Imagine farms being built on and around concrete buildings near you… that is exactly what Terre de Monaco aims to accomplish for the small country: instituting urban agriculture! From garlic to kale, beans to radish, Jessica Sbaraglia, founder of Terre de Monaco, has managed to harvest batches after batches of vegetables out of her micro-farms. Most recently, Jessica completed a 400 square-meter garden at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, serving the Michelin-Starred Blue Bay restaurant.
Benoit speaks to Jessica to find out about her fateful relationship with Monaco, and how agriculture became her new project and mission in the Principality.
HELLO JESSICA, FIRST OF ALL, TELL US WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO MONACO?
Well I was a promising professional tennis player in Switzerland until I sustained an injury which brought me back to my studies. Then I did modelling in Paris for a while, before arriving in Monaco in 2010 to create a luxury design centre where I was designing luxury boats. Unfortunately, my partnership did not work out and I closed the company in 2012. I found myself at a turning point and I asked myself – What is my mission in life?
SO THAT WAS HOW YOU ARRIVED TO THE IDEA OF PIONEERING “TERRE DE MONACO”?
Yes after some reflection, I reminded myself of the good times in my parents’ vegetable garden and especially the great taste of the fresh vegetables. That’s where the idea came from – reintroducing agriculture in Monaco after a 170-year absence*. So I trained hard and took 3 years to create my company. Till today, there is still no solid business plan, I had to find the magic formula to make this work.
TELL US ABOUT THE SUCCESS OF “TERRE DE MONACO” SO FAR.
We currently have 1400 square-meters of diversified market gardening in 4 different places – a kitchen garden at Monte-Carlo Bay where I work closely with Michelin-starred chef Marcel Ravin; a vegetable garden at Prince Albert II Foundation’s head office; a therapeutic kitchen garden at Princess Grace Hospital, where challenged teenagers occasionally come to work; and lastly a complete 450 square-meter kitchen garden on top of the lavish 70-storey-high Odeon Tower with 8 hens and 4 beehives! Since our debut in June 2016, we have produced more than 10 tons of vegetables!
WITH SUCH AMAZING RESULTS, WERE THERE ANY CHALLENGES THAT YOU FACED? ESPECIALLY SINCE MONACO IS SO DENSELY POPULATED AND MIGHT NOT BE AS SUITABLE FOR AGRICULTURE?
If it was simple, everyone would have done it already. So I approached a lot of people to convince them of my idea. Fortunately, the country is only 2 square-kilometers in size! Along the way, I was definitely not taken seriously, they saw me as a nice blonde who wanted to plant 3 tomatoes. But I was not going to give up this idea. I convinced one then two then more partners and now I am honoured that “Terre de Monaco” has HSH Prince Albert II’s personal valuable support. I feel grateful for being in His country.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT MONACO AND WHAT RECOMMENDATIONS DO YOU HAVE FOR ANYBODY VISITING MONACO?
The most beautiful part about Monaco is the constant contrast and the irony behind it! You will see a beautiful Ferrari with a wealthy owner holding his steering wheel, and beside him an electric truck of Terre de Monaco driven by a dirty but happy farmer!
But my favourite thing is when I am outside in my vegetable gardens (which you can visit on request) at 7am in the morning, you have the impression that the city is silent and completely yours. The view of the sunrise is magnificent. You can also visit the market to eat a slice of Socca, head to the port to see the only fisherman in the country coming back with its catch of the day, visit the turtles of the Oceanographic Museum (of which we recycle the waste) and then finish the day with a chilled Monegasque beer at the Brewery of Monaco.
(Side note: in 1853 Monaco lost 90% of its territory and most of its agrarian land to France prompting the development of Monte-Carlo as an alternative to sustain its economy).