ARTfarm NEWS: Summer Recap, Saving Water, Open Soon!

Dragonfruits harvested at ARTfarm in October 2018

It’s time for an ARTfarm update! Lots of people have been asking when we’ll reopen, and we’ve been busy as bees since we last posted on June 1st.

Long story short: We are aiming to open early November 2018 and hope to see you at our farmstand. Thanks for your patience.

The farm is currently under an unprecedented siege of army worm caterpillars, who are eating many of our vegetable and fruit vine seedlings to below the soil level, which may delay our opening unpredictably. Yikes! So more updates, and a firm farm opening date, soon come!

Short story long, for the ARTfarm news junkies: Read on below for the summer/fall “recap” all in one newsy post. With photos!


We were all depleted after Hurricane Maria.

By the end of the 2017-2018 farming season, which started relentlessly after Hurricane Maria and continued unabatedly active for nine months, we were VI Strong but also exhausted and stressed, like many islanders in the post-storm recovery process. We were demoralized by the lack of disaster resources and by the growing evidence in the scientific community confirming what we’ve been feeling on the backs of our necks: the looming spectre of climate change accelerating.

With our fruitless applications for disaster relief denied, a powerful drought killing off the post-storm vegetation boom, and the loss of most of the fruit trees in ours and our friends’ orchards that would have provided the usual mangoes and avocados for us to sell over the summer, we decided to close early for the season in late spring of 2018, and work on storm recovery and our health.


Luca reflecting on one of his older paintings on display at CMCA in May 2018 – the Senepol show. Christina also had works in this show.

In May, art lifted us a bit. Luca and Christina both participated in group art shows, primarily using previous works from our own and private collections.

We began work on our printmaking project to help raise funds for rebuilding our destroyed farm structures.

One of our new layer chicks being socialized by our poultry wrangler.

And we picked up seven baby chicks at the Ag Fair to replenish our layer hen population on the farm.

Visiting friend Duvan lifted our spirits and got us to the beach!

We also had a farm volunteer (our old friend Duvan from art school days) come and stay with us for over a month in May and June. He completely rebuilt our rickety blue farm cart that was on the brink of oblivion, painted things that needed painting, cleaned up and organized post-storm disaster areas of the farm (like piles of mashed-up stuff around tool sheds), repaired a gaping hole in the farmstand, constructed a new rat-proof chicken coop for the new baby chicks, and many other useful helpful things. He reminded us to do yoga and breathe and hit the beach and celebrate life and eat good things and make a little art every day. Thank you, Duvan, for helping us start to get our joy back!


Farmer Luca with lots and lots of ginger! Big end-of-season harvest for seed stock and making drinks!

We had a bit of good news in June, when despite the dry conditions, some of our dragonfruit vines began to recover from storm damage and produce a few fruits. We weren’t sure they would produce again after being knocked down and righted, but they did!

Also in June, Farmer Luca harvested over a hundred pounds of organically grown ginger, which he mostly sold to restaurants, in particular Chef Isumyah at Vegetarian Creation in Barron Spot Mall (she and her family make a ginger-tumeric elixir tonic that is incredible!). We participated in more group art shows.

Opheeeeeeeeee-liaaa! The curious peahen.

And a very friendly peahen we christened “Ophelia” showed up one day, and adopted us and our new baby chicks as her own.

Brushfire on the West side of Great Pond Bay near the Boy Scout Camp. VIFS suspected this was set by an individual. It quickly hopped the road and burned rapidly to the west.

Hot ash, lit cinders and smoke filled the air over the farm for two days as the fire continued to advance toward us.

But, the drought continued. We had some major brushfires on the South Shore in early June, started by humans at Great Pond Bay.

Big props to Faye Williams, our NRCS rep from USDA, who came out and inspected our newly erected EQIP fencing, and “Cheech” Thomas who brought heavy machinery and helped cut emergency firebreaks, in the early evening of June 8th as the flames, live cinders, ashes and thick smoke upwind of us threatened the farm and clouded the air. VI Fire Service came through for us again, helped by miraculous last minute rain showers.


July was spent completing the restoration of fences that were destroyed by utility poles that fell in Hurricane Maria, and finishing more pasture division fencing for NRCS. Huge thanks to superARTfarmer Bob Boyan who did an incredible amount of work on that project. It’s beautiful.

