Nfld. & Labrador

This hydroponic farm on Fogo Island grows fresh greens year-round

Fresh, leafy greens all year-round? Sounds like a fantasy in Newfoundland and Labrador. But father and son Hayward and Dwight Budden built that dream into a reality.

Father-son duo cultivating local veggies on rocky North Atlantic coast

Hayward Budden, left, and son Dwight Budden built an indoor hydroponic farm in Stag Harbour, Fogo Island. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

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 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. 

Romaine lettuce is the largest crop grown at Living Water Farm. Dwight says he wanted to focus on produce that was hard to get fresh on the island, even in the summer months. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

"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 said. 

The farm system uses a nutrient-film technique, consisting of pipes, pumps, and plastic reservoirs the pair constructed themselves. Building it wasn't a test only of their carpentry, but their chemistry skills too.

"We control every aspect of the plant, " Dwight explained.

"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."

Hayward drills through PVC piping, one of the major components of the farm. The Buddens had to build everything from scratch, because of high costs and lack of supplies to construct a hydroponic garden at this scale. (Dwight Budden/submitted)

It all started when Dwight was given a countertop garden for Christmas one year. Naturally, he says, he wanted to know how he could do it on larger scale. Then he moved back to Fogo, working at the world-renowned Fogo Island Inn. From there, it 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.

Dwight proudly holds his fresh greens. He's glad his farm, which started as a hobby for him and his father, can be a part of the solution for food security, especially in central Newfoundland. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

With a small loan from the Fogo Island Economic Development Partnership, they started the farm with 109 plants in a 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," said 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. 

Baby rutabaga plants grow in cups, made by the Buddens with a 3D printer. They will grow in this nursery for short time before being transferred to the adult beds. They can also get several harvests from one plant, as the leaves grow back within a few weeks of being picked. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

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' markets 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."

This building has been everything from a school house to a general store to a green depot. Now it's even greener, as an indoor hydroponic farm with the capacity to grow close to 5,000 plants. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

The two-man operation is testing new crops, broccoli and cauliflower, to see if they'll grow within their system. And they hope one day 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."

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