Aman Sedighi walked into Papa Joe’s with a small bowl of produce — and a desire to make a sale.
But the Iranian immigrant had no idea what to charge the Charlottetown restaurant for the fresh dill, cilantro, zucchini and tomatoes he had grown on a small plot of land.
Sedighi thought he would be happy with $5 or $10. As a sharp entrepreneur, he asked the chef what he would pay.
“Around thirty dollars,” Chef Irwin offered.
“I’m not giving it to you for less than fifty!” Sedighi replied.
The pair bartered to $40, and Sedighi launched his foray into his farming business in P.E.I.
Five years later, his A-OK Gardens has grown from a plot on the dairy farm where he used to work to the 15 acres he now grows in Brookfield — plus another 91 acres for possible expansion.
On this sunny fall day, he’s standing amidst his gardens and holding his original farming “tools” – a plastic bowl and a paring knife dulled from cutting, weeding, and digging in the Island’s red soil. Behind Sedighi, a long table and a tractor bucket boast vibrant vegetables like radishes, carrots, beets, mini-turnips, tomatoes, kohlrabi, eggplant, bok choy and spinach; and fragrant herbs like parsley, cilantro, chives, dill, mint and basil.
Though Sedighi’s career in Iran included researching for the department of agriculture, exporting dates, and consulting in agriculture, he does not take much credit for his crop.
“I do not think I did this,” he explains. “It was mostly this puzzle.”
“This puzzle” is the dozen or so people standing around Sedighi — the pieces he says fit together to create this farm. Sedighi has invited them here to give them thanks — and a tour of the cultivated rows farmed with organic methods.
His puzzle includes Barbara Jabbour and Chef Irwin MacKinnon of Papa Joe’s, who continue to buy Sedighi’s vegetables and herbs — praising their quality and Sedighi’s willingness to adapt when the chef strikes an idea.
“If he did not have something, he’d put it in the ground,” MacKinnon explains, as he checks out the produce.
The puzzle also includes fellow farmers, like Eddy Dykerman of Brookfield Gardens, who made sure Sedighi’s land was plowed and gave him advice on buyers.
“He asked me what he could grow,” Dykerman recalls. “I said, ‘You’re in Canada. You can grow whatever you want!’”
Sedighi’s puzzle also includes his five employees, including three full-timers who came to the Island as Syrian refugees. While it might sound challenging to run a workplace with people speaking different languages (Farsi, Arabic and English), Sedighi finds it productive. “When people don’t know each other’s languages, there are usually no conflicts,” he jokes.
His puzzle also includes community organizations and government departments that support newcomers and entrepreneurship — organizations that connected Sedighi with opportunities and resources to grow his farm.
“It gives me the opportunity to build my life again,” he says.
Sedighi has been on P.E.I. since 2010, moving here for the future of his children — in particular to offer a more “level playing field” for his daughter. In Iran, the family had also survived a devastating earthquake that killed several relatives and destroyed the family business, which the family rebuilt before getting the means to come to Canada.
That experience underlies Sedighi’s commitment to give back, whether he’s donating money to help victims of the Fort McMurray, Alberta, wildfire or bringing produce to the local food bank.
As Sedighi sees it, he’s giving back to the pieces of the puzzle that have enabled him to spend days tending to his plants
— and reaping much more than food.
“The way they grow gives me strength,” he says.