Two farmers in West Bay are giving people a chance to flex their green thumbs and grow their own vegetables, fruit or herbs on garden beds on a farm.

Andre Gooden and Jesse Basdeo run Charlito’s Greenhouse farm, where they are cultivating local, sustainable food.

Mr. Gooden, 31, said, like many of his forefathers, he has farming in his blood.

“Basically, I started in my backyard in Prospect. It was something I did in my spare time as a hobby but it was something I enjoyed doing and loved, so I decided I wanted to take it on full time.”

Initially, he says, he was not really farming, he was just working with flowers and plants, but then he realized he wanted to focus on planting food that people could come and get from him and learn about how food is grown. And now, he wants to give people an opportunity to grow food for themselves.

“Anyone wishing to learn how to farm can rent a bed for free and plant what they want. We encourage people to be a part of what we are doing,” he said.

Setting up the farm

After leaving school and working in a number of different careers, Mr. Gooden left his last job, in engineering, to take up farming full time.

That is where classmate and partner Mr. Basdeo came in. He got his parents’ permission to farm family land in West Bay and the two started Charlito’s Greenhouse over a year ago.

“Jesse shares the same passion as me about farming and sustainable lifestyle … engineering was something I didn’t plan to do, but I grew in the job and loved what I did, but I always felt like a piece of me was not complete and I went searching for that,” Mr. Gooden said.

He said Charlito’s produces food without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

Andre Gooden shows off healthy bunches of plantains. – Photo: Jewel Levy

Since the start of the latest school semester, Mr. Gooden has also been sharing his passion for farming and sustainable living with children at Hope Academy.

“By farming full time, I am able to provide produce for the public and visit the schools and teach younger children how to garden,” Mr. Gooden said. “Children should learn, we need them to learn for free – especially how to grow their own food or just how to live more sustainably.”

On the farm, in the 80-degree humid heat, plants flourish under Mr. Gooden’s hand.

Dirt splatters cover his white T-shirt and his hands lack gardening gloves, as he deftly presses new seedlings into potting soil in his greenhouse. Just outside, a partiality constructed plant trellis awaits his attention.

The vegetables and herbs he has just replanted are ones that are commonly seen in Cayman’s cuisine, including Scotch bonnet peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, basil, thyme and sage, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale, peppers, pumpkin, watermelon, bananas and plantain. He also has a variety of fruit trees on the farm, including star apples, ackee, sweet sop, sour soup, custard apples and guinep, although these have not, as yet, produced any fruit.

His seeds come from the Department of Agriculture, from overseas or from harvesting his own. Fifty percent of crops this year, he said, came from seeds he planted last year.

Charlito’s is located on Henning Lane, just past the four-way stop in West Bay. The farm is situated on two-and-a-half acres of land, with another quarter acre for a farmhouse.

“The terrain at the farm is very rocky, which is not ideal for farming, but we have managed to work on a particular area by digging out the rocks and putting in soil and ground beds,” Mr. Gooden said. Where that is not possible, or a little too costly, they have built raised beds and filled them with soil.

“It’s not ideal to dig out the ground everywhere we want to plant, so we decided to use the raised beds and treat the soil that way. It’s actually a little bit easier to maintain using raised beds,” he said.

Saving Magnus the bull

Mr. Gooden’s workday begins at 6 a.m. His first chores of the day are taking care of “Magnus” the bull, watering the plants and addressing any weed issues, and the rest of the day is spent working on garden projects for the schools or trying his hand at something new.

Magnus is a Black Angus bull who was saved from slaughter by animal lover Juliette Heath last year.

“This was a cow Juliette rescued awhile back and she started a Facebook page to get support from him to get him a pen. He was at a previous location before we got him about two weeks ago,” Mr. Gooden said.

“Basically, what we want to do is give him a little bit more space than what he had and actually give him a better environment in terms of having people come to the farm and give him that attention. That’s what Juliette intended for him, just to be a happy bull. He is not up for slaughter, she just wants to keep him happy while he is alive.”

Mr. Gooden added that having the bull was a benefit to the farm.

Growing pains

Ironically, the most difficult plants to grow, Mr. Gooden said, have become his favorites.

“Broccoli and cabbage, the hardier vegetables seem to be the hardest to grow. It keeps me in the garden and I see things going on with the plants I never saw before,” he said.

Mr. Gooden said he hopes the farm will become a community project in the coming years.

“Worldwide, when they are talking about Cayman and looking for something to do, we want this to be one of the attractions … a living farm [people] can visit, animals to pet and fruits and vegetables to taste, and a place to farm,” Mr. Gooden said.

“My use for money right now is just to take the farm to where it needs to go financially. Apart from that I need the basics, so I construct [and sell] greenhouses … that’s basically where I get the money from … the education is free,” he said.

To find out more about Charlito’s Greenhouse, call 322-2328.

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