Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Miss Kitsy, 79, not worried about possible COVID triggered food shortage - Elderly Manchester farmer enjoys tilling the soil

Published:Saturday | April 11, 2020 | 12:13 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
Ena Francis hard at work in her yam field at Chantilly, Manchester.
Ena Francis hard at work in her yam field at Chantilly, Manchester.

In the cool climes of Chantilly, Manchester, there lives a woman named Ena Francis. Some people call her Miss Kitsy. Her birth certificate says she will be 79 in December. Born in Royal Flats in the said parish, she moved to Chantilly, where her mother and a brother were buried behind her house, more than 25 years ago.

Every morning, the mother of nine children who are all still alive, and grandmother to many more, gets up at 5 a.m., looks after her animals and poultry, sweeps her yards, “straighten up her house”, and “den she guh a grung (field)”, her six-year-old grandson, Nicolai Gayle, chipped in.

He was watching her work as she spoke with The Gleaner in her yam field, located on an incline, and consisting of about 150 yam hills. With great pride, she said she did all the work – weeding, clearing, turning the soil, creating the yam hills, embedding the yam heads into them, cutting the ‘yam sticks’ and anchoring them in the ground.

“Farming nice, yuh see, sah. Farming nice, yuh see, sah,” Miss Kitsy said, as she wiped her face with the tail of her T-shirt. She was sweating and enjoying herself. It’s an idyllic life that she lives in the ‘red dirt’, free from the madding crowd, away from people who are concerned about a possible food shortage engendered by the disruption of production as a result the COVID-19 fallout.

‘Food cyaan run out’

Miss Kitsy could care less. The fearmongering, the anxieties, and the uncertainties have not gripped her heart, body and soul. At least, not yet.

“Nonsense! Because if yuh wuk, no food cyaan short. Food a guh run out? If yuh plant food, food cyaan run out,” she asserted. “No, sah! No, sah! No, sah! If mi did business ‘bout dat, mi wouldn’t inna de dutty yah suh. No, sah! Mi nuh business bout dat.”

She has been farming from she was 10 years old, and she has no plans to hang up her hoe and machete any time soon. She had learned the skills and knowledge of yam, sweet potato and cassava farming from her stepfather, and is now an expert herself.

The money she earned from the sale of her produce, Miss Kitsy said, she had used to take care of herself, her parents, and her children, to build her house, and to acquire a piece of land. And, though she was supported by her husband, who passed more than a decade ago, she was intent on earning for herself.

“Fi yuh a fi yuh … . Yuh know when yuh have yuh own money, sah?” the pencil-slim sometime-embroiderer asked.

With her own money, she buys carrot, soursop, cucumber and beetroot, to extract their juices. Add bush and some cabbage to the mix, and there is no love lost between her and rice. She does not eat before she works, because if she does, she feels weak.

Otherwise she is fit, and has an abundance of energy. She said she was not born to be fat, and if she were, she perhaps could not farm. To the statement that her muscles were pronounced, she dropped her hoe, and held up her veiny forearms, and said, “Like a man! Yuh see dem?”

She cultivates a variety of yams, and for those who do not want to work, Miss Kitsy said, “Mi nuh know wha fi say, believe you me, because mi no know why God give you health and strength, an yuh get up every day a roadside an a rub out yuh an miggle … . Till de soil, man. When yuh till the soil, man, yuh independent.”

So, Miss Kitsy is not nervous about any possible food shortage, because there is yam, cassava, sweet potato cultivation going on all over the hills of Chantilly, and beyond.

“Nervous? Mi nuh know ‘bout dem something deh,” she said softly as she stood to face the camera.