• By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Q&A with Cassie Brady: Gardening on the rise

During World War II, governments around the world launched the “Dig for Victory” campaign to encourage people to build backyard gardens not only to supplement their food rations but also to boost morale; hence, the birth of “victory gardens” that eased the strain on public food supply.

Now amid World War III against the Covid-19 pandemic, people are fighting the burden of isolation imposed by the governments’ stay-home directives designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

On Guam, many residents have begun tilling the soil and converting their idle backyards into vegetable gardens, either to kill time during the quarantine months or to secure food supply in the time of crisis.

With many Guamanians grappling with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the farm-to-table concept has clearly become more relevant during these times of uncertainty— be it for food security or potential business opportunity. The Farm to Table Corp. was established on Guam as a non-profit organization to support the local farming community and promote consumption of local produce. '

Following is the Pacific Island Times’ interview with Cassie Brady, project director for Farm to Table Guam Corp.

Pacific Island Times: Since the stay-home order became effective, many people have taken up gardening as a new hobby (as evidenced by Facebook posts). Do you foresee this to become a post-coronavirus trend for a long time?

Cassie Brady: We sure hope so. It's hard to say because once people get back into their normal routine, they might not have the time, or find the time, to maintain their garden.

Hopefully, everyone stays interested and becomes more self-reliant. There are so many positives that come along with growing your own food. It relieves stress, promotes healthy eating and healing, you know where your food is coming from, and so much more. We'd like to see this become a normal hobby and not just a trend.

What do people need to know if they want to start a gardening/farming business?

We recommend to just get in there, start getting your hands dirty, and see what happens. If it doesn't work out, keep trying. Research the issues you are having and don't give up. We don't believe that people have a "brown thumb." They just need more education. Farming is all about trial and error and provides continuous learning opportunities. Perseverance is key.

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With tourism proving to be an unstable industry for Guam, do you think Guam will be ready to revive agriculture?

This current situation might inspire many growers, or interested growers, and show that our island needs to be more sustainable when it comes to food and less reliant on imports. This time that people are spending on hobby gardening just might be the push that people need to just try it out and may even see a future in farming as a business. Guam has the capability to revive agriculture, but I can't say the island is ready just yet. There are a lot of initiatives and projects that many agencies and non-profits are working on to get us to that state, but we may have a long road ahead of us.

Can this become a sustainable industry for Guam?

Absolutely. The demand for locally grown produce is there. If we learn how to utilize the resources we have and get creative, we will be able to grow more, learn to appreciate what our land has to offer, and eventually agriculture could become a thriving industry on Guam.

What are the potential challenges?

The main challenge we foresee is weather and pests. Our climate can be brutal so providing optimum growing conditions is ideal but not always achievable. Other challenges that may arise are the cost of supplies, equipment and shipping, utilities, limited growing space, diversity of crops, and competing with low imported prices.

What crops are suitable for Guam weather and soil?

are many options. UOG CNAS offers educational material on their website for those interested in learning more. It ranges from taro, cucumber, eggplant, tomatoes, long beans, and okra to Asian greens, kale, mustard greens, and catagan. Then there are fruit trees and bushes like mulberries, bananas, breadfruit, pineapple, papaya, avocado, citrus, and so much more.

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Could you explain the full concept of Farm-to-Table?

We are a non-profit organization that exists to support the local farming community with the mission for every kitchen, cabinet, and pantry to contain products made on Guam from crops grown on Guam. We continuously work on different projects that encourage the community to grow more and consume more locally grown produce. Our previous projects have focused on value-added products, business, and financial advisory, connecting farmers with customers and operating an organic model farm and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Subscription Program, where customers can pre-order a share of the harvest from our farm, as well as partner farms.

How many farmers and subscribers do you have in your network and what are the benefits for them?

We have had about 400 customers subscribe to our CSA since its inception in 2014. Subscribing to this service saves our customers time and money, offers accessibility to freshly harvested seasonal produce, which is more nutritious and tends to have more flavor, specialty items that are not commonly accessible, and produce grown without the use of synthetic chemical pesticides. We have worked with about 100 farmers, gardeners, and backyard growers. Depending on their area of need, they have benefited by seeing an increase in sales [and] received assistance with marketing, distribution, business advisory, and various agriculture sources.

What challenges have you faced since FTT was established in 2012?

We have experienced a significant amount of damage to our crops and structures due to heavy rains and wind. We have also endured a series of break-ins that resulted in loss of major equipment. Funding has also been a challenge at times. There is so much more that we'd like to accomplish in terms of outreach, educational activities, and production of crops.

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