3/16/2013 7:00 AM
By Guy Steucek Massachusetts Correspondent
DRACUT, Mass. — “Farmer Dave hires more than two dozen Latin Americans and has interns from three or more continents over the summer. Then he goes to the Republic of Georgia in the off season to work. What is wrong with this picture?” said local hay and beef farmer Dana Taplin in jest.
All laughed at the notion of a farmer hiring migrant labor and then becoming a migrant laborer himself.
David Dumaresq logs a good deal of face time as a result of this travel, along with the international exchange of information and good will.
Dumaresq worked as a laborer at the Brox Farm in Dracut when he was in high school. After college, he joined the Peace Corps and helped communities with agriculture in Ecuador. He then returned to run the Brox Farm’s vegetable production.
Since then, he has his own ground and leases several other plots. With a herculean effort, he has improved the infrastructure of all the plots he works. Now he sells produce at a dozen farmers markets and two farm stands and has more than a thousand CSA members.
In the fall of 2011, he was invited to help farmers in the Republic of Georgia, which is bordered to the west by the Black Sea. He volunteered via the John Ogonowski Farmer to Farmer Program which is run by the USDA.
The program was named in honor of Ogonowski, a pilot of one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Ogonowski also worked extensively with immigrant farmers from southeast Asia on his land in Massachusetts.
In Georgia, Dumaresq was comforted to see a photograph of Ogonowski, his Dracut neighbor, over his desk.
After his initial visit, Dumaresq returned as part of the USAID program to help Georgian farmers with their greenhouse culture of tomatoes and cucumbers.
When the Soviet collective system was in charge, greenhouses were located at the termini of natural gas pipelines regardless of the suitability for greenhouse culture. With the fall of the Soviet Union, many of the greenhouses were abandoned and went the way of disrepair.
Consequently, tomatoes and cucumbers, mainstays in Georgian diets, were imported from Turkey. With transportation being very expensive, the costs of this produce skyrocketed. Subsequently, the Georgian Department of Agriculture was anxious to promote local greenhouse growing.
Enter Dumaresq, who had more than a decade of experience in produce production in greenhouses.
Dave returned to Georgia in the spring to help farmers, locate greenhouses and plan production models. He traveled throughout the country with interpreters putting on workshops for farmers, usually 40 in a group.
“I really appreciate all we have access to in the U.S.,” Dumaresq said.
For example, soil testing in Georgia is not readily available. Dumaresq told the growers the types of soil tests that should be conducted. Subsequently, the farmers got on the Internet and purchased pH meters and other materials from Amazon.com.
Knowing that materials in Georgia may be limited, Dumaresq brought a number of small tools with him. Once he waltzed into his supervisor’s office with a belt-mounted remote temperature gun, which his supervisor mistook for a side arm. Office tension was relieved when Dumaresq showed how he used the device to measure temperatures remotely.
Soil thermometers are very handy for greenhouse growers whose profit is impacted by the amount of fuel necessary to heat the greenhouse.
Every morning of a workshop was devoted to a technical presentation by Dumaresq on topics such as climate control, insect and pathogen problems, IPM, transplant procedures and grafting, soil testing and fertilization. A practicum with hands-on experiences filled the afternoons.
“How lucky we are in the U.S. to have access to generators, sprayers, etc.,” Dumaresq said. “In Georgia, it is a real challenge to find them when you need them.”
This winter, Dumaresq traveled to the Republic of Georgia again to audit greenhouse culture.
“In the U.S., we are often operating at near capacity in greenhouse production. Our aim is to increase productivity from 90 to 100 percent,” he said. “Over the past year in Georgia, I saw production increase from 50 to 80 percent.”
The heated greenhouse area in Georgia nearly quadrupled from 5.8 hectares to 19.1 hectares in the past two years. More importantly, the crop yield per unit area nearly doubled, from 9 kilograms per square meter to 17 kilograms per square meter.
“This was due to the improved greenhouse management and better understanding of the methods needed to improve yields,” Dumaresq said.
It is estimated that the 2010-11 crop replaced 3 percent of the Turkish imports, and that by 2014 the greenhouse production will replace 25 percent of imports.
Perhaps more importantly, the local production enters the market with a higher quality than that transported over long distances. Also, local economy and employment benefited from the greenhouse enterprises.
Dumaresq has done much to improve the lives of farmers in the Republic of Georgia by giving freely of his time, knowledge and sense of community. But the flow of information was not in one direction.
If Dracut farmers wonder about unusual infrastructure at Farmer Dave’s, they might just be witnessing blowback from the Republic of Georgia.
This small local farmer is making a positive global impact that might have international repercussions as the world grows smaller every day.