My Journey from a Walnut Orchard in Iran to a Startup Founder in Canada: Part 1

Today I’d like to take a walk with you down memory lane, taking a glimpse into my childhood and young adulthood. The experiences shaped me into the man I am today and fueled my passion for improving farming practices with ecoation.

Today I’d like to take a walk with you down memory lane, taking a glimpse into my childhood and young adulthood. The experiences shaped me into the man I am today and fueled my passion for improving farming practices with ecoation. 

I grew up on a walnut orchard in Iran. It was run by my grandfather, Agha Bozorg. He was a stern, quiet, and hardworking man. It was from him and the rest of my family that I learned about the discipline it took to be a farmer, and how rewarding of a profession it could truly be. It was on the farm that I learned you get out what you put in. 

It was through these early experiences that I not only fell in love with food but found the inspiration for my education and career up to this point. I became obsessed with learning everything I could about what it meant to grow plants and create the best crop possible. 

Truthfully, it was a tragedy that fueled my passion. Unfortunately, while I was growing up my aunt Roya passed away due to high levels of exposure to toxic pesticides. I wanted to ensure that nothing like this would happen again to my fellow farmers. Early on, the goal for my career was clear – help farmers around the world reduce their pesticide use through earlier detection and better monitoring. 

When I came to Canada, I spent decades learning about all the technology and innovative practices going on in the agricultural world. This eventually led to me having my greenhouse where I truly got a taste for what it meant to have a farm of my own. These experiences, of course, led to the founding of ecoation, where I’m proud to say we’ve begun to achieve my goal of meaningfully improving farming practices and helping farmers reduce their pesticide use. 

I’d like to think that if my grandfather and aunt Roya could see me now, they would be proud of what I’ve accomplished. Although we’ve led very different lives, I believe I’ve carried on my family's farming legacy in my way. 

I look forward to continuing down this path and making a difference in whatever way I can.  

But without further ado, this is my story – from a child growing up at a walnut orchard in Iran to an Ag Business owner in Canada. 

Saber the Crow

Iran has a vast agricultural culture largely due to its unique climate. On the same day in Iran, you can find temperatures well below freezing in the north while it’s downright tropical in the south. While there’s a wide variety of crops grown in Iran, my family was focused on walnuts. They had been growing walnuts for generations by the time I came around. 

Of course, as a child, I was less of a helping hand around the farm and more of a nuisance. Ironic that I got so involved with pest control later in life. 

As a child, my main goal around the farm was to eat as many walnuts as I could before anybody noticed. My cousins and I would compete with the crows to see who could eat the most walnuts. 

This pursuit wasn’t all pleasure, mind you. To this day I could show you numerous scars on my head which are all tree-related, and I’m sure my cousins could as well. 

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Despite the many bumps and bruises, I’d like to think I was the most gifted walnut thief in the family. This ultimately earned me the nickname, Saber the Crow.

Unfortunately, with walnuts, it’s very easy to catch a thief, quite literally, red-handed. Because of specific compounds on the skin of the fruit, they will eventually stain your hands black. If someone accused me of taking the fruit, all the evidence needed to condemn me was right there in my hands. 

A Gathering Place

The farm is truly where I discovered my love of food which has carried well over into my adult life. When I see something new and exciting, I need to try it. Living on a farm where there’s always something fresh being brought in was like a dream for me. 

I remember my mother and aunt bringing a sea of tomatoes into the house. They would collect them, processing and canning them to make all the paste for the year. I was surrounded by beautiful, fresh produce my entire life. 

My grandparents had 17 children, and unfortunately, only 11 survived to adulthood. Regardless, as you can imagine, this led to a massive family congregating at our farm. Farmers, of course, tend to have bigger families because of the farm’s bounty – the more helping hands the better, right?

Some of my fondest memories from childhood came from the massive family dinners we would have. Each week there would easily be 50-plus people who would gather around our farm, enjoying a meal together. In Iran, it’s tradition to eat on the floor, so we would gather around a cloth and enjoy the time together. There were usually nearly 20 children, and as all the different families gathered together on the floor you couldn’t see the end of it.

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There was a level of human contact found on the farm that just isn’t there in an urban lifestyle. The meals we had were humble, but everything was fresh right from our farm, and the people gathered to share experiences and have genuine connections with each other. 

As I traveled the world, I realized this was a common experience on farms everywhere. That people are welcomed in with open arms to share the bounty that the land produces. 

