ARTfarm Saturday Stand 10am

A similar lineup to last week, with a slight mango alteration: Sweet salad mix, garlic chives, mint. From our partners: Haitian Kidney mangoes (and a few Nam Doc Mai mangoes) from Alex at Tropical Exotics, and vegan ice cream from I-Sha in summer flavors: passionfruit, breadfruit, jojo and banana. Open on the South Shore Road, 10am – 12 noon. We literally have less than a dozen bags of sweet mix to sell tomorrow morning, so if you arrive later you may only be able to pick up some mangoes, herbs and ice cream.

Farmer Luca has not quite made a final decision, but we may close down early for our summer/fall break.

We did get around half an inch of rain over this past week. Consistent winds have caused most of the moisture to evaporate quickly from the soil and plants, unfortunately. Much more will be needed to affect any kind of drought recovery, but we are grateful for and celebrating every drop that falls!

A photo taken in bright sunlight shows a barren landscape of dry soil and dead trees at the edge of a gully. The scattered skeleton of a deer rests in the foreground.

Pastures at ARTfarm, Summer 2015. Extreme drought conditions, including brushfires, have caused a shortage of pasture forage that has negatively affected both domestic and wild creatures. Normally this riparian area of gut bank would be lush with guinea grass, various types of palatable broadleaf weeds, flowering shrubs and trees, and leguminous vines to provide an extensive and diverse diet plus shade and cover for birds, reptiles and wild mammals. Here you see barren soil and the bleached bones of a deer in their stead. While this is generally a dry period of the year, this amount of bare soil and the die-off of so many trees is highly unusual.

Many farmers in the Virgin Islands, particular those who are primarily livestock producers, are really suffering right now. The local and federal government agricultural agencies are working hard to find some drought relief sources for all of us but it may take some time (one timetable we heard about said not until December 2015). Some ideas for helping are in the works, and we will let you know if we hear of a secure and reliable way for the public to donate or otherwise contribute to help bring in emergency grain and hay to keep our island flocks and herds alive. If you have a contact working in the shipping/cargo business, or know of any stateside hay producers willing to donate or discount their hay, please pass their contact information on to us or to Dr. Bradford, Director of Veterinary Services at the VI Department of Agriculture. Also helpful in receiving help would be a fiduciary to collect and hold donated funds and a secure central distribution point for trailers of hay and feed.

ARTfarm Saturday – We’ve Got a Licker

Almost as if by sleight-of-hand: Sweet salad mix, a few dragonfruit, garlic chives, mint, lemongrass. From our partners: Nam Doc Mai mangoes from Alex at Tropical Exotics, and vegan ice cream from I-Sha in summer flavors: passionfruit, mango, jojo and banana, papaya-ginger. Open on the South Shore Road, 10am – 12 noon.

The severe drought continues. Many of the trees we have planted on the farm are dying off. Grazed pastures are not renewing themselves. After being blessed with rain for the last few years it is hard for many farmers on St. Croix to see our long term efforts of stewardship being stressed to the breaking point by this unusually harsh weather. Even as we see visible signs of the drought, there are many more organisms suffering than meet the naked eye.

Water, water, anywhere? A tiny anole lizard licks moisture off of a dragonfruit bud in the dry pasture.

Water, water, anywhere? Look closely to see what Farmer Luca saw: A tiny anole lizard licking moisture off of an irrigated dragonfruit bud in the dry pasture.

Despite the lack of green grass, bugs and other forage, our two surviving heritage-breed turkeys managed to breed this summer. We took a set of ten eggs for the incubator when Mrs. Brownie started to lay, and she took it upon herself to lay another set after that and brooded it. Turkeys are said to have a low hatch rate. The incubator hatched four poults, but the mother turkey hatched nine out of ten! Man cannot improve on nature’s efficiencies, it seems.

A brown turkey hen looks on as nine fluffy baby poults clamber around her in a wire mesh cage.

Mrs. Brownie, who survived the dog attack this past fall, has produced nine poults this summer after 28 patient days on the nestbox. She and her babies are well protected at this bite-sized stage in a coop built to keep rats and mongoose out. Predator pressure is particularly intense during drought times as wildlife and feral animals are more desperate for food and water.

A large grey tom turkey displays his feathers walking along the edges of his pen. The farm and hills beyond are dry and brown.

Proud papa turkey, the only survivor of the stray dog attack last fall, keeps careful watch over his new family. You can see recent brushfire damage on the hills behind him.

