There might be some challenges with the hydroponics farm, but Jim Garza of Gezondheid Farms keeps working diligently to make this project a success, keeping the focus on developing an intensive horticulture greenhouse facility that will feed many families on Saba. “I am committed to seeing this through.”
With funding from the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) in the Netherlands, the Public Entity Saba started the development of the greenhouse facility. US-based corporation Gezondheid Farms and its CEO Garza were contracted to complete the development on the 1.5 acres land at Rendez-Vous, to train staff, and operate in partnership with the local government.
Together, three phases of development were identified that will provide an economic, social and health benefit to the community. The project is now in phase 1: the development of a showroom facility where the grow systems using state-of-the-art technologies are shown. Garza is busy constructing the growth systems. Vegetables will be growing in the showroom and should be available for tasting in December this year. The showroom will also be a model for the Saba youth where they can learn about hydroponics. “This will help inspire them to get into agriculture,” said Garza.
Phase 2 will involve the completion of the smaller, onsite greenhouse of 320m2. The structure of the greenhouse has already been set up, but needs to be reengineered to upgrade it to hurricane stability. Additional funding is necessary for this part of the project. Once completed and fully mature, the smaller greenhouse has the capacity to provide up to 1,250 lbs. fruits and vegetables per week. Crop selections will include leafy greens, lettuces, herbs, tomatoes and baby cucumbers.
In phase 3, the bigger, onsite greenhouse of 864m2 will be completed. This greenhouse, once completed and fully operational, will have a capacity to provide 6,150 lbs. of fruits per week, such as strawberries, grapes, kiwi, cantaloupes and watermelons, all grown under unique situations without soil. The crops will rotate, so they will never stop producing.
100% local grown
Garza has been in research and development for 12 years, first in his earlier company Robofarm LLC and now in Gezondheid Farms. He opted to use the Dutch word ‘gezondheid’ (health) in the name of his company to underline the agricultural-technology collaboration that he seeks between Saba, which is part of the Netherlands, and the United States (US). “The idea is to feed the community with healthy, 100 percent locally-grown produce while including the bigger picture of joint research by the Netherlands and the US,” he said. Garza is a 4th generation farmer. “I grew up with it. It’s part of me.” Apart from having extensive knowledge about the technical part of growing produce without soil, he knows a lot about plants.
Garza said he wanted to develop a holistic farm, utilizing natural local resources to sustain a profitable business model that will be contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) tax base, while at the same time educating school children. All with a zero-carbon footprint on the island. The hydroponics farm will provide jobs for a number of people.
The intensive horticulture hydroponic farm project matches one of the strategic goals of the 2020-2025 Caribbean Netherlands Nature and Environment Policy Plan of the Ministry of LNV, namely to invest in sustainable local food production. This should be achieved by, among other things, developing infrastructure and capacity to stimulate the consumption and production of local fruits and vegetables, which also aids in stimulating local economic development and increasing food security.
Commissioner of Agriculture Rolando Wilson said he is looking forward to the first produce from the hydroponic farm. “The fruits and vegetables from the hydroponics farm will be a welcome addition to the produce that already come from The Farm in Hell’s Gate and The Garden in The Level. The produce will help to keep our population healthy and lessen our import of fruit and vegetables. Another positive aspect is that the hydroponics farm will create career opportunities for our people,” said Wilson.