By the time he was nine, Omari Cox knew he wanted to be a farmer.
Now 17, he recalled during his first term at the Scarborough Secondary School, when students were asked about their career choices, some of his peers urged him to find a more sustainable career path as a doctor, lawyer or engineer.
“I said I want to be a farmer and they laughed,” he told Newsday at his Store Bay Local Road home on Friday.
“The boys in the class even asked why I was settling for so low. Even in fifth form, they were talking about when we finish school who would be migrating, who would study law. But I maintain that I like agriculture and I would continue to do what I like.
“Everybody tends to look down on farming because they see it as a degrading job. Nobody really wants to call himself a farmer. But in reality, a farmer is one of the most important people in society because they are the ones who provide a lot of home-grown products for the market and grocery shelves.”
The shy Cox said he is working on quite an ambitious task: “I want to continue to provide food for the nation.”
Cox, who is currently sitting the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations, said before moving to Store Bay Local Road, he lived in Calder Hall, where he grew a small bed of 48 lettuce.
“While attending primary school, we had a school project where we would sow red beans in a Styrofoam cup and allow it to grow. I was amazed at how healthy mine came (out), and from since then I was enthused by the agricultural field. From then I began doing plants in cup… it was plants like cucumber… I used to just experiment.”
A woman in Calder Hall suggested he try lettuce and he did.
“I remember the first time I tried my hand at this lettuce, they came so big and that encouraged me to push forward.
“My grandfather, he has been doing farming for a very long time, his drive pushed me, and I asked about it one day and he said it’s the care and handling. I told my grandfather of how serious I was, and he started taking me to the market with him and he also granted me two beds to try my hand.”
His grandfather is entrepreneur and hotelier Sylvan Rollocks.
Cox said farming is both rewarding and satisfying “because I make great profit, and satisfying because I get to do something I love every single day.”
The young farmer wakes up early to tend to his plants before heading for school. When he gets home from school, he repeats the process.
“I plant the plants, make sure they get water, or they don’t get too much water. I also have to make sure insects such as mole crickets and bachacs don’t cut the plants, because if they do, they will die. Also, I have to make sure they get the proper nutrients.”
Asked to describe his work, Cox said: “I would say it’s exciting. It’s very exciting because…I just love working in the garden.”
He sells to both retail and wholesale clients.
“I supply a number of hotels, guest houses and a few vegetable marts. They said that they have lettuce that they buy which is usually bitter and they admire my quality…Irrigation is very important in planting lettuce,”
So he wants to invest in water tanks, especially as there is a scarcity of water.
Cox said after his exams, he intends to delve further into the field.
“I really enjoy doing this. It’s fun, I love to see my plants grow – the fruits of my labour.
“I want to do it full time. There are people who do things for the money, but agriculture is my passion. When you do things for the money, you really don’t enjoy what you do, but for me, I want to enjoy what I do, and agriculture is what I love.” His plan is to open an organic mart. He said many people have tried to discourage him in the past, but he sticks to the principle set by his mother, Lois Rollocks-Stewart, “Do what you love.”.
Rollocks-Stewart said: “There is money in agriculture, people have to eat. Once you put your mind to it, he will make it. And I am already seeing it. Everybody knows him as ‘the lettuce boy’ – he has already established a name for himself.”
She said her son is passionate about farming. “It is from dust to dawn with Omari. He’s up and about all the time. He’s not a party guy. His recreation really is his garden. He not going on no football field.
“When he comes from school, he has his lettuce and them to tend to. He would take his bicycle and go down the road from house to house and sell his lettuce. Regardless they say yes or no, he would go from house to house,” the proud mother said.