A Green Patch of Determination

It's July 2015 and there has been no substantial rain for months. This panorama of the center of the farm shows the contrast between irrigated and non-irrigated areas.

It’s July 2015 and there has been no substantial rain for months. This panorama of the center of the farm shows the contrast between irrigated and non-irrigated areas.

The ARTfarm is brown and crunchy at the moment, (and not in the delicious granola type way) but there is a little patch of green that Farmer Luca is diligently watering and protecting from hungry, thirsty deer. In other news from the Department of Symbols Of Hope, three turkey eggs hatched in our incubator yesterday morning! And our mama turkey Ms. Brownie is brooding on a nest of eleven more hope capsules…due next week.

A morning meeting of three freshly hatched turkey poults in the incubator at ARTfarm.

A morning meeting of three freshly hatched turkey poults in the incubator at ARTfarm.

For this morning’s Saturday farmstand, from 10 AM to 12 noon, we have: Lots of sweet salad mix, passionfruit, plenty of mint, lemongrass, garlic chives, tarragon, Cuban oregano, recao, Ethiopian kale, and papayas!
From our partner growers and chefs: we have dragonfruit from Solitude Farms, Viequen Butterball mangoes from Tita, Haitian Kidney mangoes from Denis Nash, and vegan local fruit ice cream from I-Sha.

Don’t forget about the 19th annual Mango Melee on Sunday at the Botanical Garden! You won’t find the Viequen Butterball at Mango Melee, but there are a lot of other fun and delicious things on offer over there (call 340-692-2874 or www.sgvbg.org for more information). Be sure to support our long-time neighbor and loyal customer Lisa Spery as she competes in the Mango Dis, Mango Dat contest with a recipe incorporating fresh ARTfarm mint! Good luck, Lisa!

Wednesday Bounty 3-6pm! Come Shop Local!

We've got beautiful big beets with tops ready for cooking or juicing! Yum!

We’ve got beautiful big beets with tops ready for cooking or juicing! Yum!

 

Some sweet little rain showers at night have perked up the South Shore and quickened the pace of lettuce and veggie production. We are open today from 3–6 p.m. to share with you what the rain has brought: sweet salad mix, baby arugula, teen spicy salad greens, beautiful crispy cucumbers, lots of beets, lots of cherry and slicer tomatoes, kale, escarole, endive, baby bok choy, bunched onions, scallions, Italian basil, Thai basil, holy basil, lemon basil, garlic chives, dill, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, recao, ginger, Bodhi beans, and fresh cut zinnia flowers.

The sweet salad mix in winter is especially crispy and sweet when we've had a bit of rain. Triple washed and ready for the salad bowl!

The sweet salad mix in winter is especially crispy and sweet when we’ve had a bit of rain. Triple washed and ready for the salad bowl!

 

Around New Year’s Eve we had a pair of stray feral dogs show up at the farmstand early one morning. Some of our customers may have noticed them quietly hanging around at the farmstand that weekend and the next. We posted about them on the St. Croix Lost and Found Pets Facebook page and the STX Animal Welfare Center’s Facebook page immediately, but in the bustle of the holidays we neglected to post about them here on our own blog.

Two black and white fuzzy dogs on the farm.

Two stray dogs turned up in December 2014. They’d been running loose since at least October. Anyone know who they belong to?

Unlike most feral strays which we take directly to the Animal Welfare Center, this pair was unusually well behaved. We reported them “found” at the AWC and had them checked by a vet but they had no RFID tags. They are currently still living at the farm. We’d like to post their picture in case anyone knows their history. We did learn after posting their picture online, that they had been living wild since at least October 2014 along the industrial sites of the south shore of St. Croix (Diageo and Molasses Pier). If you have any information or recognize them, please let us know.

 

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ARTfarm Holiday Hours: 12noon – 5pm Today

The ARTfarm roadside sign features a new addition describing today's holiday hours.

Don’t drive too fast or you’ll miss the details! Open special hours today for pre-holiday shopping!

We have so much to be thankful for, starting with our wonderful customers! So that you can stock up for your holiday gathering, Turkey Day potluck or extended weekend beach picnic, we are open 12noon to 5pm today! (We’ll be open again Saturday).

