Career & Education

Diandra Rowe is Young Champion Farmer 2019

Sunday, August 11, 2019

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When Diandra Rowe walked away from a corporate job in luxury car sales to take the reins at her father's greenhouse farm, it wasn't because she was an expert farmer. She wasn't a stranger either, but her progress to date reveals high-level performance.

Under her stewardship, the property, Abbey Garden Farm, has undergone significant expansion and boasts new technologies.

“The farm has grown a great deal since I have been managing the operations. We have put up six additional greenhouses, built an office, acquired a small cold room and leased two off-site properties. We have invested in solar energy solutions, camera systems to monitor the farm remotely, biometric readers to monitor and record employee attendance, and very soon I'll be introducing a point-of-sale system and software to monitor our on-site retail sales,” Rowe told the Jamaica Observer.

She has also overseen the establishment of a packaging house, Quality Harvest Limited, which is to be the primary distributor for the leafy greens such as lettuce, arugula, spinach and kale, as well as tomato, sweet pepper, strawberry and culinary herbs, the farms produces.

Her efforts are not only paying off, but they are also getting national attention as, for the last three years, Rowe has bagged multiple awards at the annual Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show. This year she won three — Young Champion Farmer, Most Innovative Farmer, Champion Greenhouse Farmer — and placed second in another — the Champion Farmer category.

Located in Manchester, Abbey Garden Farm is completely solar-powered.

“I took over the farm because my father was going to close it,” Rowe disclosed, explaining that her father, Jervis Rowe, had started a greenhouse consultancy which ate significantly into his time and he wasn't able to put as much work into the farm as he had previously done.

“He wasn't paying too much attention to it. He was travelling all over Jamaica, and to other countries building greenhouses and consulting, so he decided to close it. That business put me and my siblings right through school, from primary school to high school, to tertiary level. So, to see that my father had invested so much and it was about to go to the dogs, I thought I'd take it over to see if I could do a better job,” the young woman said.

She was 24 when she made the move.

“While I was at Audi I would often ask my top clients what they were going to do and they would all say they are going into farming. It made me stop and think because if these people have already made it and still are going into farming, then maybe I should too.

“I took the risk, saying, 'I'm young. It it fails I can go do something related to my degree or something',” Rowe told Career & Education.

That degree is a BSc in Hospitality and Tourism Management with a major in hotel and resort management, which she earned at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Rowe also studied early childhood education at Church Teachers' College. She spent her formative years at Mandeville Primary and Junior High, before moving on to Bishop Gibson High.

While she does not have formal training in agriculture, Rowe says it runs in her blood.

“I have been exposed to agriculture my entire life; my grandparents on both sides were farmers and my father is also a farmer. So I guess you can say farming is embedded in my DNA.

“While attending early childhood school I would be left in the care of my grandmother. After school, she would take me to the field with her. While I was attending high school I would have to earn pocket money by working on my father's farm,” she said.

As managing director of Abbey Garden Farm, Rowe said her single biggest challenge to date has been to secure a reliable and honest workforce.

“Not many persons are cut out for agriculture, and you have to have a special love for farming to work on a farm. Many people show up because they need money, but they are not willing to put in the work required to remain employed,” she said.

But it isn't steering her off her path.

Said Rowe: “My peers love to see that as a female I'm doing well in a male-dominated industry. They also admire how I have embraced agriculture wholeheartedly as I attempt to change the perception and stigma associated with farming by example.”

Rowe is among 12 young people who appear on the 2019 Nutramix Youth in Agriculture calendar.

“I was honoured to be selected as a Nutramix ambassador because this meant I would have a much greater reach and more opportunities to inspire and encourage other young people to consider various career paths within agriculture. The youth have to be inspired; they do not want us to keep telling them why they should do something, and you have to show them. Show them the success stories, show them people winning,” the young woman argued.

As far as advice to young people wishing to pursue a career in agriculture, Rowe shared: “You have to decide, commit and succeed. You have to be committed and 100 per cent invested for your agribusiness to work. No one is going to care for and treat your business like you would.

“On Emancipation Day and Independence Day when my peers were out having a grand time, I was on my farm working. That is an example of one of the small sacrifices you will have to make as a 'farmpreneur' because this occupation requires time, patience, a lot of attention and willpower. Everything isn't always smooth sailing because farming is a business of risk. But, if you can manage to get over all the hurdles and get up and brush yourself off when you have fallen flat on your face, in the end you'll reap great rewards,” she said.


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