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Cacique Update

Cacique Update July 8, 2012

While we have been down here at the Island School, the summer 2012 Olympic trials have been going on, we are all bummed that we are missing this special event. This past Saturday for a little break the mentors arranged a South Eleuthera Olympics. The three events that we all participated in were water polo, fish identification, and a relay run swim event. All five teams enjoyed the team bonding experience. The teams were named after little towns here in South Eleuthera, called settlements. They included Deep Creek, Rock Sound, Tarpum Bay, Governor’s Harbor and Gregory Town. All of us really enjoyed this break from our academic week one. We all had fun and are all winners. On Tuesday we start academic week two. [slideshow]

From your local Caciques Tristan and Bethlehem

A Day on the Farm

Hello from Eleuthera! Our summer students have been hard at work this week, immersed in classes focusing on either Food, Ecology, or Tourism and Development. As part of the unit on food, we spent an entire day on the farm with Edrin, a local farmer in Rock Sound. Students talked with Edrin about the challenges he faces as a farmer in The Bahamas, including the summer heat and the scarcity of nutrient rich soil. We then learned about how he addresses many of these issues, and even received a private lesson on the process of grafting and budding as a means of increasing the variety of citrus fruits he is able to grow on his land. Tristan, Weston, Aiko, Molly, Megan, Isaac, Ben, Madison, Bethlehem and Lizzie were enthralled as Edrin talked and were incredibly helpful and enthusiastic when asked to pitch in and transplant some grass to small pots for his fields. Overall, it was a fun, informative and productive day that provided a unique glimpse into what food production is like in some parts of The Bahamas. For a more personal account of the day’s events, check out Bethlehem’s journal entry following this post. More updates will be coming soon to fill you in on the Ecology and Tourism and Development progress this week. Happy eating! [slideshow]

“Today the first Foodies team, visited Edrin’s farm in Rock Sound. After Alicia’s introduction of Edrin, I was really excited to see the person behind the vast “One man farm”. When we got there Edrin was in his work cloth waiting for our arrival. He first took us to see his greenhouse garden where we got to see how he develops his plants. I had later on asked Edrin where he got the soil that he uses in his garden, and he explained that he got it from a settlement that was cleared in Rock Sound. The type of soil that we saw piled in front of the nursery was different from the one on the ground. This was the beginning of the string of questions that I had asked Edrin, each question leading me on to the next. Edrin had been in the farming business for 23 years, and he knew the ins and outs of the Bahamian soil. ‘I do what I do because I love it..’ he said, when I asked him about the number of years he had spent farming, ‘…my father did it, my grandfather, and great grandfather were all farmers…this runs in my blood’ I could sense Edrin’s passion, and commitment to his profession, as he answered each question expertly. I felt like I learned so much from interviewing Edrin, than I would have being in a closed classroom, I felt the information flowing in. It was interesting to catch myself saying ‘…ahhh’, and reaching ‘light bulb’ moments every 15 minutes…

…It was interesting to see that Edrin imported some of his grass from Nassau, and he used small patches of it to repopulate the grass around his farm. This really made me wonder if the grass patches I see around the Marina were also planted there artificially. I also wondered how hard it is for farmers to produce vegetables, and fruit locally with conditions such as Edrin’s. Does the Bahamian government promote agricultural practices to empower the local population? Edrin also mentioned that not many people have the patience to do what he does, I also wonder if that is an issue with the local Bahamians participating in agriculture. Most of them might not be skilled workers, or others are interested in pursuing ventures that give off instant results. This could be the reason why most Bahamians depend on fishing as one of their primary methods to acquire food. Under such conditions, the need for importing arises as the demand for foods like vegetables, mutton, and fruits cannot all be fulfilled locally.

Our dinning principles speak for themselves. In our dining hall there is a huge sign carved in wood that says ‘Eat Locally’. I believe that the Island school is trying to minimize its consumption of imported products by choosing the service of local producers instead of exporters. These actions can be testified by the School’s efforts to support local farmers like Edrin, hydroponics, and the aquaculture cage in CEI. The many awareness programs the Island School promotes among its students, the local population, and beyond, is also another way the Island School addresses these issues.

