This month will be historic for One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) and our sister entity The Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI) located in Rock Sound, Eleuthera. It will mark the first planting of our newly completed, and quite revolutionary 1.1-acre solar powered growhouse. We’ve named it the “OASIS,” in part because of its built-in rain catchment system and massive water storage tanks which will collect and store over a million gallons of rainwater to irrigate crops and supply the entire farm.
This masterpiece of a structure with its retractable roof and walls will allow us to control the environmental conditions inside the facility and provide our crops with the ideal temperature and conditions for them to thrive all year long. The OASIS growhouse will become the gateway for us to grow fresh produce throughout the hotter and traditionally scarce months when the scorching summer heat interrupts the growing season for most farmers. By expanding our growing season and footprint we will increase our farm’s production capacity, helping us to take a giant leap toward OEF and CTI’s food security and food sovereignty goals for Eleuthera and the country.
We have already started planting the first seeds and will be ramping up to full production over the next few months. We are planning to grow a wide variety of vegetables including carrots, beets, scallions, radishes, kale, zucchini, cucumbers, various types of tomatoes and many different lettuces and leafy greens. It will be exciting to soon see the OASIS growhouse, which is roughly the size of a football field flourishing with vibrant, nutritious produce.
Looking back, it was just two years ago, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, that my wife Selima and I were offered the opportunity to come on board at CTI to make this shared dream a reality. CTI and OEF had developed a plan and received grant funding from the TK Foundation and Sallingsund Bridge to expand its farm operation and increase local farmer training. We were absolutely thrilled to learn that a retractable roof growhouse was a key part of this master plan. To understand why this was so significant and serendipitous all at once you would have to know the history.
You see, Selima and I have always had a passion for food and plants. Selima left Nassau after studying agriculture at COB and eventually obtained her PhD in Horticulture while my studies were in the field of Food Science. We had been growing vegetables on a commercial scale in Nassau for the past twenty years. The farms we operated ran the gamut of production systems from conventional organic soil-based farms to very modern high tech hydroponic greenhouses. Over the years our motivation remained consistent. We wanted to produce beautiful, healthful vegetables for our population knowing that this could bring increased health, vitality and wealth to our people and nation. Over several decades, The Bahamas slipped from producing and exporting produce to North America and Europe to being almost 100% dependent on imported foods. We recognize that this shift has also caused the health of our communities and our economic independence to significantly decline
Personally, we both obtained a lot of joy from selling our own fresh vegetables at various Farmers Markets around Nassau. We loved hearing the stories of happy customers who not only enjoyed the flavour of our produce but also felt good eating them.
It was always hard to tell our customers around May/June once the extreme sun had scorched our crops that we simply had nothing left to sell until the next growing season in November. This cyclical nature of growing crops was not only difficult for our customers, but it was difficult for our business and finances.
We were constantly looking for a solution to this dilemma and how we could produce vegetables all year long. We knew a Greenhouse wouldn’t be ideal for our tropical climate, as it would trap heat from the sun and cause huge heat stress for the plants.
It was about ten years ago that we started investigating retractable roof structures. These could provide some of the advantages of a traditional greenhouse but could completely retract its roof and walls to close in the structure to shade and protect plants from excessive heat, rain, and wind. We knew this kind of structure would be perfect, allowing the farmer to adapt day by day, hour by hour, to environmental conditions while providing plants with the ideal conditions needed to thrive. Further, the structure would work to protect crops in up to a category 2 hurricane before sensors would cause the roof and walls to automatically retract to preserve the edifice.
We visited several operations in Florida and spent an entire week in Mexico visiting farms that were successfully using this kind of structure and technology in very similar climatic conditions. They were great, but so was the cost to procure them. When we realized that OEF and CTI were planning to secure and construct a very similar retractable roof growhouse, we knew that all the stars were aligning.
What helped to seal the deal for us was the fact that OEF is a community development organization committed to creating sustainable development and innovation around five key areas: education, economy, environment, health and heritage. Running a vegetable farm while teaching sustainable farming techniques seemed like a perfect fit for all these pillars! So, we shifted from running our own small farm in Nassau (Field to Fork Community Farm) and in August of 2021 we moved to Eleuthera with our family to be a part of this game changing project and mission.
There is also a lot of synergy in our personal goals and those of OEF/CTI. This project will promote better community health outcomes over time by increasing access to healthy foods to help fight the epidemic of diet-related, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. This is something that we live by. There is so much data that shows if we shift from eating highly processed foods to fresh whole foods these NCDs can be prevented or cured.
Another significant aspect of our shared vision is to educate local farmers and growers in sustainable farming techniques. Together, we hope to teach a whole new generation of farmers in Eleuthera and the Bahamas the best practices for consistently growing healthful food to feed ourselves, while protecting and preserving our natural environment.
Selima and I are excited to take all that we have learned over the past 20 years and put it into practice at OEF/CTI. Just like all the other social enterprises housed at the CTI campus, the farm and OASIS growhouse will be operated as “live lab” training facilities for local farmers, growers, students, and volunteers to visit, gain hands-on experience and learn alongside us in the field.