While generations have become disconnected from agriculture as a result of urbanization and disconnected from family because of the cultural shift toward independence, Brandon Faria has chosen a different path.
The 28-year-old is an heirloom farmer.
Brandon, of , lives with his parents on a small farm in Corralitos, where his small farm mirrors fields on Faial, the Portuguese island where his family originated. In the Azores, farming and fishing are key industries because of remoteness.
Brandon’s father, Manuel Faria, is “stoked” that his son has chosen to farm, said Brandon.
“It has always been his dream," Brandon said. "It’s all he ever talked about when I was growing up. But he’s always had to work a full-time job and take care of his family, so he’s never been able to fully do it because it takes money and time.”
Still, Brandon grew up watching his father push seeds into the earth, seeds mostly brought by his family from Faial.
“Faial has the same climate as we do, we are on the same longitudinal line, so we have the same seasons, the same day length,” said Brandon.
From portable chicken coops to four green houses, Brandon designs and constructs everything he needs for his work, making it a cost-effective endeavor. He even makes his own soil with lawn clippings—from his father’s landscaping work, and lava rock, vermiculite and sphagnum moss, purchased from Aptos Landscape on Freedom Boulevard.
Brandon’s grandmother, Henriqueta Faria, brought seeds with her when she came to California in 1959. Now Brandon harvests most of his own seeds, regenerating his family’s heirlooms year after year.
Fava beans, peas, wild garlic, squash, pumpkins, passion fruit, ground cherries, figs, peppers, taro root and walking stick kale—a frost hearty green that grows throughout winter—flourish at Faria Farms. Brandon even recently planted grapes with plans of eventually making wine, another Portuguese—and Faria family—tradition.
“My husband made a lot of wine before he died 13 years ago,” said Henriqueta.
Brandon has learned much of what he knows about growing things from watching his father and listening to his grandmother.
“My dad has always grown things. He did it to save the seeds. It was for the family to eat, smaller scale. Six years ago, I was interning at CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmers), and I was going to school at Cabrillo for ecology. I love ecology, but I’ve always grown up on a farm, had animals, and done hands on work. The only thing that incorporates all of the things I love doing is farming.”
Brandon started out growing a mix of produce, some from his family’s heirloom seeds and some from purchased seeds.
“Before, I wanted to grow everything," he said. "But when we moved to a smaller property, I realized that I should focus my energy on growing the old heirloom varieties that we’ve been struggling to maintain and keep alive. That’s my little niche. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
He built portable chicken coops so that his birds could do much of the work of preparing the soil for him. Seven chickens till the fields, eat grass down and fertilize the fields.
Brandon said, “I’ve raised chickens my whole life. The birds need to move. I don’t want to just throw green stuff in a cage for them. I want them to actually dig through the ground and eat the grass. They eat the bugs that live underneath the grass. In the process they turn the ground. They go to the bathroom, so they mix their fertilizer in. The soil is beautiful.”
Feeding them organic feed—at $26.50 per bag—Brandon said he would either break even or lose money if he was raising them for eggs alone, but using them to work the land makes it worth it.
Besides, he said, “I love chickens. I utilize them more as a tool. Their most important role is in the fields. The eggs are a perk. I get free fertilizer, they eat all my bugs and I don’t have to waste diesel and tractors to mow and till as much.”
Brandon sells his heirloom varieties at area farmers markets, including and, during peak growing season, at .
It's remarkable that one young man is responsible for most of the work behind Faria Farms. Every night, Brandon steadfastly prioritizes his abundant to-do list, which usually includes more than he can accomplish in one day.
“As long as I get most of it done, I’m happy,” said Brandon.
Brandon’s vigor is inspirational, but for those who don’t have a cache of family seeds for growing, offers reasonably priced seeds and starts of all kinds, including heirloom tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers.
Owner Gustavo Beyer said, “I’m glad that people still look for heirloom varieties.”