Keeping It Fresh With Robert Mastronardi of Island Fresh Produce
Introducing...Robert Mastronardi from Island Fresh Produce
When you meet Robert Mastronardi you can immediately sense his passion for innovation. After all, Island Fresh Produce is the only farm in Cayman that uses modern day hydroponic and drip irrigation growing techniques on the island. To those who aren’t well versed in farming lingo (which means most of us!) this method helps maximize one of our biggest resources – water. His goal is to hopefully one day replace many of the imported products that we see on store shelves in Cayman with locally grown produce. Here we speak to Robert about his vision, what makes his farm unique to the island and the evolving Farm-To-Table movement in Cayman.
Farming is in Robert’s blood. Before moving to Cayman a few years ago, he worked in the farming industry back in Canada for more than 20 years. His parents owned a farm in Ontario and during a visit to the island 10 years ago; he saw an opportunity to introduce a growing technique that the island had never seen before. From this, Island Fresh Produce was born.
As an indoor and outdoor organic farm based in Bodden Town, what makes Island Fresh Produce unique is its agricultural methods. Robert explains: “We use modern day hydroponic and drip irrigation growing techniques with clean, safe and sterilized drinking water. We also collect run off or excess water from the plants that otherwise would be leached into the ground table as well as rainwater. Once we collect all of it, we run the leach and rain water through a Ozone and reverse osmosis system, which cleans, purifies and disinfects the water, so it can be used to feed the crops with zero waste water. Many farms, not only in Cayman, but also the rest of the world do not make the most of water the way we do.”
Another way that Island Fresh Produce is different is their use of ‘beneficial’ bugs to deal with infestations from predatory insects. Robert explained: “We currently use an IPM program, which means Integrated Pest Management. For example, about three months ago we had an infestation of mealy bugs, which can devastate all crops if you don’t get rid of them. You usually deal with them by spraying organic pesticides. We are different because we use bio-control to cut out harmful and persistent pesticides. To deal with this particular situation, we imported lady beetles, which have pretty much eradicated the mealy bugs from our crops. It is a tenth of the cost of what we would have spent on labor and spraying; not to mention that it is much more safer and organic.”
Robert’s innovative farming techniques have been positively received by the Cayman community and his produce can be found in all the grocery stores as well as the farmer’s markets. He also has close relationships with many of the restaurants and hotels on the island. At our Beach House, one of our main aims is to provide our guests with locally grown food. At our Energy Meetings, our philosophy is about offering a more holistic approach to business meetings. Therefore, we thought our collaboration with Island Fresh Produce was the perfect fit.
At our resort, we are proud to support the growing Farm-To-Table movement in Cayman. It is a trend not only adopted by farmers and those within the industry, but also consumers. Robert said: “There has been a big push for Farm-To-Table or a local produce movement and consumers have become more educated in the last few years. They know the environmental impacts of importing from a thousand miles away. It is a long journey before the food gets on your plate. It is probably going to sit in a truck for a couple of days, then it goes to a distribution center in Miami and finally on a ship to Cayman. And to put it simply, it just isn’t as delicious when it isn’t fresh.”
Robert gives credit to not only the Marriott, but also the other hotels restaurants and stores on the island, in their efforts to buy as local as possible. It would be much easier and cheaper in some circumstances to outsource from abroad, but when hotels here can, they choose produce that has been grown on the island. He cites spoilage as another negative byproduct of outsourcing. He explains: “When you see suppliers open up some of the containers from overseas, there is up to 50% spoilage and with a lot of the produce that you get – you only have 24-48 hours to sell it. If it doesn’t sell within that timeframe, it just gets thrown away and that is just a waste for everybody. Our goal is to replace imported products on the store shelf and supply food service providers and restaurants with a fresher food source all year round as well as vegetables that are not going to spoil within a few days.”
What is even more exciting is the potential expansion of Robert’s offering. Currently, he is conducting some trials of growing alternative crops. He elaborates: “The problem with growing fruit on the island is that it is just way too hot. Other than mangoes and the other naturally occurring fruits, we are trying to grow stuff down here that is not on the island. Produce that in essence is going to replace what is being imported on the store shelves and what the chefs are ordering from off island, not what the local growers are already producing.”
We love Robert’s ambition and hope that he succeeds. We are proud to be partnering with Island Fresh Produce in offering our guests the freshest local produce available.