Angella Bardowell – Bringing glamour to pig farming LIFE STORY
SHE had given up her lucrative position in an executive office to work in a pigsty, but coming from the corporate world, Jamaica Pig Farmers’ Association (JPFA) president Angella Bardowell knows a thing or two about projecting the right image, and so helping to change people’s perception of pig farmers has been one of her greatest contributions to the association to date.
“I always tell people, farming is not a glamorous job, but we have glamorous people who do the job,” she said with conviction as she sat in the association’s office at the Ministry of Agriculture in Kingston.
“I hate the stigma that farming has, because people tend to look at farmers as the little man with the crocus bag over his shoulder and water boots and stuff. A lot of times they say I don’t look like a farmer and I wonder what a farmer is supposed to look like. So I always try to empower other farmers to say, ‘Look, we are entrepreneurs, we are a part of the private sector, and we should see ourselves as that and project ourselves as that’,” she said.
The move to improve the image of pig farmers is a strategic one. The aim is to shore up more respect for those in the profession, and also to attract more young people to the business.
“Growing pigs nowadays is not like a long time ago when you put two pigs in a pen and throw feed or tie them up properly. The business has now become more scientific, for want of a better word. You have to practice good management in order to get something out of the business,” she said. “If we want younger people to come into the business, for it to be more attractive, to say well, there are other aspects to farming than just ploughing, we need to move away from that, we need to project another side, we need to project another image.”
The farm life
Like many persons in rural Jamaica, Bardowell had started her farm along with her husband on a small scale on her property in St Elizabeth. The couple had the usual sprinkling of crops and a few goats and pigs, and invested most of their time and energy in their professions.
Bardowell was a personnel manager working in the corporate sector, while her husband had a stable job in Government. But then she got to thinking that they should try to expand their pig farm.
“I suggested to him that he expand the farm and he said, ‘Well, if you extend the farm, somebody would have to look after it and it won’t be me’, so agreed to do it,” she said.
Bardowell said she didn’t mind the transition from her nine-to-five job since she loved farming. When she heard that her company was planning a redundancy exercise, she volunteered to be axed so that she could put all her focus into her exciting business venture.
“I had a gentleman come in to help us and he said to me, ‘Mrs B, if you are going to do this thing, you are going to have to work,” she said.
“I did a lot of trial and error as I learned the business. There were times when frustration set in. I remember the first flood in 2002 or thereabouts, the June rains resulted in flooding on the farm and we lost 250 piglets in one day, in fact just overnight,” she recounted.
Bardowell made sure to learn everything there was to know about pig farming. She wanted to ensure that she would not be taken advantage of, considering that she was a woman in the business. She also wanted to be able to carry on with the job whenever workers were not available to carry out a particular task.
“I know how to do everything on my farm. I have a butcher’s licence. Everybody that comes to work on my farm to work on my piggery, I teach them what to do, so I can do from castration to the actual slaughtering of the pig. I make sure I can do everything, so none of them can look and say that because I am a woman, they are going to take advantage of a situation,” she said.
Bardowell is also the vice-president of the Jamaica Network of Rural Women and so she keeps abreast of the issues that affect female pig farmers. She noted, though, that they are pretty much the same as those faced by the men in the industry.
Of the approximately 1,000 members of the association, over 200 are women.
“The only problem I might think that some women would have is the access to financing, because a lot of our women, especially our rural women, are not holders of land or assets that the banks would require for collateral, and so in that instance, they are a little bit more challenged,” she pointed out.
Big plans for the industry
The pig farmer said that the industry on a whole is being challenged right now to stay economically viable. One of the things she wants to see come into effect is the establishment of a storage facility for pig farmers to store their products when business is not going so well, so that their meat won’t go to waste. These farmers would be able to retrieve their products when their businesses pick up.
Bardowell said the pig farmers have just concluded a training session in food safety management and record keeping. Shaping the pig farmers’ image will be an ongoing thing for Bardowell, who four years ago conceptualised the idea of having a pig farmers’ ball. The last one was held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in April of this year and saw scores of pig farmers trading in their overalls for three-piece suits and ball gowns to mingle and have fun.
“The first year when we had it, one of our sponsors came and said ‘I would have loved to see more farmers here’ and so I said, ‘So who do you think are the majority of the persons here?'” she laughed.
As a rural farmer, Bardowell has to try and balance operating her business in St Elizabeth and fulfilling her responsibilities to the two organisations she is linked to. Thankfully, her only child is now at university finishing up her degree and is not so dependent on her.