Foundation Social Workplace Saba (FSWS) hosts an intern of Wageningen University agriculture researching the potential to develop mushroom farming on Saba, writes The Daily Herald. Agriculture student Giuseppe “Peppe” Alessandrello is finishing his master’s studies at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, holding a bachelor’s degree in plant sciences from University of Catania, Italy. He comes from a Sicilian family of agro-business entrepreneurs and brings with him business insights from the much larger Mediterranean island, in addition to his specific knowledge on mushroom farming.
Peppe’s internship in Saba is the fruit of an agriculture resuscitation initiative developed by resident former FSWS board member and advisor René Caderius van Veen. His SABAGRO project sought needed research on approaches that would promote greater self-reliance on local produce and a reduction in perishable food imports. This was based on the understanding that reanimation of cooperation among local farmers needed to be complemented with agricultural research on types of niche farming that could financially sustain viable business. Not all agro-business models would fit Saba’s unique topography, scale and limited local demand. Caderius van Veen established a partnership with Wageningen University to have agriculture students conduct research in Saba to innovate sustainable farming. The goal is to encourage crops that would not detract from the eco-tourism niche product on which the local economy depends.
FSWS was the obvious fit to host such a partnership. It operates the Organoponics Garden at The Level, which offers a sheltered working environment for agricultural-educational purposes. FSWS Director La-Toya Charles said the internship is a follow-up to the findings of an interdisciplinary team established with Wageningen students. In May, the Wageningen Academic Consultancy Training (ACT) team, together with FSWS, looked into developing a comprehensive strategy to stimulate agricultural development. The team’s preliminary results identified eight different opportunities suitable for Saba, one of which is mushroom farming.
Charles first met Alessandrello when she travelled to the Netherlands. They visited a mushroom farm on the island of Texel. Peppe said he gained great insight from the successful experience of Texel’s mushroom farmers, knowledge he hopes to share in Saba. He will try to introduce on Saba a different species of shiitake mushrooms than the one used in Texel. Alessandrello started working with a core group of interested residents explaining how a mushroom farm can be economically feasible and sustainable. He is looking at the needs of local restaurants and consumption, the availability of potential farmers and knowledge needed. He will experiment with the compatibility of various mushroom species at various altitudes and soil environments. Several volunteers have already offered to host the experiment.
One location will be the newly reopened Rainforest Ecolodge hotel and Rendez-Vous restaurant. Peppe held his first presentation Friday at Ecolodge, where Chef Michel Jansen invited and served lunch for all involved Organoponics Garden workers. After Alessandrello’s presentation, Jansen served several mushroom dishes.