Meet Jefferson Braga, tech manager from 9 to 5 and urban farmer the rest of his day


Jefferson Braga works 9 to 5 as a Microsoft customer success manager, but the rest of his day is dedicated to the massive urban farm in his Irving backyard.

The 35-year-old bought his home and one next door just to raise peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and more with his family. His 7-year-old son Faris helps tend the crops planted in 90 beds in his two backyards.

It’s a side hustle that cuts costs for the Braga family and reduces produce runs to Whole Foods. His weekly harvests provide $500 to $1,500 of profit per bed in a year when the family sells its crops at the Dallas Farmers Market.

“You’re not going to be able to bring it all to market, but it’s going to be available for you,” Braga said.

Jefferson Braga talks with his 7-year-old son, Faris, as he shares how he plans to expand...
Jefferson Braga talks with his 7-year-old son, Faris, as he shares how he plans to expand the pond in front of him into an irrigation system for his family’s urban farm in Irving.(Liesbeth Powers / Staff Photographer)

Braga’s urban farm isn’t unusual in a diverse economic region like North Texas. Farming in city settings is a pastime that can bring in extra income, especially during periods of high inflation.

The number of farms on less than 10 acres in Texas has been rising steadily, with the state adding over 7,000 in a five-year period through 2017, according to the most recent data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A new count is underway this year.

The government doesn’t specifically track urban farms, but since most are less than 10 acres, they would be included in that data, according to a national organization devoted to sustainable agriculture. In 2017, 11.2% of Texas farms were 9 acres or less.

Urban farming dates to 3500 B.C., when Mesopotamian farmers began setting aside plots in growing cities, researchers at Aurora University reported. The practice sprouted elsewhere around the world, including the Peruvian landmark, Machu Picchu. Land and water scarcity forced ancient agricultural minds to think differently about the urban environment.

Jefferson Braga (bottom right) works in his family’s urban farm in Irving.
Jefferson Braga (bottom right) works in his family’s urban farm in Irving.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Urban farming today

Today, urban farmers cultivate, process and distribute fruits and vegetables from large gardens in city and suburban neighborhoods.

Brian Guse, director of the office of urban agriculture and innovative production at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the department’s definition is broad and takes in everything from community gardens and rooftop farms to hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic facilities.

“Urban farms mean local, healthy food and nutrition access,” Guse said. “Part of resilient, local food systems, urban farms are sustainable models that empower communities.”

At Braga’s farm, he has created everything on his own.

He used the inside of one of the two properties he owns to create his own refrigerator with an in-unit air conditioner he tuned up to cool the produce before market. In his backyard, he uses everyday household appliances, like a washing machine, to create a system that will wash the produce and let it dry. It’s his own personal “harvest station.”

“I’m an IT guy,” Braga said. “I love systems. It’s my main passion.”

The cost to start an urban farm is like any other business, said Azlan Zahid, assistant professor of controlled-environment agriculture engineering at the University of Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension.

It’s hard for Braga to determine how much he has invested since starting to farm, but he estimates it’s over $100,000. He said many micro-level farms begin by spending around $5,000 in the first year.

But the return is up to 10 times higher per square foot, he said.

“If you grow in the field versus in a greenhouse, this can be up to 10 times more dollars per square foot compared to the same crop grown in the field,” he said.

Being close to the consumer is key because it cuts down on travel and transportation costs, Zahid said.

Guse said he works with urban farmers on how to set aside space to sell or share their produce with the community on a regular basis.

Growing locally

Jeff Raska, horticultural director and master gardener volunteer coordinator for Dallas County, has helped run a 12-acre urban farm in Garland. The farm grows on asphalt.

“These models are much easier,” Raska said. “We can grow a lot more food; we can almost double the amount of food in a raised bed situation than we can in the ground.”

Raska said the farm concentrates nutrition for the crops in small patches rather than a big field of land.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulture program assistant Jeff Raska points toward...
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulture program assistant Jeff Raska points toward beds of tomatoes during a tour at Urban County Farm vineyard in Garland.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

In a partnership with Dallas County, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service mobilized the Texas master gardener volunteer network as a way to combat local food insecurity by teaching residents about vegetable farming on a small scale.

The partnership inspired urban farming across the county and provides food for several Dallas-area homeless shelters. Fruit and vegetables planted at the location include tomatoes, peppers, okra and onions.

“What if each county property that is empty had one of these on it? What if we could do that?” Raska said.

The Garland farm can produce 8,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables in a year with its seven demonstration gardens, an orchard and a vineyard. Urban growers can work with the USDA for resources on how to finance and promote their gardens.

Vegetable demonstration beds at Urban County Farm.
Vegetable demonstration beds at Urban County Farm.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

“Urban agriculture plays an important role in growing fresh, healthy food, often where grocery stores are scarce,” Guse said. “They provide jobs and increase sustainability and resiliency in the local food system.”

It’s systems like Dallas County’s and Braga’s that could change the way people view agriculture and get their produce.

“Most importantly, people in urban areas can support their local food system — and the farmers — in their own city,” Guse said. “It doesn’t get much more local than that.”

Jefferson Braga’s urban farm in the backyard of his home in Irving.
Jefferson Braga’s urban farm in the backyard of his home in Irving.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
Jefferson Braga (left) works in his family’s urban farm.
Jefferson Braga (left) works in his family’s urban farm.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Source link

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.