Dividing pastures supports soil conservation, and prevents soil erosion, by aiding the farmer to keep livestock OFF of most of the grass, most of the time, so the sward can recover quickly from grazing, instead of getting eaten down to the bare soil. This rotational grazing also helps foil livestock-killing predators, gives the livestock a more varied diet, and greatly aids in keeping them free from parasites, so much less veterinary treatment is needed to keep them healthy. (Brush fires can destroy this expensive and labor intensive fencing.)

Our layer hens were all killed by unusually aggressive mongoose attacks over the summer. RIP girls.

Throughout June, July and August, despite our prevention efforts, we lost all of our layer chickens who survived the direct hit of Hurricane Maria – one by one – to mongoose predation. Farmer Luca said, “I’m pretty sure there was something different about this summer for that to happen, because we’ve been raising chickens the same way for 15 years, and this is the first time we’ve had such intense attacks from mongoose on adult birds.” We believe the mongoose were extra desperate this summer for any kind of food during the drought conditions that started in March. It is possible that the omnivorous introduced predator’s population exploded post-Maria, with all the available food that grew from the lush post-storm vegetation growth, later putting intense pressure on our poultry when the drought began killing off the boom in the mongoose’s natural food sources.

Our young “Viequen Butterball” mango that survived Maria fruited for the second time, and gave us about five fruits. A few pineapples came ripe, but not enough to open the farmstand with. We made salad mix a few more times for the tail end of the last lettuce still growing, just for the family.

Famer Luca and Farmer Dennis Nash discuss the construction of water-conserving Hugel beds at ARTfarm.

ARTfarmers prepping drip irrigation on a heavily mulched Hugel bed for watermelon and coconut. Fall 2018.

Farmer Luca made six large new half-buried Hugelkultur beds in July with downed tree debris, which he is getting more and more excited about. He successfully grew watermelons all summer long in an older Hugel bed, and the same watermelon plants survived more than three times as long as they normally do. (Vines that were planted in March – at the beginning of the drought period – have continuously produced melons since May – through October and beyond! This is unheard of!) These permaculture beds require less watering than regular garden beds, as the rotting wood at their center holds water like a sponge, creates positive rhizomal activity, and sinks carbon by naturally composting large masses of storm brush piles.


An interesting side-effect of composting for Farmer Luca is painting from the visuals of the colorful contents of the bins. An appreciation for the contribution of these lifeforms.

We have spent the summer, particularly in August, composting wood chips (from hurricane debris) and brewer’s grain waste product from Leatherback Brewing Co., along with composting lots of fish and lobster carcasses from local restaurants, and fish scales and fish guts from the La Reine fish and farmers’ market.

Just through the bacterial activity (aided by the farmer’s tinkering to get the perfect air and moisture conditions), we’ve been able to get our compost pile temperatures up to a blazing 160°F! The more of this composting we do, the more we can eliminate the purchase and shipping of ANY organic soil amendments or fertilizers. This means LESS carbon footprint. Our goal on the farm is always to eliminate fossil fuel intensive shipping, and close the nutrient loop.

PBS film crew with host LaVaughn Belle in the ARTbarn, interviewing Farmer/Artist Luca about his inspiration.

Luca had one last hurrah in the storm-halved ARTbarn gallery, when local artist LaVaughn Belle came out to interview him with a film crew for a new program she is hosting for our local PBS station about local St. Croix artists and their inspirations. We’re looking forward to the announcement of the title and air date of the show, and will post it to our website!

August is also that time of year when we normally prepare soil and start lots of vegetable seedlings for the season. It has been another extreme and unusual drought this spring and summer of 2018. Rainfall at ARTfarm has been way below average, we’ve lost a few more trees, and the radiant heat coming out of the hard-baked soil has been intense, making the brushfire risk high. So we hesitated to start the season at the usual start date.

In late August it was finally often raining heavily. But… Unfortunately the rain was consistently falling about two miles northwest of the farm, while missing us entirely. So, we contracted the VI Department of Agriculture to bring some of that rain back east to us in a pair of ‘portable rainclouds’: shiny tanker trucks. The 9,000 gallons they delivered will last us about nine days in season when we are irrigating row crops twice daily, possibly less if weather conditions of extreme heat and dryness cause more evaporation and transpiration. So we are working on even more ways to conserve our water use than the highly efficient drip irrigation we’ve been using for years.