We have hand-picked for you: Sweet salad mix, baby spicy salad mix, baby arugula, microgreens, beautiful crunchy radishes, crispy cucumbers, garlic chives, rosemary, mint, recao, Italian basil, zinnia flowers, passionfruit, lemon basil, lemongrass, fresh ginger root! From our partners: Nam Doc Mai mangoes and mamey sapote from Tropical Exotics, vegan ice cream from I-Sha, raw local honey from Errol Chichester, and Kim (sans Ryan) will be here with fresh fish again!

We wish you all a safe and joyful Thanksgiving. Island life is not always easy, but we have so much to be grateful for.

A grey baby turkey poult walks through grass in a garden.

An orphaned baby turkey poult (stray dog attack survivor) has had a lot of handling and now thinks she is human – she follows us everywhere and likes to snuggle on your neck. She’s a good worker and helps with pest control in the garden at ARTfarm!

 

Sheep & Cowpeas at ARTfarm

Over the sleepy summer and fall break, we grew some cover crops in the gardens at ARTfarm to help improve the soil for next year’s crops. Climbing up the golden dried stalks of harvested sweet corn were some large and very happy cowpea vines (Vigna unguiculata) replete with big green bean pods.

There is almost nothing in this world that our sheep enjoy more than fresh cowpea vines and beans. Friday afternoon we removed the upper part of the cowpea plants and offered them to all three groups of ovines. OMM NOM NOM NOM!

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Cowpeas are a forage that is high in protein, helping the sheep to grow and put on weight. The roots of the cowpea plants fix nitrogen into the soil.

Your ARTfarmers are busy planning next year’s season and preparing garden areas to receive young seedlings. We have been blessed with some beautiful rainfall in September. We look forward to seeing all of you in just a few more weeks when the farmstand reopens. Watch this space!

Is ARTfarm Organic?

Q: Is ARTfarm food really “organic”?

A: It depends.

Luca has been farming on St. Croix to the specifications of the USDA’s National Organic Program (which regulates the certification of organic produce and farms in the USA) continuously since 1999. According to the techniques logged in our detailed farm records, we have either met or exceeded the USDA standards for the production of organically grown produce consistently over that entire period. ARTfarm in its current location is situated on pastureland that has been farmed and ranched (free of any chemicals or non-sustainable methods) continuously since the 1700s. However, we have not been certified officially by the USDA as a certified organic farm. Therefore, even though all of our produce is organically grown to USDA Organic specs, we cannot and do not legally claim that any of our products are “USDA Organic”.

MANY if not MOST small farms that fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA have chosen NOT to get certified, not because they aren’t practicing organic production techniques, but because it is a lengthy and rather expensive process that for the most part does not justify its expense. Unless you are a large farm growing commodity amounts of a crop to be sold as certified organic for use in packaged products, organic certification with the USDA is a marketing strategy. It does not change one’s farming philosophy or choice for or against sustainable techniques.

So, if a customer asks us if our arugula is organic, the answer is “officially, it is not considered organic by the USDA because it is not certified.” If a customer asks us if our arugula is grown to the standards of the USDA National Organic Program, we would say “Yes, all of our produce at ARTfarm is grown to the USDA organic specifications. We keep detailed records, we use sustainable farming methods, only when absolutely necessary do we sparingly use nonsynthetic treatments only of the type that are OMRI certified for use on organic farms. However we have not been inspected by a USDA approved organic certifying agency.”

If a customer asks us WHY we are not certified organic, we’d say, “We pursued it seriously and actively and found this: it’s incredibly expensive and not eco-friendly to fly in and house a USDA certified inspector from off island ANNUALLY, it involves reams of federal paperwork that is onerous and uses up many man-hours in labor, and we don’t believe our customers want to offset that cost in our prices. We’ve already got enough documentation chores from the local Department of Ag, and the USDA’s NRCS and FSA. We’d rather spend the time and energy growing more food. It simply does not align with our core values or the needs of our business to spend money and time getting USDA Certified.”

If a customer asks us WHY we bother to grow sustainably and organically, we’d say “We’re parents. We care about safety and want to trust that our farm is free from harmful substances. We’re artists. Organic sustainable growing is more harmonious, fascinating, challenging, and personally and aesthetically satisfying. We’re conscious humans. We care about stewarding the environment in the next seven generations and beyond. Big Ag loves to debate it, but we and the FAO think growing organically with sustainable practices is better for the planet. We’re foodies, and we agree with our customers and chefs who constantly tell us the food tastes better when you put that kind of care and love into it.”

Does it really matter if your produce is: locally grown with organic approved methods, by conscientious people you know personally, or: certified organic by a federal agency?

Our position is, yes and no.

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