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.

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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.

ARTfarm Wednesday 3-6: Fire Report

We are open 3–6 p.m.! Today we have sweet salad mix, spicy salad mix, a few cucumbers, Bodhi beans, onions, beets, Italian basil, Thai basil, lemon basil, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and a few more fresh figs.

Beautiful ARTfarm salad greens for the sweet mix!

Beautiful ARTfarm salad greens for the sweet mix!

Farming is certainly a round-the-clock exercise. Last night around 9 PM we smelled smoke and saw flames shooting up into the sky on the east end of the farm. Luckily we had fair warning as Luca was out watering late and noticed it quickly, shortly after hearing the sound of voices along the east roadside. Neighbors in the area also alerted us to the brushfire and offered help via text, calls and Facebook. We quickly moved our child to grandma’s, suited up in protective clothing, grabbed our fire flappers and other firefighting equipment and went to move sheep and equipment out of harm’s way and help the neighbors wherever possible.

A view of the brush fire last night from the top of Spring Gut Road via a neighbor. The large yellow lights along the center of the photo below the fire are streetlights on South Shore Road. The red light on the right side is a VIFD truck. The small squarish light near the center right of the photo is us in our truck in roughly the center of ARTfarm. From our angle in the pasture it appeared that the fire was advancing rapidly toward us.

A view of the brush fire last night from the top of Spring Gut Road looking south, via a neighbor. The fire moved across the pasture from east to west. The large yellow lights along the center of the photo below the fire are streetlights on South Shore Road. The red light on the right side is a VIFS truck. The small squarish light near the center right of the photo is us in our truck in roughly the center of ARTfarm. From our angle in the pasture it appeared that the fire was advancing rapidly toward us and a small group of young cattle.

Luckily there was not a strong wind last night, and conditions coupled with a rigorous effort by the VI Fire Service on all sides contained the fire and prevented it from destroying hundreds of acres of pasture in use, as well as cattle and sheep, wildlife, farm infrastructure and the homes of farmers including us!

Another shot of the fire as it continued to spread and head south. Our truck is the tiny pinpoint of light close to the west end (right) of the fire line. Above us and closer to the fire is a VIFD truck.

Another shot of the fire as it continued to spread and head south. Our truck is the tiny pinpoint of light close to the west end (right) of the fire line. Above us and closer to the fire is a VIFS truck.

As I stated to a friend, “this is what amounts to a ‘romantic date night’ for a farmer and his wife. A fireside chat and home by midnight.”

We spoke with Captain Charles Gilbert, Fire Service officer out of Richmond/Christiansted’s C shift, who was in charge of the operation last night. They had a total of six VIFS trucks on the scene, but it felt like a lot more to us, as they continued to contain the fire from 9pm to 1am. These included trucks from the East End, Richmond, and Grove stations. The only casualty of the evening was a young calf that got onto the road (due to gates left open to allow emergency access) and was struck by a passing vehicle. Some fencing was damaged and will need to be replaced.

Fence damage. This wood post will have to be replaced. The steel t-posts, woven wire and barbed wire materials have a much shorter life and rust much faster  after being burned in a brush fire as it tends to remove their protective coatings of paint or zinc.

Fence damage. This wood post will have to be replaced. The steel t-posts, woven wire and barbed wire materials have a much shorter life and rust much faster after being burned in a brush fire as it tends to remove their protective coatings of paint or zinc and weaken the metal.

VI Fire Service Chief Larry Johnson noted that the burning of trash, the use of campfires and the disposal of lit cigarettes out of car windows should be curtailed during these dry conditions. “Most brush fires that start after dark are lit deliberately,” he said during our conversation. “It is a felony.”

We are extremely grateful for the prompt and thorough response from the VI Fire Service last night. We plan to drop off some tomatoes to Captain Gilbert and his C company team, and we’d love it if you’d thank them on our behalf, too!

Looking south along the fence near the east end of the farm. Evening brush fires are most likely deliberately set, according to officials at the VIFS.

Looking south along the fence near the east end of the farm. Evening brush fires are most likely deliberately set, according to officials at the VIFS.

The fire started near the roadside, then jumped across a ten-foot swath of grass and headed west southwest through the pastures.

The fire started near the roadside, then jumped across a ten-foot swath of grass and headed west southwest through the pastures. Left unchecked, this could have been disastrous for us!

Looking south near the east end of the farm. The VI Fire Service was able to contain and control this brushfire, in part because winds were not strong.

Looking south near the east end of the farm. The VI Fire Service was able to contain and control this brushfire, in part because winds were not strong.

ARTfarm Wednesday: 3–6 p.m. So Many Salads To Choose From!

We grew it here, tender, crispy and moist, on the dry and arid south shore of the island, just for you! All organic growing methods and just sweet stored rain water for irrigation. You can taste it in the food! Sweet, baby, regular spicy, and baby spicy salad mixes; baby arugula, arugula, a few cucumbers, onions, beets, radishes, purple yard long beans, cilantro, dill, parsley, garlic chives, Italian basil, cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, sweet tree-ripened Mediterranean figs, and from our partner I-Sha we have all-homemade coconut-based vegan local fruit ice cream in a handful of fantastic flavors. We have spoons, or you can bring your own.

A single ivory-colored egg rests in a patch of dry grass in a pasture.

A mysterious lone guinea hen egg rests in dry grass in a pasture at ARTfarm. Guinea hens lay social nests with 40 or more eggs, so this is either the start of a nest, or a discarded mongoose snack!

3-6pm Wednesday: Plenty Tomatoes, Arugula and more!

For today’s afternoon stand we have a plethora of delicious, tradewind cooled produce for you: Sweet salad mix, spicy salad mix, arugula, microgreens, cucumbers, loads of tomatoes all types, cherry tomatoes, Italian basil, beets, radishes, cilantro, mint, chives, dill, assorted chili peppers, kale, escarole, holy basil, lemon basil, lemongrass, lettuce heads, passionfruit, and zinnia flowers. Last chance to buy cherry tomato plants!

We have just a few of the wildly popular vegan coconut-based ice creams left including avocado and beet-ginger from I-Sha! Come and get them!IMG_7754.JPGWe are grateful to greet lots of seasonal residents who are back on St. Croix at this time of year, including our beautiful monarch butterflies.

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