Twenty years ago, Robert “Sasha Marli” Charles moved into Texas Village, Las Cuevas, one of the most remote areas of the country.
Today, there is no electricity, running water or cellular reception and Charles’ humble home can only be accessed using a four-wheel-drive vehicle or a 45-minute hike. About two miles past their home, one of the country’s most beautiful waterfalls, the Rincon Waterfall, cascades down from the Northern Range.
Charles, his wife Vanessa and their one-year-old daughter Emily were at home when a Guardian Media team visited on Tuesday. Charles said they have 14 children between them and while several are grown and married, the younger ones stay with relatives during the week so they can access online classes.
Charles and Vanessa support their family through permaculture farming. They grow dragon fruit, rambutan, lychee, pomegranate, plantains and many other crops.
“Permaculture is a full circle way of farming where you would actually take the things that you would usually discard and store it and turn it into mulch and usable food for the plants. We take fruits that are in season that we don’t get to sell or eat and make a tea and apply it to the plants so permaculture to us is a sustainable way of living,” Charles said.
He said, in addition to creating his own fertiliser, he purchases organic chemicals for use on his crops.
Those fertilisers do not contaminate the watercourses and allow Charles to maintain his ‘clean’ lifestyle.
But they do not come cheap and Charles said he raises money by maintaining the trail that leads to the waterfall.
He also entertains hikers on their way to the waterfall, offering them a place to rest before they continue on their journey. He and Vanessa also act as first responders, assisting visitors who become injured or ill on the trail back to civilisation with their Suzuki Jimny to seek medical attention.
But several months ago, the faithful Jimny suffered a damaged differential and any journeys Charles makes to the outside world are now on foot.
He cannot afford to repair it as the part costs $6,000. But the vehicle is the least of his problems as Charles said since the COVID-19 pandemic brought tourism to a standstill, he has been unable to earn any income from the trail.
“We usually ask people to donate $5 to our upkeep of the trail and while many people don’t pay us any mind, we usually make do with whatever little we get,” Charles said. “We use the money to buy seedlings, chemicals, gas to cut the trails.”
He is now appealing to both corporate T&T and private citizens to assist him in keeping his farm running.
But Charles said he does not want ‘something’ for nothing as he said he was willing to share the fruit of his labour with anyone who reaches out to assist.
“If you could donate money and not labour when we reap, you get a share. If you have time and you want to come and stay a weekend, help out with labour, when we reap, you get a share.”
He believes permaculture can be the system to ensure this country’s food security. He said if the state invests in permaculture, within several months T&T can be on its way to feed itself.
“We have the lands here, potent soil here that we could actually have small mega-farms funded by the government, the youths on the roadside, they could have something to look forward too but when somebody sets up an industry like that, one set of people are capitalising from it, it needs a balance.”
He said there is also room to increase exports and earn revenue for the country.
Anyone wishing to assist Charles or partner with him can contact him at 321-5255.