From what Edrin mentioned today, I could see the connection of why Agriculture is not a common practice in the Bahamas. Ethiopia, unlike the Bahamas has 85% of the rural population engaged in agriculture. This may be because Ethiopia is around the tropics, and gets about 5 months of intense rainfall, almost no dry seasons, and 12 months of sunshine. Such conditions are very suitable for vegetation to grow quickly. While in the Bahamas, we have a population that is engaged in either fishing or tourism because the soil (being sandy) requires much more work than the one in Ethiopia. The weather conditions in the Bahamas are not most suitable for growing most vegetation. Edrin also mentioned that the Bahamas has major rainy seasons only three months a year. This might have highly impacted the culture, and lifestyle of the Bahamians, as they are not accustomed into having agricultural practices passed down from generation to generation. A few farmers like Edrin will be only the small handful of farmers that will try to produce local meat and other products while the rest of the local population is (and have been) accustomed to consuming food products that others harvested. This might have started the need to import into the Bahamas, as the local demand outweighed the supply available in the Islands.

Today I kept asking myself, what is the way forward? How can we ensure that the future food system in the Bahamas is self-sustainable? Honestly I couldn’t find the answer to this question, I only had the many problems (that I mentioned in this journal) and it really troubled me. It almost seems like there is an un-shakable system that is in place. I recalled the time during my SERT trip when Avian was mentioning that he grows vegetables seasonally (whenever he could), and other times he would import from Nassau (since he couldn’t produce enough vegetables to sustain his restaurant business). Is tourism a blessing and a curse for Bahamians? The food import—export business does not look like it is going to sustain the Bahamian population, or the growing tourism industry, but what does this mean to the new generation of Bahamians? Locally produced food seems like it’s a viable option for many reasons, but I wonder if there are structures in place to gather enough resources, and manpower to make it a reality.”

Cacique Update July 1, 2012

Hey parents! This is Isaac and Lucy. Over the past few days students have been separated into two groups for an overnight kayaking trip and a South Eleuthera road trip and the other for SCUBA training. During our kayak trip we were fortunate enough to spot a baby octopus on the beach. It was an amazing experience to watch it change color. That remains one of the highlights of the kayak trip. Meanwhile, the other group of students was learning to SCUBA dive for the first time. We dove to Tunnel Rock and saw tons of unique species like Yellow Snapper, a tiny sea star and the most interesting of all, a Peacock flounder. This was our group’s first dive on a reef and it was a memorable experience for us all.  

Summer Term Journals

There’s a new assignment in town this Summer Term, and it’s called a journal entry! Students are being asked to regularly reflect on activities and experiences they have had throughout the day or week. These assignments allow our students to connect information across multiple disciplines, from where our food comes from on an island, to the effects of tourism and development on the surrounding ecosystems and communities. To give you a taste of what these reflections consist of we have included excerpts from two recent journals from Claire Miles and Tommy Robertshaw. Claire just returned from a South Eleuthera Road Trip, where she and 12 other students toured the Rock Sound caves and ocean hole, watched the creation of conch salad from shell to plate, and talked with local Bahamians in Deep Creek settlement. Tommy’s reflection delves into the interconnectedness of local ecosystems and tourism and development after spending the night at Palm Island beach on his two-day kayak trip. Both of these journal entries are excellent examples of the depth of reflection we hope to see in these assignments. Enjoy! [slideshow]

Claire Miles

“...Along with the general negative economic trend in the world, Eleuthera is facing a problem with a declining tourism industry, an industry that much of the Bahamas depends on. This makes me wonder, what are people on these islands doing to make up for the revenue that is lost in the declining tourism industry? Are they relying more on fishing and exportation of tropical seafood such as conch? Or are they even able to close the gap that the weakening economy has opened? There is also the future to consider; the Bahamas’ reliance on importation to supply all of its inhabitants and tourists might prove to be too ambitious if the worldwide economy continues to worsen. If businesses can no longer afford to buy goods from other countries, they can close down, contributing to an economic downward spiral.

During another part of the SERT, we visited Avian’s, a place that specializes in conch dishes. While we watched the process of creating a conch salad, we also learned a lot about how the business receives the food that they use in their recipes. Out of all the ingredients, including onion, green pepper, tomato, conch, orange, and lime, only the conch and some of the peppers weren’t imported products. The restaurant also makes about thirty to fifty conch salads a day, in addition to all of their other menu items. I assume then, that even with efforts to grow their own ingredients, there’s just not enough land available to service the large demand on the island. In order to keep the economy going, importing goods is necessary. It is a step in the right direction to use the local conch and local-grown vegetables, but it would be absurd to think that everyone could survive off of just seafood and sparse fruit and vegetables. Importing foods is also necessary to prevent over fishing or over harvesting of local goods, and to maintain the balance of the ecosystem. I’m interested to know how many people on Eleuthera practice things like composting, which could help them grow crops, and the effect that island-wide composting could have on the community. If businesses, restaurants, and most residences made efforts to create their own soil, would it offset the need to import produce? Would product prices go down, or would they stay the same, as in the case of the local pineapples in the supermarket? Would switching to compost have any downsides to a business? Is it a plan that would even have enough of an impact on the community? It’s not easy to supply a whole community of islands with hundreds of necessities that can’t be found locally, and I know that importing goods is necessary, but hopefully in the future the islands can make efforts to reduce the amount of food that they need to import. This could ideally lead to lower prices in the markets, and easier lives for the people.”

