Reclaiming her roots: Odean Bradshaw's strong sense of placeSunday, October 03, 2021
THE first few months of the pandemic found H&L Agro Market and Business Development Manager Odean Bradshaw in “deep soul-searching”. She yearned to undertake a community-based passion project that would create employment while allowing her to teach the skills learned through her career in agriculture.
Though integral to the project, Bradshaw did not see herself as its star. She was focused on the land and the opportunity it would give the unemployed, distracted, and unengaged. And so Bradshaw headed home to Nutfield in Islington, St Mary, to reclaim her roots. Here, for the past year, her start-up has produced several tons of crops, including Scotch bonnet and West Indian red peppers.
Bradshaw wants to restore the faith among her peers that they can find financial independence through farming. And she should know; her bloodline is replete with farmers and folks “heavily involved in agriculture”. Beyond the family heritage, she has earned solid credentials — she is a graduate of the College of Agriculture, Science and Education, Northern Caribbean University, and The University of the West Indies. Before working at H&L Agro (she's now celebrating her seventh year), she was, among other things, a teacher of agricultural science at Sydney Pagan Agricultural School and an agricultural extension officer at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority. Bradshaw was also National Farm Queen for 2009.
“I could have done this project elsewhere, but the pandemic pushed me to return to St Mary to create employment and training for the people of the district in which I grew up,” she told Career & Education.
And people nearby and farther afield are clamouring to participate, as she has often had to turn back workers because of oversubscription.
“People come from as far as Robin's Bay for a day's work,” said Bradshaw. Seeing how great the need for work and skills training is, Bradshaw rotates the farm's schedule to distribute work evenly.
A team of four, including a supervisor, oversees the daily operations at the farm. There are jobs for approximately 15 people during planting and harvesting, most of them women. Beyond the peppers — for which Bradshaw has inked a deal with Walkerswood Caribbean Foods — the farm also produces cash crops that include cauliflower, cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, and watermelon. With multiple crops, Bradshaw's detailed production schedule ensures regular income for the workers.
Nutfield is a bedrock farming community known for its good quality pimento, so Bradshaw brings other farmers into the equation. Not only is she connecting farmers with production, but she has also purchased every pound of pimento grown in Nutfield “at a premium price” so none goes to waste. She, in turn, sells the pimentos to processors through her marketing network. As a result, the pimento farmers are rejoicing, not only for sales they can bank on but for the bragging rights of knowing that their pimentos are used in world-class products.
This sense of pride has also reverberated among the farm workers.
“One person has gone back to school, and the project is a part of her work placement,” gushed Bradshaw. “She has had a renewed passion and energy as a farmer.”
Other participants are seeing for themselves just how financially viable farming can be. “There is a better way of life through skills and education,” said Bradshaw.
In addition, every person who participated in the project has a greater sense of appreciation for self and food. “When I first went back home, the women I went to school with were just in the square hanging around the shop. Now they can see a future through agriculture.”
Additionally, Bradshaw has arranged for the workers to obtain food handlers permits to fulfil the specifications of her lead customer. “The fact that they are supporting a world-famous brand means a lot to them,” said Bradshaw.
“Odean's ingenuity and determination are an expression of the soul of Jamaica's farmers. What she is doing in her community is giving life to the idea of opportunity that's profoundly important at this time. She is building on the powerful legacy of women in agriculture, and we couldn't be prouder of her,” said Olive Downer Walsh, deputy CEO, Hardware & Lumber.
As for her aspirations, Bradshaw wants to increase the farm's acreage and productivity. She has just under 10 acres at present, but she also has other parcels of family land that she wants to put on the production schedule. In addition, using her degree in agro-processing, she has her sights on manufacturing and starting her own brand.
Bradshaw's enthusiasm is contagious. “We have seen young people in the community who have degrees go out, secure financing and have started their own projects.”
She is imbuing that love for farming and a strong sense of place with as many people that she can reach. With each crop, Bradshaw, her project participants, and the farming community in Nutfield, St Mary, epitomise the adage, “bloom where you are planted.”