Bailey McKeon ’22
Over the break, the Tripod was able to sit down with alumnus and founder of iFarm TT David Johnston ’16. Johnston spoke on his business, a container farming company aimed at creating accessible, healthy produce for a wide variety of people in Trinidad and Tobago. He offered Trinity students with a variety of advice on starting a business and pursuing business related goals.
TRIPOD: How was your business, iFarm TT, created?
JOHNSTON: When I graduated, I moved back to Trinidad and Tobago and worked with a real estate company for a few months. A few of my friends and I were not super passionate about our jobs, so we would meet and talk about different business ideas, looking to explore how we could potentially start our own business. We came across container farming, which was gaining a lot of attraction at the time. We did a lot of research and found that it would be cheaper and more beneficial for us to build one ourselves, so we began constructing a container. Three years down the line, we’ve transferred to a much larger facility and are operating on a much larger scale.
TRIPOD: What compelled you to create a business specifically around container farming?
JOHNSTON: Trinidad has a huge food import bill, more than $5 billion. The society down here has grown very accustomed to foreign products because a lot of vegetables and foreign fruits we import. We decided we wanted to help reduce the food import bill and be more sustainable with our agriculture.
TRIPOD: What was your inspiration for starting this business?
JOHNSTON: One of the main goals was to establish a working business that was somewhat sustainable and could employ people, as well as give people enjoyment in trying a new product. So far, we’ve been doing well in terms of this. We have employed about six people now, so our business is still very small. We are servicing a decent portion of the market in the western part of Trinidad. I’d say we’re on our way. While developing, we came across a lot of new ways that we could take the business forward. This opened a lot of pathways for us that we saw opportunities in to expand upon our vision of providing good health for everybody that we were able to tackle and target, and consequently grow.
TRIPOD: Did any of your experiences at Trinity inspire or shape your work?
JOHNSTON: My time at Trinity gave me a sense of independence in knowing how to operate without the comfort of my support circle behind me. Coming to Trinity from a foreign country, I experienced a completely different culture. We spoke the same language, but it was still difficult for people to understand sometimes when I first came and originally spoke. You’re thrown into a whole different situation. Sometimes it can be pretty uncomfortable and you really have to dig deep down and rely on yourself to get through times that are hard. Those experiences helped me in founding iFarm TT as sometimes when starting a business, it gets difficult and you want to quit. You just want to stop. My time at Trinity really helped me in that sense, in addition to the way Trinity’s academics helped me. Professors at Trinity challenged me to think on my own and actually figure out problems independently. My practices at Trinity of going and doing as much research as possible on an issue and then talking about it with other people developed a good framework or service model for me to actually use within the business realm. Any problem I come across, I know I need to research, read as much as possible, and try to speak about it with certain people to reach a solution.
TRIPOD: What are your future aspirations, both for the business and for yourself?
JOHNSTON: We are working toward iFarm TT becoming a well-known household name throughout the country that holds the reputation of being a company that is able to supply you with fresh, healthy produce. We want to grow and introduce as many products as possible, especially those that we tend to import. In growing the business, I can provide myself with the opportunities to take on more challenges, learn more about business in general, and from there be able to manage not just six people but maybe sixty people. I want to grow the company to something a lot larger where we can not only have an impact on people’s health who consume the food but also enable people who work within the company to lead a better lifestyle.
TRIPOD: What advice do you have for Trinity students who are chasing their dreams?
JOHNSTON: It’s going to be hard. You need to know right up front that it’s going to be difficult and there are going to be times when you are going to question whether you really want this or not. Before you start anything, know why you are doing it. That’s what you are going to fall back on when times get hard. Really think hard about what your dreams are and know exactly why you are doing what you are doing so that when things do get tough, and it will get tough, you will have something to fall back on. Keep pushing really hard and things will get better.