Driven to inspire more home-grown food
The Royal Gazette February 03, 2020
Chris Faria caught the farming bug while working as a greenhouse manager at Aberfeldy Nursery and as a farm labourer for Amaral Farms.
A trip through Asia gave him insight into farming in agrarian communities where small-scale farmers grow food for income, but also to feed their own families.
“Their whole lives are surrounded by agriculture. Travel exposed me to different farming cultures.” said Mr Faria, 36.
After being introduced to the “grow biointensive” method of farming, also referred to as “mini-farming”, he is on a mission to see the method adopted in Bermuda so that residents take responsibility for their food security and begin to grow their own food sustainably.
Mr Faria is the founder of Agra Living, which he runs with Alba Fernandez and Kim Fisher.
He is developing the organisation’s business plan in Ignite Bermuda, the island’s privately funded business accelerator.
The group’s goals are to increase the supply of locally grown food, improve the quality of food in Bermuda with a chemical-free approach to farming, and make food more affordable.
Achieving those goals, Mr Faria said, would produce a better quality of life in Bermuda.
“People would have a healthier diet, and it would be very good for the environment,” he said. “One thing that is vital for reversing the effects of climate change is moving to sustainable farming from what we consider traditional farming.”
Mr Faria said grow biointensive methods increase soil fertility by helping plants to gather nutrients and water while also maintaining the level of organic matter in the soil. “With biointensive farming, you are using natural biological processes that already happen in the soil and above the soil, using what already happens in nature, to grow food."
"It is growing food with nature, instead of against nature, which often happens in larger commercial-scale farming."
“What we teach is how to grow your complete plant-based diet on as small a space as possible while building the soil.”
Mr Faria and his Grow Agra colleagues are seeking investors as well as a partner with land measuring half an acre to an acre in size for the setting up of an “education hub”.
There, the group would hold workshops and multi-week courses to teach people how to grow food in small spaces, take on interns, grow crops for sale at farmers’ markets, and operate a nursery selling endemic species and fruit trees.
Crops would include lettuce, green onions, carrots, mangolds, squash, tomatoes and tomatillos, Mr Faria said. Agra will also produce and sell salsa verde and tempeh, an Indonesian food made from soya beans.
He said a 600-square-foot demonstration garden planted in Spanish Point proved the concept, adding that research conducted by a friend in California shows that crops planted on a one-acre plot can support a plant-based diet for 43 people. That works out to 1000 square feet per person.
“The data we collected at the demonstration garden shows a significantly higher yield than traditional farming methods,” Mr Faria said.
“Imagine what we could do with a quarter of an acre, or half an acre, or what we could do in Bermuda with the 750 acres that is zoned arable land.
“Only 350 acres are being farmed. I am trying to connect with the other 350 acres or more, people who are using the land as lawns and don’t see the value in it.
“We are in conversations now with several land partners, and we will continue those conversations in the hope that one of them is the right person.”
Mr Faria was runner-up in the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation’s Rocket Pitch competition in November in the green pitch category.
At Ignite, he has learned to tailor his pitch to potential investors in terms they understand and appreciate.
“The pitch is now less talking about how this approach will impact the community, and more so working out the numbers,” he said.
“The more food that is grown locally, the less money will be going out of Bermuda to pay for the logistics and shipping of food to the island. We want to show that we will make an impact financially on an island-wide scale.”
He added: “Agra Living will make a profit through our workshops and market vegetables, but we will also be training people who want to grow food in their yard, as well as others like us operating small-scale sustainable farms growing food for themselves and also for sale to the public. Those commercial crops are what will save Bermuda money.”
Mr Faria, who works full-time at Aberfeldy Nurseries’ Somerset plant-growing operation, spends Mondays in the Ignite hub.
“I would like to spend more time at Ignite because it’s a really energising place,” he says. “It's great to collaborate with everyone. There are other people in the cohort who are either in food production or distribution and so it is good to work with them to achieve the same, or similar, goals.