Almendra and his hydroponic tomatoes. Almendra and his hydroponic tomatoes.

Farmer defies experts, grows bumper crop

They said tomatoes could not be grown in Cuenca region of Oaxaca

Agricultural experts long declared that growing tomatoes in the Cuenca de Papaloapan region of Oaxaca couldn’t be done: it’s too hot, they said.

But for more than seven years, Conrado Almendra Sánchez has proven the naysayers wrong, cultivating the crop in the area’s only greenhouse and selling his produce to the residents of Tuxtepec.

As retirement approached, the former bureaucrat and law graduate decided that working on the land would be both his new way of life and source of income but he knew that if he were to succeed, he would have to do things a little differently.

Almendra told the newspaper El Universal that when he came up with the idea of growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, he received the same response from several agronomists: “No, it can’t be done,” they all said.

But he wasn’t deterred.

Almendra decided to pour his savings of around 250,000 pesos ($13,500) into building his own greenhouse but instead of pursuing his tomato-growing dream using a traditional farming approach, he chose instead to give an alternative method a try. He enrolled in a course run by the Mexican Hydroponics Association.

“I studied and knew that with this method I could produce three or four times more than by sowing in soil,” Almendra said.

His instincts and research quickly paid off and it wasn’t long before he was harvesting up to 400 kilograms a week in his 1,250-square-meter greenhouse.

After experimenting with around 20 different hybrid varieties, he also found a first-class product that thrived in the conditions he created.

Four years after building the first greenhouse, Almendra and his family decided to build another of the same size.

That idea ultimately proved successful as well.

The two greenhouses now produce a combined total of 1,500 kilograms of tomatoes a week, prompting Almendra to hire two employees to help him and his family in the business.

The chemical-free tomatoes are now on sale in stores in the area and Almendra is satisfied that consumers have the opportunity to buy and eat tomatoes that are 100% locally grown, or as the locals say, tuxtepecano.

“How have I achieved it? By studying and taking a risk,” the successful farmer said proudly.

“Here’s the proof that in the [Papaloapan] Cuenca, tomatoes can be grown,” he added, showing off his prized fruit.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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