What Goes Around Comes Around

How A-OK Gardens builds on its owner’s background to grow successfully

Sometimes life throws you curve balls and sometimes luck just shines down on you. Aman Sedighi, owner and operator of A-OK Gardens in Brookfield, PEI, has surely seen both sides of the coin.

“I found my way in Canada,” Sedighi says, who immigrated from Iran to PEI in 2010 via the Provincial Nominee Program to build a better life for his family. While he has received support from organizations such as Skills PEI, Innovation PEI, PEI Connectors, and the Department of Agriculture, his success is first and foremost made with his own ‘ingredients’. Those ingredients include his experience as a researcher and engineer in agriculture, his humanitarian side helping Iranian earthquake victims as a volunteer, as well as his entrepreneurial mindset and resilience.

“If you put something on your background experience you can be successful, [more] than when starting completely new,” Sedighi says. And so his PEI business adventure began, small at first and not meant as a business at all. While working part time at a dairy farm, Sedighi asked the farm owner if he could put some pots on the property to grow vegetables for his family. The farmer generously dedicated 400 sq. feet for Sedighi’s own use. The harvest soon outgrew his family’s needs so Sedighi decided to sell some of his vegetables. His quest for a buyer led him to Papa Joe’s Restaurant. The restaurant owner and its chef, Irwin MacKinnon, were both genuinely impressed, “So fresh! The smell!,” Sedighi remembers them saying. A bit of a negotiation followed and Sedighi had $40 in his pocket. This first sale of his vegetables and herbs laid the cornerstone for his current business, and Papa Joe’s Restaurant is still a loyal customer.

When life signaled him it was time to find his own farmland—after the dairy farm got sold and his job was terminated—Sedighi researched the Island from tip to tip. He claims he knows all the old back roads, and he didn’t stop looking until he found a hobby farm in Brookfield which he purchased in 2015. A-OK Gardens was born.

And Fortuna once again shone over Sedighi’s ventures. He looks at the encounter with his neighbour, owner Eddy Dykerman from Brookfield Farms, as a “present from the Canadian culture”. “Aman, here is Canada, you can produce anything you want,” Sedighi recalls was Dykerman’s response when he approached him openly about the potential competitive conflict with the larger, already well-established farming operation.

“Since that day I tried to do something for people. I realized my job is to produce food for people.” Today A-OK Gardens grows over 50 kinds of vegetables and herbs on 15 acres of farmland, and an additional 91 acres were just purchased for future growth. Even with the rapid growth, Sedighi holds true to his principles. Donating to the Island’s food banks is one way of giving back, employing three Syrian refugees full-time is another. And working with other local businesses whereever possible creates a “mutual relationship [where] each business can help the other and the Island’s economic growth.”

But Sedighi isn’t stopping there. “[Having a] business is like a marathon run. You have to run 40 kilometers and if you stop others can come and pass you. You have to have new plans for your business to survive. With your plan you can grow your business and your team.” A-OK Garden’s newest plan is the production of mint water using the organically grown herb and distilling it down to a tasty liquid known in Iran for its digestive properties. But that’s not its only use: think After Eight mints or mint ice cream; the concentrated flavour can be used in a variety of ways and creates value for the farm’s growth and Sedighi’s future as an Island farmer.

About Jessica L. Fritz

Jessica is "from away" in the truest sense of its meaning: her roots are in Germany. She immigrated to Toronto, Canada in 2010 and moved to PEI two summers ago. As a passionate home cook Jessica likes to explore different types of cuisines including her native one. "Thinking globally, buying locally" is her foodie mantra, and being able to grow veggies in her own backyard was one of the big drivers for her move to PEI.
Putting words on paper has always been a way to express herself. Hence, writing for Salty combines her love for food and the written word while at the same time discovering PEI's thriving culinary landscape.
And recently, Jessica and her husband launched their own food business: Maritime Marzipan offers hand-made traditional European almond treats inspired by Island living. She is blogging about her adventure here on saltyisland.com or you can find them at maritimemarzipan.com.

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