A swarm of bees and wasps pollinate the guinep tree in the middle of the yard where Tarta is seated on the ground with his back leaned against it’s trunk, sharpening a cutlass.
The unlit small portion of a spliff hangs from his lower lip at the left corner of his mouth as he glides the file rapidly along the edges of the blade. His beard is natty, his locks unkempt and he is stocky. His shirt though unbuttoned is tied together at both ends in the shape of a bow and gives off the smell of stale perspiration. Many of his front teeth are missing. His trousers are torn and soiled with dirt and his water boots have holes in the sides protruding both little toes to comfort. Resting beside him is a cheese pan half full with lemonade and a piece of ice floating inside. The sun is shining, creating a mass of warm air amid gentle cool breezes. Birds are teetering, perching and feeding on blooming flowers in Tarta’s garden as tiny colorful butterflies and insects buzz around in the morning sun.
A few meters away a goat bleats and is tied to a dead tree stump, multi-colored fowls, some with chicks, are all over the yard pecking at the earth’s crust while the stench from a nearby hog pen proliferates the air.
Tarta makes his livelyhood from cultivating the land and his love for it has generated from childhood when he and his grandpa (Mass Berty) use to go to the field and plant peas, tomatoes, plantains, bananas, yams, cassavas and many other ground provisions. The money Tarta makes from farming goes towards his children’s education. His wife Myrtle does the vending at various markets all over the Island including Falmouth, Linstead and Coronation. Baba, the older son is a first year student at Micro Teacher’s College while Albert, the younger one is staying with his Aunt in Spanish Town and attends St. Jago High School. Tarta cannot read but he has vowed that his children, unlike himself and his other siblings would grow up learning to read and write.
Sticking the point of the cutlass firmly in the earth Tarta placed his right hand on the handle, picking up the cheese pan in his left while leaning his body weight against the cutlass, he raises himself to a standing position. He now begins the trek to the plantation whistling as he goes along. To Tarta, agriculture is the backbone to civilization. He believes that the wealth of a nation lies in it’s ability to feed it’s people. He simply puts it that when the stomach is full the brain will be focused on other forms of human development such as health, science and technology. Tarta, like many others living in the community of Inswood, St. Catherine are farmers and rear a small amount of poultry and livestock. He is honest and hard working.
Making his way down the slope towards his field, Tarta uses the tip of the cutlass to balance himself as he goes along, occasionally cutting branches to clear the path leading to the farm. The land is fertile and compensates those who till it with an abundance of any crop that is planted, be it carrots, turnips or potatoes. Tarta has inherited the land from his father (Mass Berty) who got it from his father, going back to about four generations. The only portion, which is not cultivated, is reserved as a family’s plot where Tarta’s ancestors are buried. A few vacancies remain.
Along the way Tarta reflects on the days when the socialist government of Michael Manley had introduced through the Ministry of Agriculture, the” Back Yard Garden Program.” One in which every individual was encouraged to plant crops such as callaloo, peas, vegetables, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. These plants were widely known as” ready crops” and could be grown almost anywhere, in any soil, all seasons of the year. The goal of the government was to teach the people to be self-sufficient, utilizing the soil to produce what they eat while using their salaries and wages to purchase what they couldn’t grow. An Agricultural Marketing Cooperation (AMC) was also available for people with excess crops to sell their produce. This transcended even to foreign exports, for if a country can produce and manufacture in abundance from its own resources, then it can maximize export of those same non-traditional crops and manufactured goods, earning much needed foreign currency in the process, raising the Gross National Product and more likely bringing about a favorable Balance of Trade.
Tarta’s desire was to see one of his sons’ take up farming in a big way. His dream was for Albert to become an Agronomist and often time encourages him along that course of study. Albert was never all that interested. Tarta believed that ever since slavery was abolished, people had removed themselves from the plantation era and any thing associated with the memories of such a bitter past was avoided. In addition, most farmers were illiterate and of such, a stigma was affixed to such lively-hood. Toiling all day long in the hot sun was of no interest to the up coming generation. Yet, none stop to think how many of the world’s millionaires amass their fortune from farming or that a nation would starve if they have got nothing to feed themselves. To change and transform this mentality was forever Tarta’s quest.
Fifteen minutes had passed since Tarta began his journey and now he was finally there. Every plant was full of life from the nights dew and the process of photosynthesis had begun. Tomatoes were cherry red and ready for harvest, beans were full and peppers ripened. Today Tarta will transplant some seedlings of pap chow, mustards and lettuce. This will take several hours as he plants rows and rows of them. The remainder of the day will be used to cut sticks for the different plants that require them, to enhance growth. At the start of sunset he will venture back home, reviewing his thoughts along the way while balancing the harvested crop in a hamper from his head.