Selima Campbell Hauber calls me to say she’ll be late. Striding in ten minutes later and flashing a wide smile, she starts to explain, “I’m Sorry! Babies, in-laws.” I wave off her efforts to apologize as I am grateful she is squeezing my interview into her jam-packed schedule.
At this point in her life, Selima grows and sells food from her farm. But that’s really phase one of her agritainment—agriculture plus entertainment—master plan. Field to Fork, Selima’s brainchild with husband, Tim Hauber, is a farm and farmer’s market that operates out of the New Providence Community Centre (NPCC). Selima plants and harvests a varied range—arugula, beets, green beans, strawberries, just to name a few—on a plot that measures about an eighth of an acre. She also sells the fruit and vegetables at NPCC on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
The farm and farmer’s market reopened in Fall 2012, after the most major pit stop of all—the Haubers’ three kids were born and all farm plans had to be shelved until the adults were ready to nurture plants as well as children.
Now that she is back to farming daily and tending to the kids when she gets home, Selima chuckles and jokes that she doesn’t want to think about the next time she can get a good night’s sleep.
Lacking sleep never seems to keep the ambitious, hands-on and talented down. Selima looks pretty determined to accomplish her to-do list that spans years, creates industries and tackles the Bahamas’ food security issues.
But first, we talk about phases. Phase one is the farm and farmer’s market already in operation. I ask what phase two entails. “We want to expand our growing space, so we would have a greater variety of produce. I see an actual store (that will be open daily) starting up next season as well.” She adds, “Another exciting addition would be the aquaponic system where we would be growing tilapia and/or catfish, where the water that the fish are in would be circulated to feed plants. We hope to have that up for the next season. I imagine it would come at the end of 2013.”
But Selima says her plans stretch way past the 2013 mark. She leans over and announces her dream to start an ethnobotanical garden and a lab at Field to Fork. “Ethnobotany is a study of how people use plants. For medicines, fibre, fuel and food. I want to have a garden growing all the local plants used in medicine. And then, as a part of that, have a small lab that would do the extracting. We could extract some of the oil, and export it. We could make our own products locally.”
Selima takes a breath, and adds, “Oh my goodness. Ultimately we want to have Field to Fork to develop into—the terminology these days is agritainment, or agritourism—where you go to a farm, and it is all entertainment. It is a functioning farm but you also go there to visit the gardens, take part in hayrides, pumpkin picking, mazes, etc.”
She says the lab and ethnobotanical gardens could see the light of day in fIve years. “Five years is not a lot of time to see that major vision unfold. It encompasses so much that I would need two lifetimes to do this, man!” she exclaims.
It is a total no-brainer that Selima—who earned a Ph.D. in horticulture—would initiate an ethnobotanical garden, extraction lab and farm store in the Bahamas. She has been working to this goal since her final year at Kingsway Academy. Initially poised to study medicine, Selima decided to switch gears and take on horticulture after hearing a speech about food import given by Dr. Bernard Nottage (who was the Minister of Education in 1991) on Careers Week at Kingsway Academy.
“The number that sticks in my head that he gave of the cost of food import was $1.2 billion.” Selima says. “That seems ridiculous today, but I question my memory because now it is $500 million. I just remember it being some exorbitant amount of money.”
She recalls that the speech highlighted melon production in Andros, in which some of the melons were being exported to countries like Japan. “The Japanese were willing to pay a pretty price for the melons that were grown here. Hearing that, and the fact that we were spending so much money importing food.” Selima proclaims, “ I don’t know, it just awakened a passion in me. I just got angry, upset and frustrated that we weren’t doing it. And that is where the switch (from studying medicine to horticulture) happened.”
She went to the College of the Bahamas for two years, and completed her bachelor’s degree in biology with an agricultural focus at Tuskeegee University in Alabama. She moved on to her master’s degree at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL, where she was first exposed to lab work with plant micropropagation and tissue culture.
Upon completion, Selima took a two-year break to work—first at Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Miami for six months, and then at Kerry’s Bromeliad Nursery for two years. At Kerry’s, Selima worked on producing orchids for sale to huge buyers like The Home Depot. But she began to experience a serious crisis of conscience.
