Living off the grid

by Leigh-Ann Worrell

Explaining how he harnesses the power of this sun.
Explaining how he harnesses the power of this sun.

Fraser Young believes in the power of one.

An environmentalist, he is doing his part to leave a greener footprint on the island. Fraser grows his own food using in-soil and aquaponic methods. He has also set up his St. Bernard’s Village, St. Joseph home to utilise solar power, cutting his electricity bill to $12 per month, in addition to paying minimal cost on his water bill, totaling around $320 each year.

“By creating living examples of sustainability it simplifies the process. You keep asking people to live sustainably, but where do you start?… Just start with a reusable bag, stop using plastic bags.

People don’t really feel like they can make a difference and I think it is important for everyone to know that they can. It is going to take everyone’s effort,” Fraser told LOVING ME on a quiet Wednesday afternoon.

“Maybe that lawn you have to mow that is the bane of your existence can become a joy, where you can spend more time with your family and spend more time outdoors rather than inside with your iPod and iPad and you get to eat food you have direct control over.”

His patio paints a picturesque scene, overlooking a lush orchard where citrus and a variety of colourful bananas and plantains are grown. To the right the in-soil garden is ripening with pumpkins, sweet basil and other treats were “protected” by his two goats and a newborn kid.

The five-month-old aquaponic garden boasted arugula, broccoli, kale and budding strawberries.

Furthering his green lifestyle, Fraser is hoping to expand this type of living into a fully “off the grid” organic community in the near future.

“I’d like to do six to eight houses, all farming and they will have their own specialty. For example, you will have someone doing goat’s milk and goat cheeses, another two or three farmers might to the organic vegetable side of it, another guy might have his bees and a honey operation, and we would have a community kitchen which will build a sense of community, which I think is something that has been lost in a lot of parts of the island…,” the Barbadian native revealed.

Fraser is also the managing director of Ecostructure, a company which encourages builders to create homes in a more environmentally-conscious way. He was instrumental in the construction of a sustainable luxury home in Apes Hill, St. James, which he was aiming to liquidate soon in order to start the off grid community.

He was of the opinion the organic community was something Barbados could benefit from, adding, “it is still very difficult to find organic food locally. We have the Organic Growers Association which is doing a great job on growing organic but there needs to be more education on why organic is important.”

Fraser highlighted other the availability of organic produce at the Holder’s Market on Sundays, and its growing popularity as proof positive that healthier food was something Barbadians were interested in.

“It has seen a real surge of people and the farmers are responding by growing more. If there is a demand, people will produce it,” Fraser asserted, “these farmers are not in it to sell for premium brand but just enjoys growing healthy food and interacting with the end users and giving them something they work hard for.”

Based on Fraser’s enthusiasm, it is hard to believe that green living and eating has only been a recent part of his lifestyle.

While a Golf Management and Marketing major at the New Mexico State University in the US, he was 40 pounds heavier and, in his estimation, on the path of becoming obese. Walking up stairs would leave him sweaty and breathless.

At that time, Fraser’s diet mainly consisted fast food and processed food.

“Everything was thrown in the oven, drive-thru, happy meals and dollar this, it was too easy. When all of your friends are doing this and everyone around you it [feels] normal. I realised … wasn’t right and I started researching food, the food system and how it is set up and how it is slated to play to people’s motivators.”

The decision to grow food came about two years ago. Fraser’s girlfriend Ni Chen moved to the island from Toronto, Canada and lamented the lack of places to buy fresh, organic produce on the island. After some research and a lot of zeal, Fraser tried out his green thumb.

“I originally I wanted the most obscure stuff, but then I realised there was a reason they grew north and south of here. I switched it up and worked with what grows here,” he said.

“I used a lot of permaculture techniques, so using multiple systems together to complement each other, like [rearing] goats and using their manure create fertiliser and feeding them with the plants.

There are also some wild foul out here we have trained to come around the house and that gets rid of snails and pests and attracts beneficial insects and deters things like white flies which means you don’t have to spray. However, if we ever had an outbreak of anything, we have organic sprays that we can use.”

The environmentalist admitted it was not easy to get started, but with time and more research, he began to reap the benefits.

“The first year I killed everything… Before we trained the wild chickens to come out here, the African snails were abysmal. Seedlings laid would just disappear after the first night. But the chickens got those [African snails] numbers controlled and we started seeing success.”

Another key aspect of Fraser’s farming success was learning about the importance of alive and healthy soil. He started collecting compost and incorporated it into his in-soil techniques.

The aquaculture and aquaponics component came later. Fraser keeps tilapia in a large black tank, which is connected to the halved plastic barrels the crops are grown in. He was assisted by four interns from McGill University is setting up the system.

“Fish waste feeds the plants and the roots soak up the nutrients and the clean water goes into the reservoir, that goes into the fish tank. It uses five per cent of the water of traditional soil growing, and we get a source of protein and fresh delicious veg,” he explained.

Working outdoors also trims another expense off Fraser’s budget: gym membership. Ni Chen also helps to maintain the trim physique by creating tasty and vivid dishes using the produce from their garden.

“When you have good, fresh local organic produce, you don’t have to do that much to make it taste great. All you need is a little oil, salt, stir-fry we do lots of soups,” Fraser said.

Reflecting on the change in his lifestyle, Fraser is more than happy he made the switch.

“When I look at my friends who are in finance and insurance they are so big. I’m like man, ‘I am glad I didn’t choose that life.’ I got out lucky.”

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