Gabre and Deborah Swan: “Cassava growing is a labour of love”


Jessie Moniz Hardy explains why cassava growing is a labor of love; at least it is for Rastafarians Gabre and Deborah Swan, who grow vegetables organically and prepare a vegan version of the traditional Bermudian Christmas pie with their own cassava.

They grow the cassava root themselves, organically. That involves tending it for two years before they can dig it up, peel it, grate it, and bake a vegan version of the traditional Bermudian Christmas pie. “I love my cassava pie,” said Mr Swan.

They sell the root and have such a long list of orders they’re not accepting any more this season. [. . .] He farms a total of five acres of land in Smith’s and Hamilton Parish. He’s been growing cassava since 1980. At one point it was one of his main crops; he was growing as much as 1,500lbs.

These days, he grows much less. The broccoli, potatoes, beans, Swiss chard, carrots, onions and other vegetables he grows are all without chemical fertilisers or pesticides. “I started growing organically because of my Rastafarian beliefs,” said Mr Swan. “We believe in doing things in a natural way.”

[. . .] Mr Swan believes that by letting the attacks “run their course” the plants actually grow stronger and more resistant to bugs. “I have accepted that losing some plants to insects is a part of the life I live,” he said. “You win some; you lose some. That is life. If the storm came and wiped my crop out, I would say, it’s not meant for me to have this lot. So I start all over again.”

Mr Swan said cassava doesn’t really require much in the way of fertilisers, anyway. Cassava, a long, starchy root known as manioc, originated in South America. It takes about two years to harvest. “It is not a high-maintenance crop,” he said. “You care for it like a child. You do the best you can when it is young so it will grow big and strong and able to handle things on its own.”

[. . .] The Swans have a machine to grate the root. In the old days, people grated it by hand — a long and tedious process. “We try our best to stay as close to the earth as possible,” said Mrs Swan. “Whatever we put in there we try to make sure it is all natural.”

She described gardening as very peaceful. “Sometimes when we are out here we can almost see things growing,” she said. “You might come in the morning and things have sprouted up. Then you go away and come back in the afternoon and the sprouts are higher.” Mr Swan said living this way was a great preventive health measure.

“That is the whole reason why we do this,” he said. [. . .]

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