Woodstock Area Job Bank

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In Tobago, on the side of the road, hanging precariously off the edge of a cliff is a tiny shop, where Jaffa sells handmade chocolate. The shop is cool and dark. The smell is intoxicating. There is barely room for three of us to squeeze in.

Once our eyes have adjusted to the dark interior we see a small display case filled with choco-late art. Behind the case stands an old, very thin man with long grey dreads reaching down to his waist; behind him, a magnificent view of the Caribbean ocean and hundreds of photographs covering the walls.

We exchange pleasantries, which on the islands always includes where you come from. We say Vermont.

Jaffa lights up. “I went to Boston once, to Dunkin School. A long time ago, I left Tobago and bought a Dunkin Doughnuts franchise in Florida.”

We laugh, ” Dunkin School…Time to make the doughnuts.”

“You have no idea! ”

“Your chocolate is grown in Tobago?”

“Some. Truth, not so much. Chocolate isn’t a good crop for the farmers.

He went in the back and reappeared with a coco pod. “You see here, the beans, they located in all the white. You get maybe handful of beans from each. Da farmer he get maybe 5TNT (less than 1 dollar US) for a pound of beans dried. I buy Belgium chocolate, add local when I can get it.”

“Coco farming is no way to make a living. I once knew a farmer, when he saw his son pick up a hammer to crush the beans, threaten to break his arm. You go to school, you go to university. You no be slave to the cocoa.”

Jaffa then points to the wall of photographs behind him. “My children,” he says proudly, “ they all graduate from the university. I was in the US for 35 years. Now I have this” he says pointing to the view of paradise outside his window overlooking the ocean.

Rural life in Tobago is not so different from rural life in Vermont. Farming is hard work and it’s rarely the farmer who gets the big payoff. Buying local, buying directly from farmers or farmers markets all can help. But is it enough to keep the next generation tied to the land?

This time of year the Job Bank receives many requests for farm labor. Generally the pay is low. The work is hard and the jobs seasonal. On the farm the day starts early and, in the busy sea-son might go late into the night. Why would anyone choose to do it?

I asked my farmer friend, Bill. He looked at me in his special way —reserved for flatlanders: “No office, no clock, lots of problems, finicky weather and when you beat the odds and get a good crop, you can’t pack it in and live on your laurels—you have to begin again.”

I still wasn’t sure I got it.”

“But why would you want to be a farm laborer?”

Bill’s eyes twinkled.

“You get to play in the dirt.”

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