Three equipment operators with a new tanker truck.

Farm irrigation water delivery to ARTfarm with a new tanker truck, some familiar faces and some new employees.

Thanks to the operators at VIDAg, who also expertly managed this second gigantic tanker truck on our busy road.

Thank you to the awesome VI Department of Agriculture, for sending trucks out quickly! Their administrative buildings are still completely without a roof. Please ask your favorite candidates in the upcoming election how they plan to support agriculture in the Virgin Islands.

…and then it was gone. ARTbarn preventatively demolished during the height of the storm season.

September graced the Caribbean with more much needed rain, but plenty of PTSD: multiple massive hurricanes looming on the satellites. Sadly, it was time to fully demolish the unstable ARTbarn gallery building that was mostly destroyed in Hurricane Maria. (We are continuing to raise funds to rebuild our ARTbarn gallery as well as our destroyed seedling house to better shelter, steward and serve our customers and our seedlings!)

In the end, the 2018 hurricane season brought us no direct damaging hits, but a number of good soaking rains totaling close to 3 inches. But still not enough major rain events to fill our pond reservoirs. So we are behind on rainfall collection for this coming season.

A mostly empty water catchment pond with a flush of water hyacinth blooming.

Our pond storage system can hold an estimated half a million gallons and is normally replenished by spring and fall rains to at least 80% capacity at the start of the dry winter season. As of the end of September we had an estimated 175,000 gallons, or roughly 35% of capacity.
We also nurtured our ginger and turmeric plants and our badly storm-injured papaya grove, also spent time caring for our mango fruit trees and of course our dragonfruit. We also successfully grew onions all year long which was one of Luca’s goals.

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ARTfarmers collecting sargassum seaweed on the south shore for various farm uses.

Ruminants need salt added to their diet to thrive. Sargassum seaweed is rich in salt and minerals and our sheep take to it quickly.

The end of summer into fall saw tons of sargassum seaweed washing up on the shores of St. Croix. It is a great soil amendment. We like to harvest it fresh out of the sea with baskets to avoid excess sand. Then we pick through it and remove all plastics. Finally, the seaweed can be fed directly to our sheep for mineral supplementation, or composted, or placed in Hugel beds, or used as mulch in the bottom of pots for young saplings.

Farmer Luca is also a surfcasting fisherman. A young permit he caught and released.

And of course, going to the beach brings Luca all kinds of inspiration.


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Farmer Christina really doesn’t care for heights. But it is kind of peaceful up there on the greenhouse roof, sweating away in the blazing sun.

Lots of odd rainbows this fall with blessed rain showers passing with greater frequency. Luca and friends reassembling the roof of the greenhouse.

In early October with the bulk of the storm season behind us, we decided to replace the plastic sheeting on the greenhouse roof to enable more rain catchment.

We’ve been seeding and planting like crazy, but stymied by the intense pressure from caterpillars. We’re noticing a lack of the typical predator insects on the farm like Jack Spaniard wasps to control the army worms and other crop-destroying insects. There is a loss of equilibrium, and we are patiently waiting for it to return to balance.


Farmer Luca concludes: “We’ve been selling to a few restaurants and a few chefs over the summer, but for the most part we have been growing for ourselves while we organize and prepare for the future. We struggled with the drought this summer and that made us quite nervous about growing this coming season, but we are now at 30% rainwater storage capacity (normally we’d be at around 80% at this time of year). Which is not good but at least we can start the season with the water we have. And hopefully we’ll get more rain. Do a rain dance for us! See everybody soon!”

Love, ARTfarm

It’s All About The Mix

Early morning rain-kissed oak leaf and red leaf lettuces. Available Saturday morning!

Saturday farmstand, 10am – 12 noon: A nice rain-fueled harvest of sweet salad mix, and plenty of ginger and turmeric. Winding down for the season, limited availability: watermelon, cherry tomatoes, pineapples, papayas, Italian basil, parsley, a few seasoning and serrano peppers, lemongrass, garlic chives, cooking greens, dill, and a few zinnia flowers.