The farm not only creates this sense of community, but it instills a sense of discipline in those that grow up working for everything they get. There is no slacking around a farm, and if there is something wrong, it’s always your responsibility to fix it. 

I believe everyone could benefit from the experiences of farming, even if it’s just at a summer camp, or in schools. By growing food, and seeing the literal fruits of your labour, you gain a deeper appreciation for what that means. It becomes a beautiful thing when you can then come together and share what you worked so hard to grow with the people around you. 

While the lifelong benefits of growing up on a farm could be an entirely different article. When you dedicate your life to farming, you learn to take care of something outside of yourself, and this extends to the community around you, which is something I’m truly grateful to have experienced as a child. 

Beginning to Learn

It was around the age of 10 that I began to become genuinely curious about what was going on around the farm. While I was still stealing the occasional walnut, my focus shifted to the hard work my family was putting in to grow them. 

My grandfather was an imposing figure similar to John Wayne. He was the type of person who could seemingly stare right through your soul. While he didn’t say much, he always worked hard.

When I became curious about the farm, I began following him around, seeing what he spent his days doing. While he wasn’t a scientist, he was constantly doing experiments, grafting trees and trying new crop varieties. 

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Orchards are very different from other farms. Whereas on a farm you can simply replant a crop, or try again next year if things go awry, trees take years and years to become fully productive. This led to my grandfather having a special relationship with his crop. I would often catch him whispering things to the trees, as he was a religious man, I assume they may have been prayers.

He would always stop the second I got close enough to hear, so I never figured out what exactly he was saying to his trees. One thing was clear though, he had a close bond with these trees. I began to realize he saw these trees as his children and could tell how they were feeling by a single look. I believe he may have even been able to see the trees photosynthesizing in real-time.

Seeing his relationship with the trees awoke something in me. I wanted to be able to understand plants the same way he was able to. I never learned his ways, because frankly, I wasn’t the most patient of students. If there’s one thing he taught me in his silent way was that this was much more than a hobby to him – this was his livelihood.

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I’d like to think that despite surely annoying him at the time, he would be proud of what I’ve accomplished in my life. Grandpa, I think I can finally see plants the way you did. While farming can be an art, as my Grandpa showed me, it was also a business. 

Around the same time I began spending more time with my uncle, who was the numbers man around the farm. While there needs to be someone who’s able to have that relationship with the plants, there also needs to be someone who orders the fertilizer, negotiates prices, and so on. 

Both of these roles inspired me to do what I’ve done so far. I’d like to think I found a solid balance between the artistry and science involved in farming.

My parents were not farmers, my father was a lawyer, and my mother was a teacher. While I’m very grateful my parents worked hard to provide a good life for us, I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out differently if they had stuck with the family business. While I’m happy with how things turned out for me, there is some part of me that wishes I could be continuing my grandfather’s legacy directly on his orchard.

A Promise to Roya

Unfortunately, when I was 18, a tragedy struck the farm. On the orchard, we were using pesticides that turned out to be incredibly harmful to humans, which thankfully, are now banned. However, before we knew of their effects, exposure to these chemicals led to the death of my beloved aunt Roya (Translate to Dream). 

This tragedy is ultimately what inspired me to dedicate my life to the reduction of pesticides. There are already not enough farmers out there, so we truly cannot afford to lose any more in such senseless ways. 

I do not want to vilify the use of pesticides, as they are a tool that can be useful like any other. But I see pesticides like chemotherapy for cancer patients. They should be a last resort if all else fails, and we should look to have better early detection and preventative measures in place to avoid it at all costs.

 Not only do I want to improve my fellow farmers' operations through the reduction of pesticides, but I also want to protect them as well. I’m proud to say that after a decade of experimentation, through intensive monitoring we’ve been able to help our customers reduce their pesticide use by 75% on average.

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As an 18-year-old, I made a promise to my aunt Roya that I would help farmers reduce their pesticide use in her honour. I’m proud to say that I can think of her and know I fulfilled that promise. We ended up naming the autonomous robot Roya after her. 

The End of Chapter 1

There were plenty of lessons to be learned growing up on a farm. From my mischievous days as a child, the family experiences, and the lessons learned from my Grandfather and Aunt Roya. These early experiences would shape me into the person I would become today and would motivate me through my years of education in Canada.

Join me next time for the second chapter of my story, about my education, my first experiences running a greenhouse of my own, and the eventual founding of ecoation. 

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