A local farmer is taking an innovative approach to growing vegetables and fulfilling his grandfather’s wish for him. President and founder of New Age Provisions Farms, DeMario Vitalis, uses unorthodox way of farming to fresh produce. WFYI’s Terri Dee spoke with him about transitioning from a corporate environment to farming.
WFYI Reporter Terri Dee: How did you get from the corporate world to creating a farm?
New Age Provisions President/Founder, DeMario Vitalis: Due to COVID-19, the manufacturer decided to go in an opposite direction. So, at that time I was let go from that position and was just transitioning into some different opportunities and farming came about as one I was working on for a long time.
Dee: There are not a lot of Black farmers who exist; what challenges did you meet when you decided you wanted to take that path?
Vitalis: I think the biggest challenge was just being taken seriously with my idea; a new way of farming. The people who are in charge of the funding aspect and approval for the U.S. Department of Agriculture were not receptive to my idea. I think that was partially because of the new concept and partially because of just the historic nature and Black farmers being challenged to get funding and opportunities from the USDA.
Dee: Do you feel your efforts have widened the path for future Black farmers who want to do what you're doing and the way that you're doing it?
Vitalis: Yes, I definitely feel my efforts not only have created exposure to a new, non-traditional way of farming, but it has also given the opportunity for people to get funding and to use my case as a model.
Dee: DeMario, can you describe hydroponics?
Vitalis: Sure, in a nutshell, hydroponics is growing vegetables, or any type of produce, without soil. We grow our fresh produce within a hydroponic shipping container; as you can imagine, the containers that go up and down the highways on those big trailers.
So, imagine being inside one of those and seeing some of the freshest vegetables grown naturally, without herbicides, pesticides or contaminants from the soil. We grow using the nutrients that are put into the water, and the LED lights that are outfitted and containers. With that, we're able to grow herbs, leafy greens, and also traditional farming soil is used to provide nutrients that nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium plants need to grow.
In hydroponics, those nutrients are being provided within the water. So, we're supplementing those nutrients into the water. The plants are absorbing those nutrients into their roots. We're able to also change the nutrient balance of the plants and supplement more nutrients throughout the plant's life cycle and get the plants to perform and taste and look at their optimum.
Dee: At what point did you say to yourself, I can do this and what gets you out of bed every morning ready to farm your project?
Vitalis: That's a great question, I would say thinking about my grandfather, George T. Johnson. One of the last conversations I had with him was this idea. It was at the time when I received my denial letter from the Farm Service Agency. He looked at me and he said, “you have to keep going, because most times, they want you to farm the land; they don't want you to own it.” So, in that moment, right there, I knew I had to keep going and to persevere. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, he was murdered. To this day, I wasn't able to tell him how the outcome of my project went. But you know, that just gets me out of bed in the morning knowing that I'm still making him proud.
Dee: I would like to thank you for your time and sharing this information.
Vitalis: Oh, thank you for having me.