In 2012, along with her husband and two daughters, Heather Tiszai cruised the Bahamas aboard their 32-foot Bristol sloop, Mi Cielito. She and her family were saddened by the lack of diverse and healthy food available to island residents and visitors — but not surprised. Little had changed since the years when Heather worked as a sailboat captain for International Field Studies, a nonprofit educational and scientific organization established to promote and assist teachers with field study programs. At that time she hosted students on sailing expeditions around Andros and the Exuma islands, teaching marine and island ecology. From this experience she knew about the impact of conventional farming techniques on marine ecosystems.
Returning home to Bellingham, Washington, Heather founded Growing Alliances for Sustainable Agriculture (GASA) with an aim to promote agricultural improvements in the islands. Parlaying her firsthand experience with Bahamian culture and her established relationships, Heather identified a core group of island farmers, businesses and residents interested in working toward sustainable agricultural initiatives. Her vision for GASA is to support these leaders, providing both resources and information for communities to move forward: “We’re already working with schools to design permaculture-style gardens, examples modeled after natural ecosystems and that highlight traditional Bahamian crops. Our workshops for farmers cover soil building, organic pest control and developing island resources to facilitate sustainable agriculture.”
She adds that this is an important time to do this work. “The Bahamian government is interested in developing Andros Island as an agricultural resource for the entire country. Over the next year, our grass-roots efforts are geared toward giving these resources direction — because how they approach this will affect the health of the local population and economy, as well as the environment.”
Heather is working toward a future in which cruisers who venture to the Bahamas will find the tiny stores stocked not just with pasta and drinks made from high-fructose corn syrup, but with freshly picked mangoes, Bahamian-grown pineapples and maybe even soursop. For more information about GASA, log on to the website (growingalliances.org).
Do you know a sailor or group working to make a change for the better? Let us know about them by dropping a line to [email protected]