Euphrates thinking differently about farming

Growing rare varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits in new ways is part of a plan for a family-run farm to carve out a niche in Samoan agriculture from their own backyard. 

“That is [how] we [plan to] survive the market place; I look for plants that are different," said Tapu Tuimalefua, who works just outside his residence in Levili, Apia.

"I have an apple tree that I am propagating now to increase the number of plants to sell and establish an orchard."

Mr. Tuimalefua, a retired climate change activist, is behind Euphrates Farm Fresh, an endeavour that has allowed him to turn his energy to growing new kinds of produce but also spreading the word about the benefits of farming and clean eating. 

“My grapes are also fruiting now and I am propagating to establish an orchard towards the future,” he told the Samoa Observer.  

Fresh Farm is organic and does not use fertilisers or chemicals, Mr. Tuimalefua said. 

Upon completion of his contract as a climate change coordinator, he turned to farming full-time with the modest aim of keeping busy, but he soon realised that farming meant much more than that.  

“I was hoping for something small and perhaps [to] provide a form of income to cover for our cash power and water bills," he said. 

“I did not know that [...] dirtying my hands and feeling the sweat cascading down my whole body was a unique delight [after spending] long hours in the air conditioned room.”

After only a few months, the urge to start small and think big began to take hold of his mindset, he recalls.

“Experimenting was crucial and it gives new meaning and joy when certain things happened which drove me on to see the market place in a new mind set," he said. 

“I visited the farmers at the market in Fugalei and talk to them while purchasing their produce developing a rapport with them assisting them in whatever way I can.”

Mr. Tuimalefua, who is diabetic, resents the use of pharmaceutical, a conviction that drives his efforts to widen the cultivation of herbal products.  

“I thought in time, [my] body may not be strong enough to withstand what these usual [medications could] do to my body as I age and that was the pivotal point," he said.

"I put my foot down and decided enough is enough. If the Bible says when you believe, have faith [and] you will move mountains and I can do it too. That was my turning point.

"It was in this connection that I really sat down and strategised."

He began with herbs of all kinds, including spinach, dill, parsley, sage, cilantro and raddishes. He has also moved onto planting fruit including Hawaiian esi, passion fruit, dragon fruit, strawberries, grapes, mangosteen, rambutan, avocados and other high-value commodities.

“There were vegetables but [only] the ones [...] very few are selling in the market place," he said. 

"[But] there comes the problem of tilling the backyard as we have only four hands to develop as we do not hire workers and our children are in school overseas."

That does not mean Mr. Tuimalefua is not looking to new methods to expand the farm's capabilities.   

“[We are] looking at landscaping the area to coordinate how things should be planted to complement each other and make it easy for me to manage by applying sheep manure, weeding and our own traditional sprays utilising plant leaves and fruits to repel [insects]," he said. 

"This has led us to becoming organic in focus."

Mr. Tuimalefua says that the demands of the market forced him to think differently about their approach to cultivation for the Euphrates Farm, the name of which derives from the Book of Genesis.

“Is one of the tributaries of River Nile which [led to] the Garden of Eden of old; it also happens to be the name of my wife, Eufirate, [and] has been in operation for more than three years," he said. 

Mr. Tuimalefua said the family-based backyard farm started with a visit from the Informal Gardens Group, an organisation led by the late Seumanutafa Malcolm Hazelman, which focused on encouraging small-scale farming operations, many in urban areas. 

“Euphrates Farm Fresh [is] situated in the urban area, a place where most people suffer from non-communicable diseases is a demonstration farm in my mind to spread awareness about the importance of a plant based diet for health and better livelihood," he said. 

“We have all been conditioned to think that [a] 9-5 [job] is the way to go day-in, day-out. Who would want to get outside and work a farm after a hard day's work?

“However, I find touching the soil as a therapy in itself. It opens up certain portals inside you that relieve stress and tiredness but elevate you to new heights [and a] cornucopia of wonderful delights.”

The farm also produces new ornamental and hybrid plants. 

“We have a special assistance to breed our ornamental plants not to defy and play God but it is just our way to fiddle with the genotypes of certain flowering plants so the resultant hybrid is more different, colourful and inviting," he said. 

“We would like to be different because we do not want to follow the collective consciousness.

“For this our plans are in place to export new varieties of [ornamental plants] that we can be able to graft onto our local varieties to give [some] 'umph' to the market place for flower growers and a change of scenery from the same-old, same-old.

“We will also look at the flower market for exports. That’s how I see Samoa: as a paradise on earth".

He said that while profit is of utmost importance for businesses, the Fresh Farm takes a different view: 

“This development will be based on inner satisfaction and mostly operate on free give [aways] to reinforce our belief about benefiting others so the awareness message is reinforced".

The farm is a member of the Samoa Women's Association of Growers and every Sunday posts a market report to Facebook, covering the status of fish, vegetables and fruits sales across markets. 

But the farm's next step will involve taking a new direction - underground. Authorities have already approved an application for the farm to create tunnel houses. 

“[They] will make life easier for us as we do not [need to] worry about the rain and wind," he says. 

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