The Hands that Feed Us is a nine-part series of my column, Eating Niagara, in the local dailies. It’s a monthly profile of a seasonal agricultural worker in Niagara.
Everyone has a nickname on the fruit farm where Shamar Dawkins works.
There’s Short Man and Tall Man — monikers given for obvious reasons. Black Man is a playful spin on the last name of another worker.
Dawkins goes by Super. It’s short for supervisor, the role the 34-year-old from Clarendon, Jamaica, assumes eight months of the year on Werner’s Fruit Farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Not only is it Dawkins’s job title, Super altogether describes this super tenacious, super grateful human being.
Between April and November every year, there’s nowhere Dawkins would rather be than overseeing the daily operations of the Werner’s stone fruit orchards and vegetable gardens.
“I’d never stop coming,” Dawkins said. “It’s in your blood. He’s a good boss and he’ll always take you back every year if you’re a good worker.”
And Dawkins is. The 12-year veteran of the seasonal agricultural workers program is a natural farmer. He was born into the profession in Jamaica where he grew up with his extended family raising cattle and donkeys.
They also grew coffee, and cocoa beans for chocolate, which introduced Dawkins to the manual labour that would hold him in good stead on a Niagara fruit farm as an adult. It was his job to “break chocolate” before school each morning, cracking the roasted beans to get at the prized cacao nibs inside. He also had to do the nimble work of picking coffee.
Sugar cane was his family’s most important crop, however, enabling his parents to send their five children to school.
Although it was intended to provide him with opportunity, sugar cane ironically hindered Dawkins. As the eldest child, he often stayed home from school to help with harvest while his brother and sisters attended class.