Although agriculture was never in the script for aspiring actress, Toni-Ann Lalor, the youth advocate, pageant queen and ambassador extraordinaire has been enjoying her greatest role yet as a farmer.
In 2022, Ms. Lalor was crowned Miss United Nations World and, prior to that, had entered a number of major pageants.
Earlier this year, she was tapped as one of several women to receive ‘The Distinguished’ award from The Gleaner’s FLAIR, for her contribution to agriculture.
Ms. Lalor is now gearing up to host some of the nation’s children on her farm in Manchester for a grand tour.
“Toni’s Farm Tour is a new and exciting way to ignite children about the viability of agriculture and give them an opportunity to engage with the various elements of the farm,” she tells JIS News.
“One of my main goals, as a youth leader and youth advocate, is to be able to inspire every little girl and boy through agriculture by making it more appealing and more attractive to young people and by finding ways and solutions and technology. I want to be that beacon of hope to all dreams and all goals,” Ms. Lalor adds.
She explains that for most of her life, her dream was to become a movie star, adding that while in college, she performed in many plays, worked with local and regional directors, and even made an appearance on popular local productions, like the Ity and Fancy Cat Show.
But, while Ms. Lalor held on to those dreams of movie stardom, it was her stint in agriculture that funded her tertiary education and sparked some of her greatest accolades.
“I was never excited about agriculture, ever; and because my mother is a higgler, I always wanted to be very far from that because I knew what it was. I went to market with her, I had to stay up and wet the callaloo, bag up the oranges… . I was exposed to that, and I never wanted to do it,” she reflects.
Ms. Lalor says that while she was in the Manchester countryside and away from her suburban home in Portmore, she saw the activities of the various farmers and became intrigued by the agriculture field.
“When I went to [the] country, I saw the different farmers going to farm in the morning and planting their things, and tomorrow I see a couple of leaves. At the time, I come from town, and I didn’t know anything about that,” she jokes.
Tagging along with these farmers, she fell in love with the process “little by little”, and even remembers how one farmer asked for her assistance with bookkeeping where she would record the weight and price for the crops.
“And when I checked up the money, he made over $600,000 right before my eyes. And I said, ‘you get that from this potato?’ This is the same potato that I walk past, and I see the tractor plough the land, so, I’m like, ‘pretty much, you’re a magician… . You just made money from the soil… . I want to do that’,” she recounts.
With the help of her mother, Ms. Lalor started with a lot in her backyard, with her enterprise mushrooming to as many as 10 acres.
“Then I became a magician. I started to make money from the soil, and I was able to pay for my tuition for my first year in college and every year after,” she explains.
She says that when she was named as a recipient of “The Distinguished” award this year, she was “very humbled and extremely honoured and excited”.
“That was my very, very first award I have ever gotten for agriculture, and I’ve been doing it for over a decade,” Ms. Lalor points out.
Through the farm tours, she hopes to make it possible for children to see, up close, the inner workings of a farm, and just how special – or ‘magical’ – the field of agriculture can be.
The tours run from May 22 to July 7, and entities are encouraged to sponsor any of the schools expressing an interest in attending,
“So, many schools want to come to the farm, quite a few have reached out,” Ms. Lalor says, while informing that the cost of the undertaking is $2,000 per child, with refreshments provided from the farm.
“When they come to the farm, they’ll get to see the different crops that are on the farm. They’ll get to interact with them, they’ll get a synopsis of how each crop is planted, nurtured and reaped, and they’ll get to reap crops and taste the different things that are on the farm,” she says.
Some of the crops include watermelon, carrots, sweet potato, sweet pepper, turnip, and tomato.
Interested schools or sponsors can reach out to Ms. Lalor on Instagram @toniannlalor.