Tommy Robertshaw

Tourism today is defined by the pursuit of luxury. Eco-tourism ventures are on the increase, but they certainly don’t constitute the majority of the industry. In our Harkness discussion of Lopez’s Rediscovery of North America, my group grappled with a difficult scenario. We imagined a workingman or woman, one struggling through seventy-hour weeks. One who wants, after working hard, to be pampered on a luxurious vacation. We asked ourselves, “Are we in the right to deny that person his or her pampering (even in the name of conservation)?”

Our kayak trip was one far removed from any semblance of luxury, but throughout the journey I felt more closely connected to my environment than I ever have. We were “roughing it,” no doubt. Semi-erect tents, pernicious no-see-ums, and hesitant trips to “Dookey Point” connected us to our surroundings in a uniquely intimate way. That’s the idea, in the end, isn’t it? To live “intimately with the land, knowing it as you would a person.” It’s what Lopez tells us, at any rate. Resident EMR, Nick Lanza, seconds the notion, repeating periodically throughout the trip: “We are creatures of the earth!”

Following from that idea of connection, we explored the theme of “Leave No Trace.” It’s a philosophy with the mission to leave a place better than you found it. Hence, when gorp fell on the sand, it was quickly eaten; when we left our fire, we dispersed the extra wood; when trash from previous visitors was found, it was carried back to be disposed of. We left no trace of our having camped where we did. The beach was surely better for it.

Along our journey, we saw traces of human interaction with the land and ecosystem (not all so harmless). We honed our paddling skills in a man-made cut. How much have that and other man-made harbors around the school interrupted natural eco-systems? Might they threaten mangroves, and thus diminish transition habitat for juvenile marine life and hasten beach erosion?

Even conservation can leave traces. As we worked with CEI to tag juvenile lemon sharks, we observed as the sharks were caught and processed, leaving yellow-fin mojarra casualties, tags, clipped dorsal fins, and microchips in our paths.

Seeing the spectrum of human interaction with a place, from “Leave no Trace,” to potentially harmful man-made harbors, to the necessary traces left by conservation, I kept returning to the question: “How does one live well in a place?” I’m not sure of the answer. Maybe one, clear answer doesn’t even exist. But I think it lies (especially as far as tourism goes) in finding a middle-ground between the pampered workman on vacation and a dedicated “Leave no trace philosophy.” A system of loving the environment, being intimate with it, but enjoying it at the same time.

Cacique Update June 29, 2012

[slideshow] During our first day of SCUBA diving, Weston and I, Lizzie, were the two Caciques. Having opposite amounts of experience, I was extremely nervous, whereas Weston was eager to jump in. The first dive did not sit well with me. I hopped out of the water and went to lunch, but could not stop thinking about my second dive in only forty-five minutes. When I reached the bottom of my second dive, my fears suddenly melted away as I explored the beautiful, Bahamian scenery. Although my SCUBA diving experience got off to a rocky start, I couldn’t help but love the beautiful scenery 25 feet below the surface.

My name is Weston Albury and I was one of the Caciques yesterday and Wednesday night. I was chosen by Tommy and Larissa for my amazing energy and uplifting attitude. As part of the SCUBA program for the first week we had a really fun couple of days. I was part of team barracuda and we had a really fun time. On the first day we did a confined water dive off the dock. After lunch we went on our first open water dive to a place called the saddle. This is the name of the dive site because the bottom is in the shape of a saddle. I loved diving in the saddle because there were these really cool walls that went up the sides of the saddle that had some juvenile fairy basslets. Today I will be SCUBA certified and can go diving with anyone!

Kayak Caciques Silas and Aiko!

While on the K1 trip we stopped and learned about mangrove trees. We learned that mangroves are lot different than other trees in the way that they can grow in salt water. Our favorite thing that we did on the trip was when we stopped and helped the CEI researchers catch, tag, and measure a bunch of little lemon and black tipped sharks. We helped rush the sharks into a seine net. This really made us think that it would be awesome to intern here one day. We are also very much looking forward to the road trip that we are going to take to explore the southern part of the island. It should be an awesome experience!