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From Engineer to Mindful Living Advocate to Entrepreneur: Paula Watson- Popo Speaks

Paula is a female engineer in the construction industry and nature lover who embraces a holistic approach to living. She believes that we need to be more responsible in the way that we use the natural resources on planet earth and grow and eat our own. While reflecting on what she could pursue to satisfy herself in the most basic sense, she recognized that one of the staples in her life has been the use of local plants and herbs that are both healthy and delicious as part of her everyday diet. As a result she followed her entrepreneurial yearning to start her own small business Tea Garden 758 that uses local herbs and plants from her backyard garden to make delicious and beneficial tea blends all while trying to maintain a balance in the ecosystem and her life. Paula wants to see increased sustainable practices by locals and more care of the environment in which we live. I caught up with Mrs. Popo who was very willing to answer assiduously my 47 zippy questions.

D: Good evening, Paula

P: Good evening

D: Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me and answer forty seven zippy questions!

P: Forty-seven!

D: [smiles] Yes, forty-seven.

P: Happy to be here. I’m happy to be in this interview.

D: Wonderful. Your first question for today is: “How excited are you about life right now?

P: Hmm…on a scale of 1-10, 10 being very excited and 1 being not so excited. I would say I’m a nine. [laughing and beaming]

D:  That’s excellent. Allow me to be cheeky and ask you this. Do you care to share a little bit about why you are so excited about life right now?

P: Okay…I guess I get up every day and I just feel grateful to be on planet earth. Even though the times are a bit challenging with the pandemic and others close to me, so many others not so close to me are being adversely affected. It kind of brings into sharp focus what’s more important about life. Is your family healthy? Do you have good relationships with your family members? You know, how do you engage with them?

And it makes me happy to know that I get up every day, I breathe and I have an opportunity to make each day count. So, despite the challenges I am grateful that so far, I have health. I have a grateful heart. I have my children. I have my family. You know, everyone is doing okay. I think that gives me a little zest for life…just having a grateful heart.

D: I agree indeed. This pandemic especially has brought home the need to really look at every small thing and be thankful that you can enjoy it. Thank you for that. What would you say is your biggest weakness?

P: You really getting cheeky there [laughs].

D: [laughs]

P: I guess my biggest weakness is that I can be very spontaneous. On a day-to-day basis-sometimes I feel like my thoughts travel at the speed of light. I always have a lot of things going on in my head and at any one time and I am always thinking about acting on one of them and not always thinking about the long term. Or sometimes saying whatever I’m thinking which is not always well received by the majority.

D: Yes, that’s true. It can sometimes get you in a bit of hot water. Okay! What would you then say is your biggest strength?

P: My biggest strength—and I always tell everyone that this is my superpower, even in my day-to-day job, as well as in Teagarden 758, my up and coming small business. I believe my greatest strength is my intuition. I think I’ve been blessed with a high level of intuition. The ability to feel things out, to have a sense of things and people. Instinctively you know some things and when you have these kinds of instincts, it kind of helps to direct your path a little better and also helps you to avoid pitfalls.

D: That is so true. One of the things I believe is that we all have it in us, the ability to tap into our intuition. But many persons don’t tap into it. It seems to be something that is lost as we develop or progress, sadly.

P: Yes, it’s one of those things from the old ways. It is a basic human ability.

D: …Which the animals have as well!

P: I think it’s because we have machines to do everything for us and certain things come more easily to us so we have forgotten how to employ our intuition.

D: I agree, I agree. And technology doesn’t help right? Alright, can you describe yourself in a hashtag?

P: [laughing] Interesting [turns to daughter]. Monica, can you describe me in a hashtag? How would I describe myself in a hashtag? Hashtag ‘natureloving’ or ‘downtoearth’.

D: Hashtag ‘cute’?

P: I guess so [laughs]. And hashtag ‘loner’.

D: Awesome.

P: I have my periods where I think I’m a borderline introvert. I can be an extrovert by day and an introvert by night. I need periods of alone time.