We also have lots of gorgeous native trees, rosemary plants and pineapple slips! Your purchase of trees and plants helps bolster our fundraising efforts for the rebuilding work commencing next month. http://gofundme.com/artfarmllc We greatly appreciate and thank you for your support.

CMCAsenepol5-2018Luca and Christina will both have works in an art exhibition opening on Saturday, May 26th 2018 at CMCArts in Frederiksted, titled “St. Croix Senepol.” The Senepol are a hardy, gentle cattle breed developed on St. Croix and exported all over the subtropical world. The Gasperi, Nelthropp, Lawaetz and Henry families with others were all part of the development, preservation and success of the Senepol on St. Croix. Cattle ranching on St. Croix has helped to preserve viewscapes and open rangeland on the island. This and other open farmland is a large part of what gives St. Croix a scenic, peaceful and quiet character, which is reflected in works in this group exhibition.

Dragon Buds! + Art

ARTfarm represented on Art Thursday last night at the Peachcan Gallery with work from both Christina and Luca sharing the wall with several other artists! The “Rebirth of the Spirit” show will hang for several more weeks, including for tonight’s FFAM festival block party (Food, Fashion, Art and Music) in Christiansted.

Saturday 10am farmstand list: sweet salad mix, a few cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes and heirlooms, some onions, a few watermelons, a few papayas, lots of seasoning peppers, Serano peppers, scallions, garlic chives, Italian flat leaf parsley, Italian basil, dill, a few bunches of cilantro, a few bunches of cooking greens, zinnia flowers, lots of ginger and turmeric, turkey eggs and native trees plus rosemary plants and basil plants.

Potentially happy farm news, our dragonfruit vines are starting to form buds. This means the potential for dragonfruit in the future!!

Saturday April Showers!

Happy Friday. We have gotten a few light April rain showers. So grateful!

ARTfarm’s Farmers Christina and Luca will have work in the Rebirth of the Spirit show at Peachcan Gallery for Art Thursday coming up this week, and will also have work showing in the Senepol exhibit at CMCArts in Frederiksted in May.

Saturday’s lineup, 10am – 12 noon: Sweet salad mix, cherry tomatoes, a few slicer tomatoes, cucumbers, some watermelons, a few bunches of onions, Italian basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, garlic chives, radishes, a few bunches of cooking greens, seasoning peppers, Serrano peppers, a few papayas, loads of ginger and turmeric, rosemary plants, native trees, and basil plants. Crowds are definitely lessening but so are our quantities of available produce, so if something is essential for your menu, be sure to arrive promptly.

if you don’t have any plans for Saturday (April 14th) night, join the Starry Starry Night taster menu and silent auction event at Café Christine! A benefit for the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix. You will see some familiar zinnias there. Tickets available on Eventbrite.

Lots Of Holiday Greens!!

For this Saturday, December 19th we will have, freshly harvested and ready at 10am:

December lettuces are tender and sweet!

December lettuces are tender and sweet!

Loads of sweet salad mix, baby arugula, teen arugula, baby and teen spicy salad mixes, and royal oak leaf lettuce heads;

These round yellow summer squash are tender and can be roasted, stewed, fried, stuffed…yum!!

We love seeing what you do with our produce! Here is a stuffed zucchini with a side salad! Thanks Isabel Cerni & family!

We love seeing what you do with our produce! Here is a stuffed zucchini with a side salad! Thanks Isabel Cerni & family!

Zucchini, round summer squash, lots of generously sized Ethiopian kale (it’s similar to a mild mustard green, super dark and tender), Tuscan kale and red edged kale, dandelion greens;

Fresh Mediterranean figs are beyond tender and sweet when ripe!

Wild cucumber gherkins, a few half pints of cherry tomatoes, our first slicing tomatoes of the season, and amazing fresh Mediterranean figs.

Open 10am – 12 noon but of course come early for the best selection! We will be open Wednesday, December 23rd, 3-6pm with a similar lineup.

Hot new work from the ARTbarn: Luca recently delivered the original art for the 2016 Taste Of St. Croix poster. The subject this year is one of our fellow farmers, Grantley Samuel, who is known as the Corn Man but is also renowned for his watermelon. Thought you all might enjoy this! Prints will be available at the Taste Of St. Croix in April!

