How Banana Ground got its name

September 05, 2016
Ian Allen/Photographer From left: Jessie Carter, Sean Foster, Kenneth Balfour (old man with grey hair) and Sylvester Palmer in Banana Ground.
Ian Allen/Photographer Yvonne Palmer and her son Jamarie Palmer.
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Residents are not very sure how Banana Ground, Manchester, the home of Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, got its name, but one of the oldest farmer Kenneth Balfour shared the story he heard.

He said in the days when banana was king, the community was notorious for its extensive acreage of the 'green gold', as it was known. So large was the volume, aerial spraying was the order of the day, hence the name Banana Ground fell on the community.

"The banana farmers used to sell the produce to the trucks that came, and they took it to Ritchies where there was a depot," Balfour said adding that production fell after years of disease took toll on the crop. He has since replaced his half acre of bananas with cash crops that are not so hard to take care of. "I cannot bend like I used to do so I plant a little pak choi and callalo."

By 10 a.m., some of the farmers of Banana Ground, like Sylvester Palmer, have already done some work on their farms, looked after their cows, goats and pigs, eaten breakfast, and had their first drink of whites or their favourite libation.

 

DRINKING HABIT

 

"Drinking is a habit with us up here,. You feel the cold?" he said jovially. Before noon last Monday, a few other farmers were observed with machete in one hand and drink in the other as they went about their tasks. On any day that it rains or looks like rain in this hillside community that is more that 2000 feet above sea level, the fog comes in and gives poor visibility, the temperature falls, and blazers, sweaters, and warm clothing do need a little help from the spirits.

Having just sold a cow, Palmer deserved his drink. He has been farming since age 17 and is the proud father of 11 children... all of whom he says have passed the worse. Praedial larceny is not a problem in the district.

The entire community is a farming one and as far as the eyes can see, there are carrots, cabbages, Irish potatoes, tomatoes, and other cash crops in the ground. It is a calling that has been answered by both males and females.

Shirley Harrison has been a shopkeeper for 20 years, but also grows chickens for poultry meat and eggs. She supplies her shop with both products ... and naturally male farmers with their drinks.

Another proud farmer, Yvonne Palmer, is a wife and mother of five sons. By 9 a.m. last Monday, she had already fed her family, sent off her husband to his grocery shop, and worked on her farm close to her house. Her siblings who have built their homes on family land are a stone's throw away and by her side was her youngest son, Jamarie, and her four-year-old niece, Ashanea Rutty.

 

NO RUNNING WATER

 

Palmer laments the absence of running water in the community. In fact, every resident spoke strongly about the need for water, a community centre and better roads in Banana Ground. They hope that with the spotlight now on their community, having produced an Olympic gold medallist, they will get these things. They are also badly in need of Internet service.

"Land was earmarked for the community centre, but we got a basic school in the space reserved for the centre. We don't have a playing field, and we also have many unemployed youth here. But water is important, everybody relies on black plastic drums or concrete water tanks for the precious resource," Palmer said.

Jessie Carter, father of Olympian Nesta Carter, is also a resident of Banana Ground. He was born in Mountain Side, a nearby district. Nesta is the third of his five children. Carter has been a farmer all his life, and rears pigs, carrots, and irish potatoes. He has been rejoicing with the rest of the community over Thompson's success, having also felt the joy of fathering a winner. He said his famous son came to visit him just two Sundays ago, but also added his voice to the call for water, good roads, a playing field to produce more star athletes, and a community centre.

Barbara.ellington@gleanerjm.com

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