This hydroponic farm on Fogo Island grows fresh greens year round
Father-son duo cultivating local veggies on rocky North Atlantic coast
Fogo Island might not be the first place you think of when you're sourcing fresh vegetables and herbs, but this father and son farm team might make you reconsider.
Dwight Budden and his father Hayward are the owners of Living Water Farm, an indoor, controlled-environment hydroponic farm the two men built with their own hands.
Luscious leafy greens — everything from romaine lettuce, kale, sorrel, basil, and turnip greens — grow all year round inside their building in Stag Harbour. Not what you would expect on an island in the North Atlantic, known for its fog, wind and ice.
"We'll come in here and there's a storm outside. And you walk in here, it's just lush and green and it smells like oxygen. You can smell life," Dwight says.
The farm system uses a nutrient-film technique, consisting of pipes, pumps, and plastic reservoirs the pair constructed themselves. Building it wasn't only a test of their carpentry, but their chemistry skills too.
"We control every aspect of the plant, " Dwight explains.
"All the water they get, how the nutrients are dissolved in that water, the oxygen that's dissolved in that water. The pH of that water. And then the lighting, the intensity, the duration, and even the airflow in the building."
It all started when Dwight was gifted a countertop-style garden for Christmas one year. Naturally, he says, he wanted to know how he could do this on larger scale. Then he moved back to Fogo, working at the world-renowned Fogo Island Inn. From there, it all just snowballed.
"We can provide good quality pesticide-free produce year round. And not just for the Fogo Island Inn, but ultimately we want to service central Newfoundland as much as we can," he said.
With a small loan from the Fogo Island Economic Development Partnership, they started the farm with 109 plants in the building that was once an old school house. Then it grew to 1,200 plants.
With a grant from the multi-government funded Canadian Agricultural Partnership, they've expanded the size and structure of the farm, which now has capacity to grow close to 5,000 plants.
"It's a good hobby, I calls it," says patriarch Hayward.
For decades, he's tended to gardens of root vegetables and raised the odd goat, sheep, or hen. For him, this farm is a way to spend quality time with his son.
But the Buddens know they're also helping solve a looming social problem with this venture.
"Food security is a major issue in our province. Just to be able to be a part of the solution of that, knowing that we can offer people items that you can rarely get in good quality even in the summertime. Now we can offer excellent quality year round," Dwight says.
Selling at local farmers market and a few independent grocery stores in the region, they hope to one day place their products in larger stores. The real challenge, says Dwight, is keeping up with demand.
"We've been growing now for just over a year. And everything we've grown as been spoken for, at this point. I suspect we are not going to be able to meet demand yet, but we're poised to continue to expand."
The two-man operation is testing new crops, broccoli and cauliflower, to see if they'll grow within their system. And one day, they're hoping to add more staff and take root as a local employer for the island.
Dwight says the business couldn't have ripened without the response of the people who buy and eat their greens.
"People are really impressed by the quality, so that has been a huge support for us," he said. "You feel like you're doing something that really does matter."