By: Yolanda Pawar
Edrin Symonette has been farming in South Eleuthera for nearly 30 years and nearly half his life. He is gifted with many talents as an artist, entrepreneur, cook, and businessman. Still, he finds his greatest fulfillment and purpose in farming and being immersed in Eleuthera’s great and wild outdoors.
Edrin belongs to a shrinking pool, but one desperately needed in the Bahamas – the traditional farmer. His focus is primarily free-range farming, where his animals are allowed to roam freely to access water, natural grasses, shrubs and shelter, while Edrin is tasked with ensuring the flock’s safety, health, reproduction and well-being.
His days are joyfully spent outdoors, in his element, where he manages rotating his animals across segmented plots of expansive commonage land that he has spent decades preparing as the ideal grazing fields for his growing collection of cows, sheep and goats, including the South African Dorper sheep and the South African Boer goat.
These are two of the most common breeds in South Africa because of their ability to thrive in very arid regions, which has also proven true in the sometimes-parched Eleuthera climate. As part of this year’s Investiture of National Honors, Edrin was selected as an Order of Merit Officer and given accolades for his lifelong service and investment in developing the Bahamas’ agriculture industry, an honor that is well placed.
What is undeniable about Edrin is his humility, deep love and passion for Eleuthera and the local agriculture industry, but at the heart of his mission are people. As the proprietor of Apple Hole Farm and the Apple Hole Deli and Meat Mart, he prides himself on simply providing his community with the best grass-fed cuts of meats, seasonal citrus produce and savory home-style meals he expertly cooks, using meat harvested from his herds.
It is a Saturday tradition for locals to visit his deli in Rock Sound to enjoy a selection of Bahamian breakfast favorites prepared with Edrin’s special touch, including fresh Mutton and Sheep Tongue Souse, Beef and Mutton Souse, and Stewed Fish and Conch with Johnny Cake followed by a lunch menu of Caribbean Jerk dishes and homemade switcher. From field to fork, it’s all a labor of love and a service he feels privileged to provide.
The Early Years
Growing up in Rock Sound, Edrin’s initiation into farming came in early childhood. Working alongside his grandfather, Oscar Symonette, he faithfully tended to the family’s crops and livestock, observing traditional, simple farming techniques and practices that still serve him today.
It was his grandfather who taught him the time-honored skill of plant grafting, a vegetative propagation technique that connects two severed plants that fuse and grow as one plant with one root system. Grafting is widely used to improve a plant’s resistance to pests and diseases while strengthening its tolerance to adverse conditions. Plant grafting is also where Edrin’s green thumb, resourcefulness, and creativity shine.
“When I started, not having access to funding and finances, I had to learn a lot of the skills to survive in this industry,” he explains, “We had a lot of sour oranges, so I harvested the seeds, planted them, and set up seed beds to produce seedlings that I planted where I wanted in the orchard. I came right behind, and through grafting, I turned the sour oranges into oranges, grapefruits and tangerines.
I had to pay for nothing except the first seeds, and then I was able to reproduce them.” Edrin’s next goal is to expand his orchard to begin growing specialty mangoes. Among the traditional commercial varieties like Valencia and Keitt mangoes, he has his sights set on introducing a cornucopia of exotic new niche mangoes, including Cotton Candy, Carrie – which has sweet peachy-pineapple tones, and the Pina Colada.
When asked about his journey in farming, Edrin quickly admits that as a young man in his early twenties, he tried to “run away from his destiny and from the land,” but her call was too great. After leaving Eleuthera to complete high school in Nassau and pursue tertiary studies abroad in Commercial Art, he returned to Nassau to work but did not feel fulfilled. Soon after, he decided to move back to Eleuthera to help his father develop the family’s construction business. As a hobby, he began keeping a few goats, and as he puts it, “I fell in love with some goats, and the rest is history.”
His Philosophy & Nature’s Perfect Ecosystem
What stands out about Edrin’s approach to farming is his unwavering commitment to sustainability and maximizing the systems that nature has already perfected. Besides being a modern-day “Goat Whisperer,” he is a true steward of the land and his animals.
He observes and works diligently to harness the power of nature to maintain and balance itself while supporting the animals within the ecosystem. He shares, “It’s not just coming out one day and saying we want to feed ourselves.
Over time, we must set up sustainable systems that actually work and will continue to produce and increase food production in this country. We have to look at long-term systems to reach our food security goals. The less labor-intensive those systems are, the better. It’s the labor that’s killing agriculture right now.”
In his practice, nothing is wasted, including manure, which is collected and used to fertilize the citrus crops. It also naturally works to revitalize the fields where the animals graze. With no manufactured chemical inputs, the soil health and integrity are maintained, and the animals consuming the natural vegetation remain pure and resilient. Being free-range livestock, no growth hormones or antibiotics are used in rearing, which is good for the animals, the consumer and the environment.
Modern Farming Methods
Modern farming methods have undoubtedly made farmers more productive and self-dependent, but sometimes at the risk of depleting and overusing natural resources. In speaking with Edrin about his farming methods, there is a palpable sense of interdependency, reverence, and cooperation with nature. For him, it is not about the
money. This is evident in his patient and consistent approach to managing each resource responsibly and in relation to the seasons, climate, and the life cycle of his livestock.
Listening to nature has been the secret to his longevity in the business. “With my animals, there’s a connection and two-way communication. Over the years, my goats have taught me exactly what they want and need to thrive. I provide safety, water, and good nutrition, which is paramount. They respond by flourishing, growing and reproducing.”
Edrin has also invested heavily in developing and strengthening his herds by crossbreeding pure Boer bloodlines with native sheep resulting in a more resilient and robust breed that grows quickly but maintains the heartiness and flavor the local market is accustomed to.
The Next Chapter
Looking forward, Edrin plans to invest his time and efforts in training the next generation of young farmers in sustainable farming and livestock rearing. Undoubtedly, he possesses a wealth of knowledge that must be passed on.
“My ultimate goal is to get some of the local schools on my farm to see what I am doing. These days, there are so many areas of agriculture that kids can study. We have to expose them to the older farming techniques and allow them to build on this foundation with the latest sustainable farming techniques and systems,” he explains.
Additionally, he plans to launch into the animal feed business. The success of livestock farming depends heavily on the consistent provision of the highest quality, nutritious animal feed. Over his career, Edrin has successfully grown a variety of livestock grasses and has seen first-hand the many advantages of good animal nutrition.
By cultivating his fields to mass produce hay and silage for feed, he intends to help other small ruminant farmers access locally grown, healthful feed to increase their herd health and production.
About One Eleuthera Foundation
Founded in 2012, One Eleuthera Foundation is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to transforming our local island communities into thriving, self-sufficient ecosystems. We do this by focusing on five key areas: economic ownership, meaningful educational advancement, pathways to wellness, and environmentally sustainable communities centered around our island’s unique cultural identity. We run a number of social enterprises, including CTI, our vocational school; the Retreat Hotel, a training hotel for hospitality students; and our farm and Cooling House, which trains future farmers in the best sustainability and food production practices. Through OEF’s consistent dedicated efforts, the tenacity and resourcefulness of our legacy community, and the support of donors and partners, we are creating change in Eleuthera.