D: Yes, and that’s important. What is a cause that is important to you?

P: Definitely the environment. How we treat the environment. I believe that we need to be more responsible in the way that we use the natural resources on planet earth. I believe that there is so much knowledge out there that we can use to do things better. Not just in terms of recycling, which can be seen as brainwashing. You put a lot of effluences out there and you still end up adding some amount of pollution back into the nature. We must just be conscious about the way we use our resources. Even in the way we grow our food. The monoculture system that we use, with huge amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, when there are better ways like permaculture, where you tap into old knowledge and are able to reap successful harvests. It mimics what goes on in the forest. You have trees, you have shrubs which are caught up in the web of life. To be more specific, I am passionate about the way we grow food.

Growing up in Jamaica (I think this is not restricted to Jamaica but just a part of the Caribbean experience) you always had food growing in your backyard. You would have yam, ackee trees, lost of fruit trees, you know! Your parents would only shop for certain essential items. Many of us grew up like that. Now-a-days, there are cute terms like food forest to describe it. Really and truly that’s how many of us grew up. Our parents always had foods in the backyard and sometimes you had to participate. There were chickens and other animals. Everyone is now focused on growing well-manicured lawns because growing food is not so important anymore. We can just go to supermarket and purchase what we need to eat. I always say suppose there comes a time where this is no longer readily available to you. What would you do? Would you have the skill to grow your own food?

D: Yes. Our snack used to be climbing a tree and picking some fresh fruit to eat.  Now a snack is a packaged and processed something from the store. So, with that a little birdy told me that you do a bit of gardening. Could you tell us the type of things you grow? Talk about your gardening adventures (smiles)

P: Really and truly, I started growing stuff in my backyard in 2016. Before that I would grow a little odd item here and there. But I really started developing my gardening skills in 2016. The first approach I took was to utilize repurposed containers. I would go to the beach and look for discarded items and repurpose them as gardening containers. I collected seaweed. I also used pallets to create raised beds. I would compost my seaweed along with food scraps and grass—anything compostable to add to my gardening soil. In doing so I realized that year after year the yields would improve. For example, in 2016 when I first started, plants did well. However, in the following year, I realized that just refreshing the soil and topping it with a bit more compost and manure, my crop yields only got better over time. You have to constantly feed your soil, so it can feed your plants. My approach deviates from the prevailing approach to agriculture, in the sense that you have to constantly add manures and manufactured fertilizers to replenish and feed the plants.

Fast-forward now. I still use repurposed containers. I create garden beds; I no longer use raised beds. There is a spot in my backward where I create garden beds, I compost grass clippings along with my kitchen scraps. Seaweed is added to my beds year after year. I plant directly into the soil, as it is pretty good soil. Plants only need a little bit at a time to produce and do what they need to do. Once you are feeding the microorganisms within the soil, it will produce food for the plant.

D: Definitely.

P: I’ve always been into herbs. Right now, I grow like 5 different types of basil, I grow fennel, bay leaf trees, lemongrass, citronella, ginger and a few more. I also have some ‘vevven latje wat  which is considered a wild herb, but I incorporate it into my garden as well because the tea is so beneficial. Amongst that I grow callaloo, chinese cabbage, spinach, eggplants, okra, tomatoes. Things you would normally use in your kitchen.

D: Sounds like you have a vast selection of vegetables and herbs, some trees, various plants in your backyard, which is awesome! That’s probably the way we should go. To incorporate these trees and plants for a more holistic life.

P: Yes. It’s not just nutrition but also health. If you have a stomachache, you can drink some vevven tea. If you want to sleep a little deeper, you can look for some basil or soursop leaves. It’s good to have a wide variety.

D: One of the things I didn’t ask you was what is your occupation? I know you have several [laughs]. Your main occupation, then include any others. I know farmer is on that list for sure.

P: I am a civil engineer by training. Currently I work as a project manager for construction projects.

