For the eighth year, Sarah Gardner of Williams College brought a January term class to stay at The Island School and research different topics. Last year, this class studied how agriculture on Eleuthera could be revitalized, and this year, continued that work by addressing three main issues: fruit and vegetable processing and slaughtering, increasing youth involvement in farming, and changing the packing house system. Local farming on Eleuthera plays a vital role in increasing food security and reducing import dependency, as well as providing economic opportunities for young people. The students remark: [slideshow]

"To better understand these issues, we conducted field research and interviews with restaurants, farmers, government officials, and high school students. Shaun Ingraham was instrumental in helping us set up interviews with high school students, and it was really interesting to hear first-hand why many teenagers aren’t interested in farming. One of the paradoxes we discovered was that almost no students were interested in farming as a career, but many reported eating local food and expected food production on the island to stay the same.

We also toured farms around Eleuthera.  One of the main issues with farming on Eleuthera is that many farmers use a lot of fertilizers and herbicides while removing organic matter from their fields, which prevents the creation of new soil.  Josh Shultz at CEI has been working with local farmers, trying to spread knowledge of these practices—a crucial step to improving agricultural productivity.

Ironically, many of the traditional practices on the island work better than the current, chemical-dependent practices. For example, Joseph, who gardens at The Island School, uses pothole farming, which effectively traps water and nutrients and also makes bananas easy to harvest. With these techniques, he’s able to get good crop yields without chemical inputs. Josh has also been working on developing organic fertilizers from the byproducts of aquaponics, which he distributes to farmers to help reduce their dependency on chemical inputs.

We also researched expanding markets for farmers on the island, speaking to numerous chefs and restaurant buyers. We also spoke with Emery Long, a new Island School cook, who’s hoping to increase the Island School’s local purchases. We were all very impressed with his pumpkin soup made with pumpkins grown on the island. It was great to see how our recommendations for buying could actually be put into action.

But this isn’t to say that we had all work and no play. We participated in Island School morning exercises and surprisingly, we (most of us!) managed to drag ourselves out of bed every morning to go running, biking, or swimming – something that we’re pretty sure our classmates at Williams won’t believe. Josh, who co-led our group, had great ideas for fun afternoon activities, ranging from snorkeling to cave exploring.

We also got to meet many of the CEI staff, as well as the other groups doing research at the school. Another cool part of staying at The Island School was learning about sustainability by living it. Williams has sustainability as one of its goals, but hasn’t made nearly as many strides as The Island School. Living simply on Eleuthera helped us appreciate more fully the benefits we have at Williams, as well as showing us that sustainability isn’t as difficult as it first seemed.

Overall, it was a fantastic learning experience. We mostly loved meeting Eleutherans and talking with them, and learning so much about agriculture and how the system could work better for everyone: farmers, restaurants, markets and residents.  Our final report and PowerPoint and film will be linked to the CEI website.  Hopefully we’ll see some of our recommendations implemented – it’s a great excuse for us to go back and check!"

To learn more about Williams College and their Center for Environmental Studies, visit their website here.