Life's work and a cornucopia of simple pleasures.
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Instead of being armed with a career and a fixed set of goals, opportunities, love, people and places, shaped my life into a series of serendipitous events...
Once upon a time, fresh out of secretarial college, I found myself installed in a job at a small film company in Jamaica. One of the owners, the production manager, was migrating to Canada. Had I grasped that I was expected to fill his highly skilled shoes, it would have proved too daunting, and no doubt I would have fled in a different direction. But there I was, young, inexperienced and oblivious, settled in an exciting job, the tasks as unexpected as the days were unpredictable, working with one of Jamaica's talented and very busy commercial directors. Paul rode a motorcycle, lived in an old house on a winding road in the Blue Mountains, read Khalil Gibran, and coexisted with a menagerie as wild as he was. We fell in love, wed and while I worked hard at becoming a commercial producer, wife and eventually mother, befriending my husband's jealous little squirrel monkey proved impossible and was an entirely different matter.
Anyone who's run a small company learns pretty quickly that to manage the bottom line you must wear many hats! The varied and interesting day to day tasks of those early years led me to a few colourful and unintended careers. A typical day could start by going over the dreaded accounting paperwork and budgets then on to organising a casting session, scouting a location, organising crew and in the days before mobile phones and internet, it took masses of phone calls to book crew, cast and the equipment necessary for setting up for a commercial shoot.
Then it was out to the shops to choose the props to dress the sets, costumes to dress the models and if it was a food specific shoot, perhaps schlepping a load of supplies to our home kitchen up the mountainside to prepare the recipes and sort the props for the next days shoot, but not before picking up our daughter from school. We were busy, business was good, life was crazy, and full and none of this would not have been possible without a very special lady by the name of Ena Mclarty. Ena started working with us when Robyn was ten months old. Over a span of forty years, we were inseparable. She is Robyn's second mother. We shared trials, triumphs and a ton of laughs in and out of the kitchen. She was head cook and bottle washer and ran the place when, in addition to the film business, we opened the doors of our tea shop at an old lodge in Irish Town where we lived in the early the eighties. Happily retired now, Ena had the spirit of a lion, knowledge of the land and wisdom way beyond her years. She was there beside me on every food shoot, as together we learnt how to prep and style food for commercials and photography.
Paul and I were fortunate to own a few acres of land in the mountains and for years we longed to build a home of our own in the country where we could grow a vegetable garden. Eventually, we were able to build a house on the land and with help of local farmers, and Ena at our side, nurturing the dream, we planted out our first field. Growing food opened a whole new world of flavours for me, it sharpened my food styling skills, changed the way I ate and firmly rooted (pun intended) us to our rural community. We figured everyone would be as excited as we were about our home grown salad greens, so we started packing neat little boxes of a very special organic greens mix and offered them to the local market. This was the start of Woodford Market Garden, Jamaica's first organic salad greens company! This farm inspired me to jot down recipes and write our farm story and eventually publish my cookbook. The book, entitled My Goodness! Greens, seemed to bring together everything I loved, growing fresh food, creating good meals, designing sets, styling food for photography and lastly, the best part, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with our daughter who is responsible for the beautiful photography in the book.
The way we work has changed since those early years. Technology has been one to master. Phones and eventually internet arrived in our little village and we moved our film office from town to country. The farm became an important part of our lives and we were able to spend more time at home. The connection between the different areas of my work now, as a set decorator, food stylist and organic farmer became even more blurred and intertwined. This blog is about life's profusion. It may tell the story of how a little kitchen garden could lead to an unintentional organic market garden. Today it may be a recipe for Carambola chutney, tomorrow a recipe for making a compost pile, and the trials and tribulations of searching for the right props for an upcoming shoot. And I am besotted with colour... of walls, doors, vegetables, flowers, birds, insects, a bowl or hand painted sign, the sunrise or sunset. Of course, there will be salads and whole food recipes from my book, the magic of herbs and spices and possibly my own experiences on how not write a cook-book. Looking up to the moon, down to the soil, out to the sea, or at those blue blue mountains it is art, craft, from field to kitchen and a cornucopia of small and simple pleasures in between.