British Columbia

Tomatoes and Google connect a Canadian farmer to new Syrian neighbour

A Kelowna, B.C. farmer is marvelling about a "crazy experience" he had last week, connecting with a recent Syrian immigrant over their shared love of tomatoes.

'This is straight out of Star Trek,' says urban farmer Curtis Stone about translated encounter

Some of Curtis Stone's tomato harvest from last summer from his farm, Green City Acres. (Katie Huisman)

A Kelowna, B.C. farmer is marvelling about a "crazy experience" he had last week, using a translation app to connect with a recent Syrian immigrant over their shared love of tomatoes.

Curtis Stone, known professionally as "The Urban Farmer," is used to people stopping to and asking about his front yard, which he farms for his business, Green City Acres.

But he wasn't expecting such an emotional encounter when he saw a man walking by, speaking in Arabic on a cellphone, who stopped to look.

"So I just engaged him and said, 'hey, how you doing, brother?'" said Stone in an interview with CBC News. Stone said the man indicated he didn't speak English, so Stone tried hand gestures to explain he was growing salad greens.

"He pulled out his phone, and he started to show me pictures on the phone of all these tomatoes, of a tomato farm," said Stone.

Curtis Stone, aka 'The Urban Farmer,' farms on city lots in Kelowna, B.C. and describes an emotional encounter with a recent immigrant made possible by tomato plants and Google. (The Urban Farmer)

'I am a tomato farmer from Syria'

Then the man opened Google Translate, an app that provides two-way speech translation.

"I am a tomato farmer from Syria," the man said, through his phone.

"I was stoked and I said, 'oh, you like tomatoes?'" said Stone, who invited his new neighbour into his greenhouse.

"He lost it," said Stone. "He was completely overwhelmed with emotion. He couldn't believe it."

Stone said the man grabbed the tomato plants and smelled them. He started picking their suckers, counting the branches, just as Stone does.

"It was clear that he really knew what he was doing."

Inside Stone's greenhouse today, with tall tomato plants he started in January and will soon be ready to pick. (Curtis Stone)

'This is straight out of Star Trek'

In a broken conversation, between the app and snippets of English, the man explained that he'd arrived in Canada recently with his wife and daughter.

Stone wrote about the encounter on Facebook, in a post that has been shared more than 1,300 times.

"I just had a crazy experience," he wrote. "Never in my life would I have imagined that we'd see technology be able to bring people together so well, so cool."

"This is straight out of Star Trek," he said.

He hopes to connect with his new neighbour again, at the farm.

"It's amazing how urban gardening and urban agriculture really connects people, because food crosses all cultural and language barriers."

Green tomatoes on the vine in Curtis Stone's greenhouse in Kelowna, B.C. (Curtis Stone)