A lover of plants and nature
From as far back as she can remember, Dr Nickiesha Reid has always felt a sense of peace whenever she was farming or observing plants and wildlife. Now she gets to contribute to ensuring that they are always in the best of health.
"I am from Somerton, St James, and I always loved to get up early in the morning and just sit outside and wait for the morning to come and for the day to light. I have always been a lover of plant and nature and greenery," she told All Woman.
You could probably say it's in the genes; after all, her two grandfathers were farmers and her mother and father were avid backyard gardeners. So, instead of taking up position in a cushy corporate office or lecturing at a university after earning her doctorate in botany, she found herself mostly out in the fields interacting with small farmers and nurturing plants.
"I found that I always gravitated towards being out in the field and sitting down on farms and talking to the every day ordinary people, so later on, I realised that this was where I wanted to be," she explained.
Dr Reid's specialisation includes weed ecology and organic farming, and for six years she worked at the Food and Agricultural Organisation as the organic co-ordinator, and then later at the Caribbean Research and Development Institute, where she spent her days educating farmers about new technologies and reinforcing the importance of the work they do. Oftentimes, she said, she could not help but think of these mostly elderly farmers, as her grandfather with whom she used to spend her holidays.
"I wanted to become a part of something that makes a difference and make agriculture more rewarding for these little old men," she said.
"My grandfather is from St Thomas and he is a small farmer. I have memories of him when we went to visit in the summer; he would carry us up in the Blue Mountain area and had us just looking over this vast hill of untouched trees. I have just always had some fond memories of it and just feeling at peace and just feeling like this is where I belonged."
Dr Reid was therefore more than elated when Red Stripe appointed her in March of this year as their farm manager with direct responsibility for a 36-acre pilot cassava farm at Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, as a precursor to the establishment of the company's cassava starch factory to be built later this year. The company hopes to reap cassava from this farm and to engage small farmers across the island in planting more cassava, which will be used as a substitute for high maltose syrup which they currently import.
"This opportunity to become farm manager...it was pretty much giving me an opportunity to become a part of a solution or one of the solutions to reducing our food import bill, by actually replacing some of the imported materials," Dr Reid said.
"I always hear all this fuss about how much money we are spending importing things, and our high import bills, and we are importing more, and we are spending more than what we are earning. I think that there are a lot of talks about it and I was very impressed — from even when I was working at CARDI — with Red Stripe, as a significant player in the corporate sector, to actually not just staying at a distance and looking at the problem, but to actually taking on the challenge of creating a solution," she noted.
Like her previous posts, this job also affords Dr Reid the ability to be outside interacting with nature as she spends here days co-ordinating various teams of individuals responsible for clearing, planting, irrigation, fencing and the acquiring materials.
"I go there everyday and it's very busy because there are many things to do, but fortunately, I have several good teams working with. So even though it's demanding and challenging, when you have good people working with, it make it a lot easier and a lot more fun."
"Between planting and harvesting, there are a lot of different activities that needs to take place. A lot of your success as a farmer in getting a good crop has to do with your land preparation in the early stage; before you even put the plant in the ground. For one, you need to ensure that the plant has a place to get established, where there is less competition from weeds and other plants actually using the nutrients and the resources that your plant would want," she explained.
Although the work can be tedious, she gets a deep sense of fulfillment and accomplishment at seeing the first signs of growth after planting a ground.
"We just planted about a week ago and we went back and started to walk through the field and realised that the plants were coming up and so we saw the little tiny plants just bursting and coming up above the soil and it just brought so much fulfillment," she said.
Dr Reid had intitally set out in chemistry and management when she had first enrolled in undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies. However, she subsequently changed transplanted her sight on the biological sciences when she realised she had a greater interest in this area. She found herself gravitating ecology courses and, therefore, decided to pursue postgraduate studies in botany.
"A lot of persons think that because you reach that far, you are supposed to be teaching at a university. So a lot of people are surprised at the fact that I have actually gone and worked in the farm," she said.
While at UWI, Dr Reid also became very involved in the Jamaica Organic Agricultural Movement, and as chair for the South East Region had done a lot of work in promoting organic farming in Kingston, St Andrew and St Thomas. She hopes to encourage more young people to get into farming and wishes to counteract the existing stigmas that are turning away many from the profession.
"I think there are a lot of opportunities that are yet to be explored for young people in agriculture, however there are stigmas associated to it in terms of it being associated with slavery and hardness; and I think that is associated with how it is done," she said.