From as early as age 11, Christy Preece knew she had a calling; one that she believes is to help nourish the human body while playing a role in the fight against climate change.
This is what led the senior certified organic farm inspector to officially start her own company about five years ago, offering a range of plants, plant-based juices and treatments, as well as teaching individuals how to grow their crop organically.
The England-born entrepreneur easily spends up to seven hours a day in her garden, which is located on her 1.5 acre property, where she boasts of more than 30 different types of fruit trees, 30 different types of herbs and a variety of vegetables.
“My grandfather used to grow the best roses and had the best garden in his town. Also, he grew vegetables and salads. So I grew up with it. My parents bought a property with orchards.
“I also had a house in the Middle East and I grew a garden there from a sandpit. I even ended up with a eucalyptus tree that was 50 feet high,” she recalled.
Preece, who did not want to disclose her age, left England at the age of 17 and spent some time in the Middle East before returning to England for a short while. She moved to Barbados about 30 years ago, where she now lives with her husband.
Preece recently gave a Barbados TODAY team a tour of her huge Pine Garden, St Michael garden as she gushed about many of the aromatic plants.
“Gardening, it is my most fun thing to do,” she said, as she reached for one of her bright red cactus fruits. I had gardeners doing the garden, but they seemed to kill everything. So I said, ‘okay, I am going to do it,’” Preece said.
But why did she develop an interest in organic farming in the first place?
“My body was a complete mess at age 11, from the typical English meal of meat and two veg diet. It was low fibre and too much protein. My mother had to take me to a homeopath. There was something wrong with my body,” she recalled.
“I had eaten the lovely fresh veggies, salads and fruits from my grandfather’s garden. I could see the benefits of homegrown organic food over the shop-bought food that sometimes came from miles away or came in on an aeroplane from another country,” she said.
From then, Preece made a vow to herself that she would do all she could to help others eat healthier while paying close attention to how they were growing their food.
In addition to taking an eight-weeks class with the Organic Growers and Consumers Association (OGCA) with her son, the mother of four also did two permaculture courses – one in Australia and one in London – and she has done a two-weeks intensive permaculture design course in Barbados.
While Preece has been selling plants for several years, it was only five years ago that she officially launched her business Chi Organics, specialising in a range of organic herbs, fruits and fragrant plants, as well as tonics.
She also sells several types of house plants and ferns that she says “help to clean the atmosphere”.
“Both Bajans and foreigners are very keen to learn how to grow things organically. They appreciate and understand the value of it. So yes, they love to come to my classes and learn about my unusual plants,” said Preece, who recalled that when she first started her garden in Barbados she was not impressed by the limited variety of plants that everyone seemed to share.
“I would often come across the same 30 plants,” she explained, “so I started to branch out.”
The environmentalist said she was also concerned about the way farming was being done in Barbados and that influenced her to start Chi Organics.
“Over the years, with people using weed killers, the natural local herbs have been dying out. I am continuing to grow these local herbs so that people can continue to have access to them and that way we can maintain a supply of indigenous local herbs that are good for healing so many things,” said Preece.
“I was lucky I grew up without using any chemicals. So I didn’t have to relearn. Really, I am just asking Bajans to go back to how their grandparents farmed. Stop using all toxic chemicals,” she said.
The healthy life coach, who makes some of her composts from the menacing sargassum weed, told Barbados TODAY she was concerned that the island was not getting enough rainfall.
“I used to be proud to say I have 30 different types of fruit trees, 30 different types of herbs and 30 different types of vegetables. But now, while my fruit trees and herbs have increased, unfortunately my vegetables have been declining because of the lack of rain basically,” said Preece.
“Having four to six months of drought makes it very hard to grow vegetables,” she said, adding “for some of them it doesn’t matter how much you water with the hose, they don’t like government water.”
Her perfect weather, she says, “is rainy all night and sunny all day. That way the plants are happy and I am happy,” said Preece.
With that not being the case, the St Michael resident said she would collect as much rainwater as she could whenever it rains “so when we have no rain, we can use what we have”.
Preece said she was satisfied that Barbadians from all walks of life continue to depend on herbal teas “because they know the benefits”, adding that several couples as well as parents and children would attend her farming classes.
“They know the Creator created our plants as food and medicine and so they are very keen to come and learn how to grow naturally without chemicals and buy my unusual and even common herbs,” he said.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Preece spent the majority of her time tending her garden, explaining that she increased the time she would normally spend weeding, tilling the soil and caring for the plants.
“With COVID-19, it was a real treat because I didn’t have to drive anywhere or visit anyone or do errands. I would be in the garden from six in the morning until 11 a.m. Then I would come in and cook brunch and relax and then go back out from 4 p.m. until 6:30 or 7 p.m. Sometimes my partner comes home and he would see me in the garden with the flashlight attending to my plants,” she quipped.