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Fuat Latif: self-sufficiency in the Adirondacks

May 16, 2012
By YVONA FAST - Special to the Enterprise ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Fuat Latif graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in civil engineering. Today, he calls himself a retired civil engineer.

"I took early retirement," he jokes. "I worked in that field for all of nine months."

Instead, Fuat is a boat builder, building Adirondack guide boats on a ridge in Vermontville.

Article Photos

Fuat Latif
(Photo — Yvona Fast)

"I restore and build small wooden boats," he said, pointing to a vintage guideboat, tandem canoe and sea kayak in his work area.

He's also an enthusiastic gardener who uses his engineering skills to build everything from a passive solar home to a hoop house with an irrigation system and a solar food dehydrator.

"When I got this land five years ago, I got a yurt and planned to live in it year round. I stayed warm, but used a lot of wood," Fuat said. "So after that first winter, I moved into a room in my workshop, and began building this house. A lot of the material for the house - framing lumber, windows, doors, siding - came from a house in Lake Placid that was being torn down. It will be a small house, low cost to maintain and heat, very well insulated and passively solar heated. It is insulated underneath, in the ground and around the perimeter of the foundation. The walls are 12 inches thick and insulated, and there's 18 inches of insulation in the ceiling. The windows face south, to get the most benefit from the sun. Insulating shutters and panels will cover all the windows at night, to keep the heat in. On a sunny winter day, the house should not need any heating." On cloudy, winter days, Fuat will use wood heat, but plans to use less than a cord of wood for the entire winter season. His main complaint is that building the house has drained his time as well as his savings.

An avid gardener, Fuat grows all of his own vegetables, and rarely buys vegetables in winter.

"I've grown my own vegetables ever since I've been an adult," he said. "It just makes sense to grow your own: They're better quality, safe, without pesticides and chemicals, and much tastier too. I want to eat the best that I can. My lettuce and spinach lasted until the first week in December, and I hope to dig the Brussels sprouts from under the snow through the winter."

In autumn, tomatoes, pepers and cabbages hang from their vines to ripen indoors after frost.

"I pull them up, roots and all, before the frost comes, then hang them inside my workshop to ripen slowly. The green peppers turn red, even though the plants are dead," he said.

Fuat also built a large solar food dryer.

"It has four trays," he explained. "I followed plans to build it. Unfortunately, you can't dry tomatoes in this climate just with solar power, because it cools down too much at night. So I use light bulbs. I ran it for about a month last fall, with 150 watt bulbs which were only lit at night. Still, I noticed a spike in electricity use of about $15."

He said that when he lived in the somewhat warmer climate of Vermont before moving to the Tri-Lakes, he planted 100 tomato plants and dried many of them using a propane heater. But it's harder to grow tomatoes here in the northern Adirondacks.

"Apples will dry at room temperature," he said. "I put them up on a shelf in my room, and they dry like that. It was a great year for apples."

Fuat also built a cold frame and hoop house for his garden. The hoop house is watered with drip irrigation, with little slits every 8 inches. The rainwater is stored in a 400 gallon tank. That way, says Fuat, "as long as there's rain, the plants in the hoop house will get watered. The tank fills when it rains, and the water flows down slowly, by gravity.

"This spot here on the ridge may be the coldest spot in the Adirondacks - often it is 10 degrees colder than Saranac Lake," he said. "I've had frost in late June, early August, even in July that's why I built the hoop house, so a surprise frost in summer won't hurt my tomatoes."

Fuat's new home will also have a root cellar, accessible through a trap door in the bathroom floor with steps going down. Right now, he has polyethylene (plastic) on the dirt floor to keep the moisture from seeping up from the ground. He plans to cover the dirt with gravel, which will also help with tracking dirt up into the house.

Fuat also enjoys travel. His trips have included the circumnavigation of Mt. Blanc in France and a trek in Nepal with the Sierra Club.

"Last summer, I biked from Boise Idaho to Portland, Ore.," he said. "Two years ago, I hiked across England."

Fuat spent 22 years in Vermont before coming to this area 15 years ago.

"I moved here for recreation," he explained. "I enjoy backcountry skiing, mountain biking, paddling. Vermont has less wilderness, and there are limited places to paddle. On the other hand, in the Champlain Valley, the growing season was longer; I miss that. There are also fewer birds here than in the Champlain Valley."


Based on an interview with Fuat Latif. Yvona Fast can be reached at



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