D: So as a female what would you say to encourage young girls who may be thinking of entering a field such as engineering and even the construction industry? I hear on the radio, a popular talk show host repeatedly says that there are no engineers or females in the construction industry. I know that this is false, but I guess it’s not out there that several female role models and mentors in that industry exist that younger females can identify with locally.

P: I know quite a few and they occupy different positions within the construction industry, like engineering, project managers, surveyors. In fact, my department has quite a few women who engage directly with construction projects including several construction managers as well. There is definitely room for improvement and maybe it’s not an industry that draws alot of young women because of persecution and stereotyping. I would say to any young lady wanting to pursue a career in the construction industry to definitely have a go at it. I have found that women in construction industry tend to be reliable and very serious about of their work and carry a high level of integrity to their jobs which is appreciated. I would say go for it, the world is changing, it’s not what it used to be. Maybe in the past it was a male dominated industry. Women are sometimes subjected to harassment, for example, you may go on a construction site, and experience sexual harassment so  these kinds of comments can be off putting. But with the world changing, we have more men who are our allies. There are women like myself who are constantly advocating and fighting to have seat at the table at all levels and sectors, whether it is in government politics or a leader in another sector. It is only when you go for it, that other young girls growing up are encouraged to do the same. If you are in a position to help other women, do so as well.

D: I certainly agree and I think that women need to advocate for women. We need to break the glass ceiling as there are certain professions that have been male dominated. Women have been able to penetrate these, but perhaps there is more that we can do to showcase that we are breaking those ceilings so that others who are coming up feel more confident about going forward with it.

P: Definitely.

D: I know you are also an entrepreneur. Since we are on careers, maybe you can tell use a little more about why you choose to become an entrepreneur?

P: I’ve always wanted to be my own boss so to speak. I believe the first step to being your own boss is to be a business owner. It’s taken me a few years to settle on the direction in which I wanted to go. Over the years I’ve done a lot of introspection and there was time where I had to sit down with myself and determine exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. So I asked myself “How do you want to spend your later years?”

 I love engineering and project management but is there something else that will meet my needs. Not only in a financial sense, but something I can do and pursue that will satisfy me in the most basic sense. I thought long and hard about what I like to do with my spare time and what I like to engage in. I love to do various things and I have billion things running around in my head (smiles) I find that I am always pursuing many different things. However, the first answers that came to me was maybe farming on a grander scale than the backyard farming. Then I thought, what would I like to grow? First, I thought vegetables and then I  considered the challenges of growing them on a larger scale. One was that I would need a certain sized plot of land. I would also have to think of organic ways to control any pests and diseases of the crops. However, considering my backyard size I quickly realized I would need more land space to run a profitable business. Then I thought about all the herbs I had growing in my backyard, which are sometimes too much and leave me wondering what to do with them. So I started to think that I had a lot of herbs but I’m limited in land space. Most of the herbs I grow are shrubs, you cut off the top and they grow back, they don’t need a lot of land space. I thought back to an article I had read, which spoke on why some countries are wealthy and some are not, particularly why resource rich African countries are financially poor, while countries they export to are wealthy. The author explored the fact that many of the poorer countries are not seeking to produce, but are selling the raw materials to countries that buy these raw materials and make products for resale. He spoke on the economic importance of value added (when you take a product in its raw form and make it into a product which you can charge more for it, as opposed to selling the raw material). Additionally, selling your materials to countries who lack these resources is really playing out your hand.

D: When you could otherwise use that avenue to generate profit for yourself…

P: Yes, exactly. Sometimes you read material and file it away. It comes back to you at the time that you need it and helps piece things together nicely. Another big Achilles heel for me is food wastage. A lot of food goes to waste every year in the Caribbean. It makes it difficult for us to compete with first world countries in trying to meet huge trade quotas. A lot of these countries are limited by weather conditions but in the Caribbean, we can grow all year round. There are times in St. Lucia where there is so much that we say ‘the food is making dog’. Right?

D: Yes.