Happy holidays from ARTfarm!

Acrylic on canvas, (c)2015 Luca Gasperi

 

 

Saturday Farmstand, Pineapples, Schedule Change, Dance!

More pineapples today! ARTfarm pineapples are ridiculously sweet this year, maybe because of all the dry weather. June seems to be our pineapple month!

More pineapples today! ARTfarm pineapples are ridiculously sweet this year, maybe because of all the dry weather. June seems to be our pineapple month!

Open 10 AM – 12 noon on South Shore Rd. this morning, ARTfarm has, organically grown for you: Salad mix, microgreens, small quantities of pineapples, tomatoes, and cucumbers. We have beets, scallions, mature bunched arugula, Ethiopian kale, Italian basil, mint, zinnia flowers, local honey from Errol Chichester, and admission/raffle tickets for the Caribbean Dance show next weekend! No Wednesday stand this coming week, so come out to the farm today…

Our adopted border collies, Ginger and Spice, vigilantly patrol the pineapple gardens at this time of year to discourage rats. We've seen these athletic dogs leap all the way over the row of spiny plants during the hunt. This is a viable and much more entertaining alternative to poisons for controlling crop pests on an organic farm. During dry times there is increased pressure from all pests on farm crops and resources.

Our adopted border collies, Ginger and Spice, vigilantly patrol the pineapple gardens at this time of year to discourage rats. We’ve seen these athletic dogs leap all the way over the row of spiny plants during the hunt. This is a viable and much more entertaining alternative to poisons for controlling crop pests on an organic farm. During dry times there is increased pressure from all pests on farm crops and resources.

We are changing our schedule to reflect the weather patterns. The drought is really affecting our ability to grow crops at this point. It also seems like a natural pause to tackle some big farm projects we’ve been wanting to get to. So, we have decided to curtail our Wednesday farmstands until we get some rain or production picks up again. We will be open today and next Saturday as well, and we will play it by ear after that. Mango season is coming, but it also may be a bit delayed by the dry spell we are all in.

Young dancers preparing for the annual show in the Caribbean Dance studio in Christiansted. Support the arts on St. Croix!

Young dancers preparing for the annual show in the Caribbean Dance studio in Christiansted. Support the arts on St. Croix!

The Caribbean Dance School‘s 38th annual performance is Friday, May 29 and Saturday, May 30 at Complex (the high school across from the UVI campus). We have tickets ($15 donation, includes entry into raffle for plane tickets and more) available at the farmstand or you can purchase them at the door! Show time is 7:30 PM. There are adorable tiny ballerinas in the show but also a number of accomplished student and professional dancers — the show is family-friendly and highly entertaining! The closing number in the show features rousing carnival music and traditional calypso dancers, and includes over 30% of the ARTfarm workforce! So come see your farmers in action and support all our local talent in the arts! The Caribbean Dance School and Company is an important cultural institution in the Virgin Islands, founded in 1977 to tour the world and share our island culture, and is still operated by the original artistic directors! It is also an enduring nonprofit organization engaging thousands of students over the years, promoting health, self-esteem, and self discipline. The arts are an important and vibrant part of Virgin Islands culture, help improve our communities in countless ways, and are woefully underfunded. Please come out and show the students you care.

Plus, you’ll get great inspiration for choreographing your own rain dance! 😉

 

ARTfarm Saturday: 10am Treats!

Luca’s and Mike’s art exhibition is closing today (Saturday), with the last viewing from 11 AM – 2 PM. So after you pick up your fresh veggies, head over to Peters Rest if you haven’t had a chance to see this inventive collection of new watercolors and abstract sculptures from these two men of industry. Admission is free.

Organically grown just for you, with stored rainwater that is a mere memory of beautiful darkened skies that passed over us at least three or four months ago: Sweet salad mix, bunched arugula, radishes, beets, a few tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, a few cucumbers, Italian basil, green coriander, fresh onions, scallions, pineapples, and raw honey from Errol.

It will rain.

Rain From The North, watercolor (c)2015 Luca Gasperi

Rain From The North, watercolor (c)2015 Luca Gasperi

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