Roots: Gabre Swan of Roots Gardening holds a bunch of Bermuda onions, one of the most popular vegetables his farm produces and sells at the City Market.
Roots: Gabre Swan of Roots Gardening holds a bunch of Bermuda onions, one of the most popular vegetables his farm produces and sells at the City Market.
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Across the island, farmers are making use of Bermuda’s rich environment to produce crops for grocery stores and for their own family and friends. Robyn Bardgett spoke to three farmers ––  from the large-scale family farmers to the small mom and pop operation, who all sell their goods at the City Market.

Roots Farm (Roots Gardening)

Gabre Swan began his farming career after tending a small garden patch when he was 10 years old. Now he manages several farm plots across the island to produce staple foods such as potatoes, carrots and onions. Bermuda onions are one of the farmer’s most popular foods, as is his cassava, which the farm has grown continuously since the early 80s. The farm is also well known for producing bananas and paw paws.

Ital

Mr Swan, along with his wife, Deborah, grow their produce organically, or ‘ital’, which, in the Rastafarian movement, means they keep as close to nature as possible, explains Mr Swan.

“I’ve been so long doing this that I’m much more aware about what we use on our farm. I now bring in my own certified organic manure and we use organic sprays and either heirloom or untreated seeds.”

Recently some of the land the Swans farm on has been flooded, but it is all part of the challenges of farming, Mr Swan says.

“From droughts to too much rain and winds to pests and two- and four-legged thieves, this job is not without its challenges,” Mr Swan says. “But there’s nothing better than putting your hands into the earth.”

On Saturday mornings, the Swans set up their farm stall at the City Market, where they also sell Mrs Swan’s natural-made soaps. 

“It’s been very rewarding at the City Market and I enjoy interacting with our customers,” says Mr Swan.

During the week, he is constantly maintaining the farm, chopping back trees and weeding by hand in order to keep everything as natural as possible.

M DeSilva Farming

For over 40 years Manuel DeSilva, Jr’s., family has been providing the island with their farm’s fruit and vegetables.

From stocking the shelves at grocery stores island-wide to supplying hotels and restaurants, the farm has been through many of the ups and downs that life as farmers can bring.

For Mr DeSilva, Jr., being brought up on a farm has meant getting to see first-hand how the farming business has changed over the years.

“A lot of farmland seems to be disappearing and I wish there could be something done to encourage people to continue in the farming business,” says Mr DeSilva, Jr.

“Years ago this was something that was taught in school but it seemed to have disappeared for a while. Now it seems that there is more interest from people to get into farming or at least growing their own vegetables.”

Mother Nature

The fickle nature of the weather and the long and back-breaking days on a farm aren’t necessarily as romantic as it may seem.

“You really have to love this job,” says Mr DeSilva, Jr. “Rain, blow or shine, we are out working.”

And mother nature can have its effect on what gets grown and when, which can have an impact on sales.

At the moment, the DeSilva farm stall at the City Market was starting to sell Easter lilies and the flowers have started growing earlier than usual, but with Easter falling later in April, they may not be around for the main event.

“You just have to push through and accept that that’s mother nature,” says Mr DeSilva, Jr.

However, the stall at the City Market is constantly abuzz with customers coming down to buy the farm’s seasonal fruit and vegetables as well as their beautiful flowers.

“We were one of the very first farmers at the market and we’ve really enjoyed being able to work with and meet our customers.”

Ann Marie DeGraff

Although most of Ann Marie DeGraff’s business is growing an assortment of vibrant flowers, she has also branched out into growing popular fruits and vegetables such as kale, onions and bananas.

“People have gotten into juicing so the kale is really popular right now,” says Mrs DeGraff, who has a stall at the City Market where she sells her goods.

Mrs DeGraff tends a small farm at her home in Somerset, and what started out as a hobby has turned into a rewarding second job.

“I spend my days as an accountant, so when I come home I enjoy going into my garden and using my hands. It’s very relaxing for me.”

When the economy started to slow down and people were buying fewer flowers, she started to plant more fruits and vegetables and started selling what she was serving at her own table.

“It really does taste so much different than what you can buy in the store,” she says. “Store-bought produce is sprayed with a lot of chemicals but when you are small it’s quite a bit easier to grow produce without using chemicals.”