P: I’m always thinking agro-processing, but in such a way that you don’t have to use chemicals and preservatives. I started thinking how to preserve the longevity of herbs. I am accustomed to drying my herbs as my household drinks a lot of bush teas. I used to do my little tea blends. I’m not sure how many herbal tea makers are out there as I’ve always had my own teas. Upon doing my research I found that there was not a wide variety and that there was a need. Taking a look at the global trends for herbal tea sales I also noticed that it was moving upward. Year after year people are consuming more herbal products especially as people are looking to get healthier. There were one or two persons selling teas but they were not blended, which was perfect because I wanted to do something different. I also wanted to create something appealing to the palette.

D: Fantastic. As a result, you went into your tea business. How would you say your response has been so far?

P: The response for Tea Garden 758 has been good. To be honest with you I haven’t been on a massive advertising drive yet. I’ve been collecting data listening to customer feedback and improving my product as much a possible. Now I am super excited. You asked me at the beginning what my level of excitement was, I said 9. I am super excited because I think I’m on the verge of striking forth in that regard. I think the feedback as been positive and I feel very good about the future of Tagardens758.

D: Awesome and I wish you the very best with that venture. We shall now move on to a few lighter questions. When would you say you are most inspired?

P: I feel most inspired in the early morning. I like to take my early morning walks. I wake up at five o’clock and walk for about four miles around the neighborhood. It’s very scenic and quiet. I can hear the birds and morning sounds. It is very peaceful; the air is fresh and crisp. The views are great, I find that extremely inspiring. A new day has dawned! Let’s see what it holds for us.

D: I love that. Sweet or savory?

P: I like a mix of both.

D: What song would you say you can listen to on repeat.

P: Interesting question…there is one song that I find myself engaging with a lot recently. It is Corrine Bailey-Rae called ‘Put your records on’.

D: I’m sure I’ve heard it but I’m definitely going to have a listen.

P: You should! It’s light, it’s breezy, it’s gives you the feeling that life is worth living.

D: What makes you smile the most?

M: My children. Just seeing them grow and going through each stage. I find that amazing. And them growing into their personalities.

D: What is one thing people don’t know about you?

P: I don’t know. I never asked myself that question. Let’s see…that’s a hard one [laughs]. Is it the majority? Or family?

D: It’s up to you which slant you want to take.

P: Maybe that I have ten brothers and sisters. [laughs]

D: That’s a good one. I’m sure that people will be amazed that you have ten siblings. What are three things you cannot live without?

P: Let me give you the uncensored version [laughs]. No, I would say trees, water (rivers or the sea) and books to read.

D: Alright. lip-gloss or lipstick?

P: I use both. Most days I use neither. I would say that I prefer lipstick though.

D: What is the most adventurous thing you’ve done in your life?

P: You ask some pretty loaded questions.

D: Just one is fine [laughs]. You can take something from your childhood or adulthood.

P: Moving from Jamaica to St. Lucia and leaving my family behind. Or when I first left Jamaica to study in Cuba may have been more adventurous because I was a lot younger.

D: How would you define yourself in three words?

P: Sensitive or empathetic, intuitive and loving.

D: Your dream country to go to?

P: There are so many places I want to go to. For my next trip I want to go to Costa Rica because it is known for its eco-tourism. I am very drawn to that.

D: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

P: My mother always told me to have my own bank account somewhere that nobody knows about. No that I’m giving it away that I have one [laughs]. She always encouraged that.

D: What is your pet peeve?

P: Very rude people.

D: What is one thing you wish people understood.

P: That we’re all part of an ecosystem and each of our actions affects the web of life.

D: A secret talent?

P: I write a lot of poetry and short stories every now and again. I wrote a book when I was sixteen that won gold.

D: That’s one thing that people do not know about you too!

P: Yes. My novel won gold at a Jamaica Culture Development competition. It was called ‘White Fever’. It was literally about a fictitious place with a rich deposit of a certain mineral. Some corporation needed the mineral. There were mosquito nanorobots who were used to infect people. Our heroine was the person to save the day.

D: Super and futuristic at the time! How do you start your day?