“I started to feel guilty.” she revealed. “Plants and flowers are lovely, but it is the ornamental industry. I was inspired to go back into research because that is where I felt a bigger impact is being made on a global scale.”
She says she would have much prefer a meaningful research project that could improve someone’s life. “As opposed to selling thousands of orchids every week,” she adds with a grin, “which is fun. But how am I really earning my oxygen?”
So it was back to school for the last time. (At least for now.) Selima went to the University of Georgia to earn her Ph.D. in horticulture. Selima’s eyes beam brightly when she starts to talk about her doctorate research work on a plant called bloodroot.
“It’s called bloodroot because the stem is really juicy, and when you break it, the latex is red. Blood red.” Bloodroot is native to the Americas, Selima elaborates, “from Florida all the way up—as far north as Canada.” She adds that Native Americans used it to treat skin cancer way, way back in the day.
Selima chatters on about almost every facet of this medicinal plant, but most importantly—about how she wanted to produce bloodroot on a commercial scale. She hopes to continue this style of lab work at Field to Fork, with Bahamian plants. Perhaps creating a whole new industry in the process.
I start to realize that our conversation keeps circling from labs, to gardens and back to farming. I ask if she thought she would be farming back in the Bahamas after all that academia and specialized lab work in the United States. She pauses and says, “If you were to ask me what I was gonna do right before I came home—I wouldn’t think I would be running a farm.”
She continues, “But I enjoy it, and it is necessary—I see the bigger picture. I am happy to be doing it even with the amount of education I have, because people need to see that it’s not a career that you should look down upon.”
I ask why anyone would look down on her work. Selima smiles and explains, “In this country, people value titles and education. They wouldn’t expect somebody with my degree getting out there and getting dirty.” She laughs and adds, “But I don’t care, I enjoy it. I love to see when people come by and say the love the food that I grow. I’m fine that I am not walking around a lab in a white coat, with people calling me Dr. Hauber all the time.”
She says emphatically, “ I want people to know that farming is a viable career. Even for the educated.”
And for those who really cannot get over the stigma of growing outside—of bending over in the dirt—Selima says that greenhouse production in the Bahamas has become more popular, as a lot of people have been asking her about it. She quietly states that the Bahamas needs more farmers, and she wants to promote farming in any form. “We need to show different methods of growing,” Selima proclaims, “and we need to show that it can be done profitably.”
Attracting more young people to farming would help the food security issue in the Bahamas. The average age of a farmer here is 65—and they’re not being replaced by their children when they retire. Other pertinent statistics don’t exactly fill me with confidence: $500 million in food imports; more than 90% of food is imported, with 95% of said food coming from the United States. Some may say this system hasn’t come crashing down on the Bahamian people yet, so why rock the leaky boat?
Relying primarily on imports is fine when there is relative peace and harmony in the world. “I wasn’t here for 9/11,” Selima says, “and I understand that people were actually concerned—because the ports were closed, and because of that no ships were moving in between. People were concerned about how much food was left on this island.”
Not one to passively accept this food insecurity status quo, Selima starts to come up with scenarios which can change things. She throws out some basic common sense: “We need to import less and grow more.”
She has some ideas for those currently farming. “Right now, a lot of farmers are dependent on selling their produce to the government.” She shrugs and adds, “It is inefficient, but at the same time, the farmers have to know that they cannot rely on the government to be the sole buyer.” She says emphatically that farmers in our digital age should think about independently marketing and advertising their goods.
Like she is doing with Field to Fork. Selima says she hopes that her future plans for Field to Fork can inspire other farmers or potential farmers, but it can be exasperating waiting for all the phases and financing to unfold.
Selima makes a two-inch space between both pointer fingers. “Sometimes I can feel so impatient and frustrated that Field to Fork is just this big,” she says. “Because I know what I want it to be, and the impact I want it to have. But I have to just relax—Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is just a stage, and it will build incrementally.”
This current stage is great start, but Selima can’t help but share the big dream: “ I really want it to have a big positive impact, even if it is to inspire somebody else to do another Field to Fork. Imagine if we had 100 Field to Forks on this island—that would be significant to decrease the amount of food imported.”
“1000 Field to Forks throughout the country. 2000!” she exclaims and throws up her hands. We have a laugh at the thought of this blindingly positive hypothetical. Maybe someday.
-Written and photographed by Denise See