If you met your spouse while jumping out of an airplane, you might expect to forge a life together that was filled with unexpected adventures. That’s certainly proven to be the case for Patrick and Jennifer Dassi, the husband and wife owners of Dassi Family Farm in Encinitas, CA.
Patrick, originally from Brazil, was a skydiving instructor who trained US Special Forces units in San Diego. Jennifer, originally from New York, owned a paint-your-own pottery studio and taught skydiving on the weekends at Skydive San Diego.
When they got married and became pregnant with their daughter Miah, the Dassis realized that skydiving wasn’t going to be a viable long-term career for them. After 17,000 jumps–sometimes jumping 15 times per day–the wear and tear on their bodies was starting to take a toll. There’s also the elevated risk of death inherent in the job, a fact driven home when several of Patrick’s good friends passed away from skydiving accidents.
Patrick and Jennifer have always been very interested in nutrition, feeding the body good quality, honest food to stay healthy and keep illness at bay. Patrick had been dabbling in growing hydroponic fruits and vegetables at home for many years due to his keen interest in sustainability and growing high quality food. When contemplating career changes, hydroponic farming seemed like an easy answer.
“I’ve always had a green thumb and it was definitely a way to do something more ‘on the ground’ than skydiving for the rest of our lives,’ Patrick says laughing.
At the time, the Dassis were surprised by how few hydroponic vegetable growers there were in the area and in California in general. Hydroponic systems can grow far more produce per acre than field crops, while reducing water usage by 80-99%, depending on the crop. As every Californian knows, water is a natural resource that’s in short supply.
In 2013, they turned a dream into reality when they found a greenhouse to rent and began Dassi Family Farm.
As with most first generation farmers, the Dassis faced numerous obstacles. Larger scale hydroponics (they started on a half acre, much larger than their home hydroponic systems) is much different in theory than in practice. Each day brought a new set of challenges and has kept the family busy since day one.
They didn’t give up. They believe that there is always something to learn, a better or more efficient way of doing any task and they strive to deliver the best product possible to their customers. Their principals drove them forward in other ways as well. As Patrick says, “We believe food should be fresh and high in nutrients. That’s the kind of food we grow and eat for our family, and we knew we could make that possible for other families in our community as well.”
Today, Dassi Family Farm uses just under one acre of greenhouse, producing different varieties of fresh, healthy produce for local residents. Patrick mostly handles production and Jennifer mostly handles sales and marketing.
All of their produce is certified non-GMO and the Dassis believe in and utilize the best principles of sustainable farming. They’ve developed their own customized liquid fertilizer regimens that include beneficial enzymes and fungi that maximize the health of the plants and the flavor of their produce. Since they’re growing hydroponically, they can filter and reuse their water, which not only drastically reduces water use, but also eliminates the nitrogen pollution that degrades local water quality and can even cause mass pollution like the nearly 10,000 square mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
They take a similarly thoughtful approach with other inputs as well, such as pest management. “It’s more labor and expense for us, but we don’t use synthetic chemical pesticides, rather we bring in beneficial predatory insects that hunt the pest insects. We also reduce pest pressure by growing really healthy plants. If we absolutely have to, we’ll occasionally use OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute)-listed beneficial fungus for integrated pest management (IPM).”
Considering that the Dassis and their young daughter work in their greenhouses and eat the food they grow, the quality and safety of what they produce is of paramount importance to them. They jokingly refer to Miah, their 5 year old daughter, as the “tomato tester,” a job title she proudly fulfills whenever possible. “She definitely knows where her food comes from,” Jennifer says laughing.
Perhaps more than anything, the Dassis want other families to know where their food comes from and to have a relationship with their farmers. Jennifer is known as a local, healthy food evangelist among her daughter’s fellow kindergarten parents, many of whom are now customers. “We’re really proud of what we’re producing and we think we’re doing the right thing. More and more parents I talk with understand that food is medicine, and that they can either invest in what they and their families eat or they can pay for more medical care.”
Where does Dassi Family Farm go from here? “Our goal isn’t necessarily to grow on huge acreage, rather it’s to be efficient and sustainable while maintaining high quality standards, feeding as many people as we can while leaving little if any trace on our earth,” says Patrick.
Jennifer, coming from the marketing and sales perspective, agrees. The quality of Dassi’s produce makes her job easier. “Once someone tries our produce, they’re hooked. Once they taste it, we don’t have to sell them – the product sells itself.”
Daily Harvest Express is proud to support local farmers like the Dassis, in order to help bring the freshest, healthiest local produce to your home or office. We’d also like you to get to know Dassi Family Farm better, so please like their facebook page to follow their journey and learn where your food comes from.
Also, when your Daily Harvest FarmBox includes produce grown by the Dassis that you absolutely love, let them know! After all, they love hearing back from the people they work so hard for: you.