“The benefit of having a food garden is to be able to consume quality fresh produce, which, naturally,  contributes to overall health because the nutrients are preserved in the foods we grow locally.”  Zeca, urban farmer

A family farm in the North of Portugal

There is a sense of completion and utmost care for the land when you enter this carefully designed 1200 m2 of an organic urban farm belonging to the happily retired Zeca and Candida, a Portuguese couple from Braga, Portugal’s third largest city. At first, urban farming was only a hobby, a way to leave behind the hustle and bustle of everyday living in the city but, quickly, it transformed into a dream and a necessity: to ensure they could have their own supply of fresh, organically grown food and, ultimately, promote their health.

organic-farming-garden
A view of the garden

Set up inside the urban perimeter, but carefully away from any major highways, Zeca and Candida’s organic urban farm produces all year round fruits and vegetables like lemons, cherries, strawberries or melons, beets, arugula, beans, kale, spinach or pumpkin, just to name a few. The diversity is astonishing and every inch of arable land is carefully used to grow their daily food supply using organic farming methods.

organic-farming-portuguese-farmers
Meet the farmers, Zeca and Candida
Candida, a retired nurse, was very concerned about where their food came from, after reading and learning about the potentially harmful effects of pesticides on human health. So, growing organic vegetables and fruits was the next logical step to ensure her health and her family’s. They have been producing organic fruits and vegetables since 2011, guaranteeing up to 40% of their daily expenses with food, with the surplus being distributed among family, friends and some lucky neighbors that help around when they can.
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Preparing the seedlings
“The benefit of having a food garden is to be able to consume quality fresh produce, which, naturally, contributes to overall health because the nutrients are preserved in the foods we grow locally.”, says Zeca. “Whenever we can, we prefer buying organic and we make our purchases in the local farmers market, where we find produce from the region.”
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Green spinach “carpet”
They started by planting seeds and seedlings that were offered by family and friends. Nowadays, they are completely sustainable, producing their own seed bank and organic fertilizer. They save the best seeds of any plants they have and replant them the next season. As for the fertilizer, they asked for the help of some feathery friends, the chickens, who share the space, eating undesirable visitors and naturally fertilizing the farm with their valuable poop. Yes, you heard me, chicken poop is equivalent to the gold mine in organic farming. Candida shares her advice on that: “You need to mature the [chicken] poop, by leaving it to rest in a container with water for 2 weeks before using it.”
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Healthy looking organic onions
When asked about what tips they would give to anyone wanting to set up their organic urban farm, this is what they said:
  • Get information first – from books or on the internet, any source is good to help you get started. Read as much as you can to understand the basic principles of organic agriculture.
  • Ask for advice – many people in Portugal come from a rural background, so they know the business of how to grow food. Try to learn directly from a farmer the basic stuff, like how to plant seeds, by offering to help on a farm or food garden.
  • Do a course – Many places offer basic training in agriculture. Search the ones in your area or search for online courses.
  • Composting is the way – get your hands into composting any organic residue from your garden or even your kitchen. That way, you will produce your own rich compost to use in your organic farm project, save a few bucks and help reduce waste.
  • Get your own all-things-organic supplier –  find a local ag store that sells organic seeds and fertilizers.
They also shared some tricks on how to deal with the common challenges of organic farming:
  • weeds – you need to remove them mechanically. Yes, I know, so labor intensive! But, hey, you save money with the gym membership.
  • moles – they are a bit difficult to scare away but the couple swears by this ultrasound equipment’s efficacy.
  • rats – plant some leeks in your garden and it should keep the rats away.
  • snails – well, time to ask the chickens for some help…
  • aphids – spray the affected plants with this homemade concoction of water and scraps of soap plus the same amounts of water and alcohol.
  • attract bees – pollinizers are essential to ensure the production in any farm. Plant flowers around your urban organic farm and in between the seedbeds.

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