Losing my job in pandemic was a wake up call


Kale farmer Mark Smith harvest some kale from his vertical towers at his Chaguanas farm. – Jeff K. Mayers

THE pandemic has brought horror stories for many, but for Mark Smith, it brought love and money from a place that he never explored.

Since the start of the pandemic, job losses have been constant as businesses adjusted their operations, some shutting their doors.

For Smith, his job loss was a wake-up call he needed to pursue an innate passion.

Sunday Newsday spoke with the 35-year-old father of two who turned a negative situation into a positive picture for him and his family.

“I worked at Hyatt; I was a server there for 13 years. In my department, our salary was based on service charge and tips so with the pandemic, the basic salary was next to nothing and then they retrenched us. When I got my settlement I took that money and invested in hydroponics and agriculture and grew kale.”

Kale, a member of the mustard family, is good for treating blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and is rich in antioxidants, calcium, vitamins C and K and rich in iron. Smith said his investment was a way to earn a living.

The Chaguanas man said he Googled hydroponics and growing kale while still employed. Last July he invested $4,000 and had one tower which produced about 48 kale plants. Then in February he was retrenched and with his $46,000 settlement he dove head first into agriculture.

Smith said he once had a passion for fashion design but after doing his research and getting into agriculture, that passion shifted. He said the pandemic made him refocus and that was a blessing in disguise.

“The pandemic opened up a passion that I didn’t know I had. I wasn’t into agriculture. My passion was fashion design. I like to design different suits and stuff, but with the pandemic, it is not making any money right now. So it just opened up my eyes so that if this is to happen, how many years again God forbid, I am in an industry where it will always be making money no matter what goes on because you have to eat. Since the pandemic, I haven’t bought a piece of clothes. I haven’t bought a suit but everyday you’re buying food so that’s the industry. I actually developed a love for it after.”

Smith was fortunate enough to own an acre of land and used it to plant sweet potatoes. He wants to expand his business and his wife, who still works at the hotel, is weighing the option of leaving a steady paycheck for the world of entrepreneurship. He joked that his wife is now referring to him as a “farmer.” He is not considering rearing livestock at the moment but the thought of raising chickens has crossed his mind.

“I invested in the hydroponic system. One tower holding 48 kale plants so that’s what I invested in. I invested in a tank, a pump and different stuff. I also have a system for lettuce. I had four towers at the beginning, and it was just kale. Right now I have sixteen towers of kale and just three for lettuce, I try to get 120 lettuce heads.”

Mark Smigh is dwarfed by his bountiful kale harvest at this Chaguanas farm. – Jeff K. Mayers

“When I sat down and did the Math with the kale because it’s a plant that grows and you just pick the leaves and you bag it out. It is like chadon beni so you just keep picking and it just keeps going out. The plant lasts about six months. And it takes about a month to grow so one plant gives you six months of harvest. When I did Math I was alright. I check how much one tower could give you and from there I just multiply the towers.”

He is already discussing expanding with his wife, Jamilah. Their company, The Daily Harvest, is in the process of relocating to facilitate the expansion. The benefits of being his own boss and giving him more time to be with family fuels his passion.

Smith warned though that while his story is a success, it is hard work and advised people to follow their passion.

“I just want to let people know don’t give up hope,” he said.

The Smiths sell their produce online and he delivers. Kale is sold in half pound bags for $15 and lettuce is sold at $10 a head. The half pound bag of kale will have between eight to nine large leaves, he said. For now, he restricts his sales to retail. One tower of kale could provide his family with at least $800 a month, which he said helped them stave off debts after being retrenched and investing in his company.

‘Leaving a legacy for my children’

“When the pandemic hit, I started looking at the hospitality and tourism industry and how it was being affected in other countries. That was even before we got our first case. When I saw the impact it was having on the hospitality and tourism industry, I started looking at something else to start to do just in case we get the virus home. I started to do some research and with the first lockdown, my wife and I were looking around and we said alright, the only two places open are the pharmacy and the grocery.

Smith said when he began his hydroponic farming he told everyone who would listen to follow him. His friends said they did not want to join because they would be inadvertently giving him competition and did not want that. For him, the competition is not the issue; he said he just wanted to share his knowledge and the new found joy in agriculture which was now paying his bills.

“I sympathize with the people who lost loved ones, I also lost a good friend from covid19 but I must say, it opened up my eyes and it has changed my mindset and it has done something to me. The pandemic has impacted me to be greater because when I was working, I never used to study myself. All you study is work, work, work, but you never study to invest in yourself.”

“I always wanted to jump and leave my job to do something but I never get the courage. It’s like you’re in a plane and you want to jump to try something. You have on your parachute and you want to jump but you studying fear and how you will make out, the finances or whatever. What the pandemic did was push me out of the plane. I didn’t have a choice but to open up my mind to think about what to do to make an income. It pushed me into a field that I never thought of doing but I end up doing it and it pays off and I know it will pay off big time in the near future.”

Smith said he is now looking at investing in planting fruit trees which will reap a harvest in years to come but for him that will be a legacy for his children– Israel, five, and Isabella, three – to benefit from.

He wants to plant every fruit tree imaginable to continue his passion, earn a living and more importantly leaving an inheritance.

His advice to those still hesitant about pursuing their passion is to just do it. Start and keep going.

“You can’t change what happens but what you can change is your mindset towards the situation. Anything you can put your mind to, especially right now, start it. I would advise somebody to start with what you have because I started with four towers. The doors will open up from there and just go with whatever your passion is, start with whatever you have.”

He added: “The important thing to do is don’t give up and just start. Start and things will add up from there. So I would just advise anybody to just find a passion, start. Right now with the pandemic, there’s a lot of free virtual training. This is the time to learn a skill, get at it, practice, practice and just start. Start with whatever you have and it will grow. When you start something, you tend to focus on it and that’s when ideas will come to you. The ideas will not come if you don’t start, so just start.”

Back To Top