P: I go walking at 5 am. When I return home, I make myself some herbal tea and breakfast for me and my family. Then go to my 9 to 5. Once I return home, I would dedicate some time to batching my herbal teas.

D: What is something you still want to be doing in 10 years’ time?

P: Gardening and writing.

D: What would you say is the best thing that has happened to you this year?

P:  The fact that I have been able to grow my business.

D: What is one thing you had to learn the hard way.

P: That you have to have boundaries with people.

D: Diamonds or pearls?

P: Pearls.

D: What makes you feel accomplished?

P: Being a mother is my most important job. Knowing that my children are healthy, are eating well and doing well at school and they’re happy. Having happy children gives me a sense of accomplishment.

D: Your favorite food?

P: It used to be ackee and saltfish. Unfortunately, I don’t get it as often.

D: [laughs] Understandable. Your favorite snack?

P: Dark Chocolate.

D: What is the super power you wish you had?

P: Height! Just kidding [laughs]. To be able to read people’s minds.

D: What is your favorite color?

P: Green

D: What is something you would like to see happen in our society?

P: I would like to see a greater focus on balancing how we live our lives. Instead of this mad rush to build and industrialize everything, I think there needs to be greater focus on the family. Work is important but I believe too much of our time is taken up by work. I believe people need to work a little less and enjoy their families a little more. We need to grow more of our own food. We need to be allowed to enjoy life a little more. A lot of us get up and go on the daily treadmill. There is always a mad pace. I believe covid has offered us an opportunity to take a different approach on how we do things. I’m not saying to innovate or build, but we need to be more conscious of how much of the forest we are cutting down. How much effluence we’re pumping into waterways. In short, we need to be balanced. Much of our problems especially with the climate is as a result of a lack of balance.

D: I believe that the source of everything is balance or equilibrium. Throughout the wider ecosystem there is always a striving for balance here as well. Thanks for sharing that. How would you describe your upbringing?

P: I had a great childhood. As I mentioned earlier, I have a huge family. I grew up in the middle of Jamaica and it was a mini paradise. I lived in a place called Orange River District which literally had lots of orange trees in the road and lots of rivers. We collected rain water, I didn’t drink chlorinated water until I reached high school! We had a rain water tank which we used for everything. I didn’t have my first slice of pizza until I was 13 years old when I visited my older sister at university. My parents were very active in our lives. Although we grew up financially poor, we were rich in other aspects. My father was a tailor by trade but he read a lot. He would read to us and hold discussions with us. We had a cottage industry because we had periods during the week, on the day before my father went to the market with his goods, where we would get up at 2 am and each of us had a task. Someone had to trim, another had to hem, another put on buttons, or iron. Everyone had something to do. I would be cooking dumpling while we were working! My parents were the kind of stand-up parents. They believed in our education and gave us everything they had. When we’d come home from school, food was always there. My mom was always very consistent with certain things.

D: Who would you say is your role model?

P: I have many people I admire. Starting out in life my parents were my greatest role models because they were such great individuals. They loved their children and had a great work ethic. Even though my mother was a house wife, she always had something to do. She was the farmer in the family. My father would always say his business is with fabric and not with soil. They instilled in us the importance of getting a good education.

D: What gets you out of bed in the morning?

P: My children and knowing that they’re depending on me for certain things.

D: What do you want to be remembered for?

P: I want to be remembered for my ability to listen.

D: What would you say is your biggest fear?

P: Lightning.

D: What do you like most about your body?

P: It’s strength. The fact that I’ve been able to depend on it for my 42 years. It’s carried me through so much, childbirth and more.

D: Thank you for that! What makes you laugh?

P: Cheesy jokes.

D: Do you have any last words for persons who will be reading this article?

P: Everyday set some time aside to do introspection and find out what it is you really want for yourself.

D: Wise words. Finally, how do you feel now that we are done?

P: Great! [laughs]

D That was awesome! Some of the questions were pretty loaded like you said but you did a fantastic job. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questions and we wish you bountiful harvests, wellness and wholeness. You can support Paula by connecting with her here:



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