Winters Land as a beautiful pasture where the land is rich, with good soil and plenty of water.
From the age of seven, Mr. Welcome began working the land with his father, making the long trek from the village of East End to Alley Land in Colliers – a trip of more than four miles each way – to tend the grounds.
Mr. Welcome recalls making the journey by donkey, and staying sometimes more than two weeks inland, working the farm with his father. Other farmers, he said, traveled there by horse or boat.
“No one in town had a watch, so we had to leave very early and by the crowing of the roosters. Farming in earlier years was a family business; everyone pitched in, even the ladies,” said Mr. Welcome.
According to Mr. Welcome, the women would cut thatch tops and twist rope after helping to tend the land. His grandmother was killed while watching their farm for poachers. He said it was before his time, but he heard she had caught someone red-handed stealing provisions from the ground. Her husband found her when he returned.
It was a rough life for families, surviving mostly on food they grew on the farm, wild agoutis, or fish when the men made the trek down to the sea. The fish was used to make Caymanians’ favorite dish – fish rundown. The women also grated bullrush to make porridge, and fried brown stick cassava to make bammy.
Mosquitoes were the bane of the farmers’ lives back then.
“You could not see your hand in front your face for the mosquitoes,” Mr. Welcome recalled. Sometimes, they had nothing to light a fire with and had to bear the mosquitoes until morning. Those who had canvas hammocks would wrap themselves up inside to sleep, to keep from been bitten.
Even the donkey could not be tied up for fear the insects would smother him by morning. To prepare the land, a pick was used to plant the seeds or potato slips, and the bush and weeds were chopped away with a machete. Once it was ready, the produce was loaded on the donkey and taken to the dory for transportation to East End village. Some was also sold to tenants of the old Tortuga Club.
When the dory arrived on the village beach, the farmers would share what was on board; some was distributed and the rest was buried in the ground next to the house floor until it was needed.
“We never had refrigerators or coolers [in] those days. The produce was buried and [we] kept the ground wet so it would not spoil …. It could last there for months like that before it was used,” said Mr. Welcome.
Even though his farm life has been rich and fulfilling, Mr. Welcome said, it had its challenges, especially in the days when there was very little equipment and transportation and most work was done by hand and with a donkey.
Today, one of his bigger challenges is theft. “The last time, they stole 13 bunches of bananas and hundreds of stems of cassava, broke into my home, smashed it up and took my shotgun I used to kill agouti,” he said.
He’s disappointed with young people who grew up seeing their parents make a living from farming, yet do not even know where to start when it comes to farming, and are not interested in learning it either.
“Even if you cook it, they don’t even have the ambition to eat it,” Mr. Welcome said.