Center visitors get education in 'sustainable future'

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Associate editor Cathy Carroll visited the Future Centre Trust in Barbados. Her report follows.

ST. THOMAS -- A monarch butterfly distracted Dr. Colin Hudson. He was giving a tour of the Future Centre Trust (FCT), a facility that demonstrates how to create a "sustainable future" through resource conservation, and describing why depletion of fossil fuels will render mass tourism obsolete by 2050. Then the delicate insect wafted by.

"There's a monarch butterfly," said Hudson, the driving force behind the center. "Three thousand of them will fly from Canada to Mexico. Not one in the swarm has ever done it before, but there's something informing them. They are somehow plugged in to a web of information. Their brains are so small you would need a microscope to see them, but something is informing [them]," Hudson said.

The FCT is far from being a traditional tourist stop on the island. Beyond the educational component of the site, it is Hudson's passion for his fledgling project that makes the tour refreshingly delightful and interesting. During the tour around the four-and-a-half acres, guests learn about a variety of recycling projects and medicinal plants.

Typically, botanical gardens are organized alphabetically according to plants' Latin names, Hudson said, but his garden is organized according to ailments and remedies. Several varieties of plants are clustered around signs that read "sedatives," "cystitis," "colds" and "aphrodisiacs."

The FCT is "like an upside-down museum, because it's not about history. It tries to capture the imagination and connect to the whole web of life to which we're connected," Hudson said. It also aims to give people practical examples of how they can conserve resources. For example, Hudson said, "a good-size tree on the side of a building saves five air conditioners."

The center relies on volunteers and support from sponsors, so much of the efforts are still only in Hudson's imagination. "Everything here will speak to you. It will be a wonderland," he said.

"What I've been dreaming of for here is a stage," Hudson said, gesturing toward a level area shaded on both ends by two thick mahogany trees. A hand-painted sign describes how the stage would be used for productions for children and other works. The the sign, like most of the others in areas of proposed projects, reads, "Would you like to help?"

Hudson also envisions the center hosting poetry readings, yoga classes and workshops in alternative forms of healing. Another sign along a pathway reads, "Is FCT organic? Yes, because we use no pesticides, and no, because we use herbicides on our pathway because we do not have enough help to do the weeding. Would you like to help?"

Hudson envisions tree houses to be built in the mahogany trees and connected by aerial walkways, so visitors can look at the clouds. Children will be asked how many trees they can identify from up there, he said.

He said his dream is that in two generations, Barbados will return to being a forest. "Roads and factories will be in huge forests, with huge trees shading everything," he said.

"I was recently named 'an enemy of progress' by a real estate developer," Hudson said. "I must be doing something right. We think the FCT is the first to look at the future in a completely holistic way," he said. For example, the island groundwater is naturally pure because it percolates through the land's coral stone "cap," Hudson said, but that natural system is stressed because of the increasing use of water and waste of water, he said. Consequently, the FCT is looking at ways of conserving and recycling every drop.

The center was created after Barbados hosted the United Nations Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States in 1994. At that time, more than 3,000 volunteers created displays in an exhibition called "Village of Hope" that demonstrated 28 aspects of sustainable development, according to the FCT. Nearly 20% of the island's population paid to see the exhibit, "an exhilarating experiment in education for sustainability," according to the FCT. The FCT is a permanent successor of that exhibit.

Dieter Mennekes, a German businessman and an avid windsurfer who moved to Barbados 17 years ago, is a major benefactor of the FCT. "I have a house here, and I want to conserve the island's resources," he said.

Before Mennekes got involved, Hudson was working in the sugar industry in Barbados and was devoting 20% of his time to creating the FCT. "I wanted that to change because there are plenty of people to work in the sugar industry," Mennekes said.

Following the tour, guests can stay for an organic lunch at the center's Fronds restaurant. The restaurant, where meals are served on a wide terrace overlooking organic vegetable gardens, touts itself as "the only restaurant in Barbados where you see your meal growing within yards of your plate." The menu is based on vegetables that are easy to grow, without the need for fungicides or pesticides, Hudson said. A professional chef renders them delicious.

A recent lunch menu featured iced herbal "FC tea"; a sweet blend of starfruit and ginger juice; organic salad with steamed arugula; flaky, white, grilled barracuda; grilled Japanese eggplant, and a dessert of pumpkin fritters with tangelos. The suggested donation for lunch is $11.

Regardless of what visitors may think of Hudson's beliefs and dreams, it's hard not to be captivated by his enthusiasm and unrelenting energy for challenging the status quo. One of the many signposts along the paths of the site bearing quotations seems to capture that spirit. It is a quote from Bertrand Russell that reads, "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd."

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