Family farm still going strong after 57 years
Growing up on a farm, Carlos Amaral often helped with chores, picking vegetables, bagging them or washing them.
But he never saw himself as becoming a farmer like his Azorean-born father Joseph.
“If I was working by the roadside, I’d hide if a bus came along,” he said. “I knew there would be kids on it and they would tease me.”
But a summer spent as an accounting intern quickly convinced him an office job wasn’t for him.
“I felt like I was in prison, constantly looking at my watch from 8.30am to 5,” Carlos said. “I decided I wanted to study something in the agriculture field, but maybe the science side of it.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in plant science from Suny College in upstate New York and was contemplating doing a master’s degree when his ageing father forced him into a decision.
“He said you and your siblings are all well educated. Are you going to come into the business or step away?”
Joseph, who was 65 at the time, said he would shut down the farm if Carlos and his older brother, Antonio, didn’t want it.
They took it on.
Today, 20 years after their father’s death, they have few regrets. They celebrate 57 years in business next month.
Joseph set up a vegetable cart on Middle Road in Devonshire back in 1962 on land belonging to his employer Russell Eve. He made a staggering £5 on his first Saturday, a week’s wages back then.
“I think they split the sales 50/50 with Mr Eve,” he said. “Mr Eve encouraged my father to grow more and diversify. He did flowers, gladiolas, snap dragons, Bermuda onions, tomato, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, among other things.”
Not long after Mr Eve died, Joseph bought Bleak Farm off of Watlington Road West in Devonshire.
When the boys took over, they modernised, buying a new tractor and corn planter. This reduced the amount of manual labour needed to keep things running.
Their strategy has always been to keep the business small and manageable.
“We don’t do major monoculture,” Carlos said. “Our major single crops might be potatoes and corn, but all our fields tend to be mixed production. A lot is geared towards the retail outlets or roadside markets.”
They also do speciality plantings. At the moment, Carlos is patiently nursing a crop of Christmas poinsettias.
The farming life isn’t an easy one. The weather is a major adversary.
During category three Hurricane Humberto in September, the Amarals lost a green house and their entire banana crop, as did many banana growers on the island.
They predict there won’t be any locally grown bananas in stores for another 12 to 18 months.
“We were doing anywhere from 15 to 20 cases a week,” Antonio said.
Antonio, 56, and Carlos, 47, both have children plus nieces and nephews from their three other siblings, who help on the farm. Still, they aren’t sure if Bleak Farm will continue beyond them.
“This generation just isn’t the same,” Antonio said. “They don’t play outside the way we used to.”
Carlos said whatever happened farming would not be forced on them.
But Antonio worried that there wasn’t much new blood coming into farming, at all.
“Even in Canada, farms are shutting down pretty well every weekend,” Antonio said. “Everything is computers, banking and insurance.”
The brothers don’t agree with genetically modifying products to make them grow faster or produce bigger yields, but understand the rationale.
“There are fewer growers out there, who are tasked with producing a greater volume of product to an increasing world population,” Antonio said. “It is important to have a agriculture industry in Bermuda. We know it is not a pole of the economy, but we have seen how important it can be when a vessel misses Bermuda.”
He feels that some government agricultural policies discourage local farmers.
“Every week there is new red tape or a new policy, or people decide they need to inspect the seeds or something,” he said.
He’d like to see more arable land in Bermuda brought back on line.
“What I have seen over the years is a loss of arable land, not so much to building, but people will just grass over a piece of ground and let it sit idle for years, hoping planning will switch over and allow them to build on it,” he said. “There is still a lot of farmland out there that is not in production.”
Over the years some customers have called the Amaral family “lucky” for staying in business so long.
But he feels hard work and dedication have more to do with their success.
“If you put your heart and soul into something, hopefully you will get something worth your while in return,” he said. “It is all because of dedication and hard work.”
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