Island Fresh Produce
Innovation Delivering on a Farm-to-Table Promise
Words by Vanessa Hansen Photography by Kyle Fulton
Turn down a narrow dirt road in north Bodden Town and soon the land opens up to a patchwork of garden paths and greenhouses that is Island Fresh Produce farm. The farm’s story began more than a decade ago, when fourth generation Canadian farmer Rob Mastronardi was visiting friends in Grand Cayman. While out grocery shopping, Mastronardi saw produce from his family’s farm back in Ontario selling for three times the price. It was this ‘aha moment’ that led Mastronardi to create Island Fresh Produce.
With a degree in horticulture and more than 20 years’ of experience, Mastronardi brought his knowledge of hydroponics and organic farming to Grand Cayman. The result? A two-acre farm that includes a 22,000 square-feet greenhouse, a water filtration system and state-of-the-art technology that ensures precious resources are not wasted.
Despite all this, the new climate provided the experienced farmer with some unforgiving learning experiences along the way. “It took about a year to build up to steady production as we discovered that Cayman summers are not ideal for growing the larger tomatoes and eggplants don’t thrive in greenhouses here,” explains Mastronardi.
Now in their fourth year, the farm produces a variety of organic vegetables from cucumbers, tomatoes and bell peppers to eggplant, bok choy and spring mix. When asked about other crops Mastronardi explains that they don’t grow produce that local farmers are already cultivating.
The farm operates with the efficiency of a Swiss clock. Seedlings start out in certified organic cells, called Jiffy Pots, before being transplanted to troughs. A high-tech computer system determines irrigation needs based on the strength of the sun, which if you missed it in science class is measured in joules per square centimetre. The greenhouse vents are also opened and closed throughout the day based on sun exposure.
Excess water is collected and filtered through an ozone system that kills bacteria delivering clean water back to the crops, and the Jiffy Pots are recycled and used as compost for outdoor crops. Not only does this approach eliminate the use and import of plastic pots, but also they are able to get a two-year life cycle out of each one. Additionally, only non-processed fertiliser is used at the farm, which is more organic compared to processed options.
The farm uses what is called integrated pest management. Insect netting and sticky cards provide a first line of defence against pests. The second line of defence – bugs. Five to six different types of insects are imported to naturally control the bad bugs, with a new population brought in every three to four months.
Crops are also spaced out: a few rows of peppers, a few rows of cucumber, a few rows of tomatoes. This is called 'buffering', which Mastronardi explains is done for two reasons, “If there is a row of tomatoes that has a pest or virus, it can’t spread as fast, and it is easier to re-plant slowly rather than pull a whole bay of a certain crop at once.”
With the growing farm-to-table movement in Cayman, Island Fresh Produce is committed to pick and deliver produce on the same day. Deliveries to grocery stores, hotels and restaurants are made daily, and the farm is now selling 100% of what is produced.
The overall benefits of locally grown produce are numerous, from eliminating the import of unnecessary plastic containers and cardboard to increased nutrients that result from spending more time on the vine.
So, the next time you are in the grocery store, look for Island Fresh Produce knowing you are making the healthy choice for your family and the earth.
To learn more about Island Fresh Produce:
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