While Ridge to Reef Farm's diversity maintains, specialty crops come behind the rains (or How a grass-roots inter-island community organic food system saved the day)
(FREDERIKSTED) THE NOVEMBER & DECEMBER RAINS made annual crop planting tricky this year for all the farmers on St. Croix, particularly on the rainy western end. While the tropical seasonings, greens, and fruits have faired quite well, the more tender types have proven less vigorous in the harsher than normal conditions. Yet despite the challenges, Ridge to Reef Farm in the "rainforest" of Frederiksted, who is the USVI's USDA certified organic farm, was buoyed by a strategy of production diversity and is now seeing an explosion of new "favorite" crops entering the market successively, starting this week.
Many of our fellow farmers on St. Croix have reported some heartbreaking stories of complete losses on early planted tomatoes, cucumbers, and other crops that are typically suited for temperate environments and were beaten down early. Sweet potatoes and other leafy crops also have taken a hit, first from the constantly saturating record-setting rain, and then the subsequent population booms of aphids and caterpillars which laid many salad and greens fields to waste -despite the best in organic defense methods. While these products are slower to come this year, R2R and other farms have been dutifully planting successive sets of crops that are now coming strong to fruition as the more standard winter season weather has set in over our farmlands. Fortunately, R2R waited for proper soil moisture to prepare fields after the rains, which resulted in few direct losses from rain but added a 2-3 week delay to some of the more favored crop plantings.
The first few weeks of the 2014 Winter Virgin Island CSA season featured hearty annuals such as large bok choy, eggplants, kale, radishes, peppers, various herbs, sorrel (roselle), basils, and more. These first shares were bolstered by the reliable regional tropical plants, such as the ever-popular moringa leaves and flowers, chaya, culantro, lemongrass, sour oranges, bananas, dwarf coconuts, and nopales.
Thanks to our diverse planting strategy, there still was an abundance of choice high-quality certified organic food to provide the membership, despite the mainstay annual crop delays. It pointed to the successful support net of interplanting using a wide range of crops verses mono cropping, which can be more profitable but with less overall stability in times of flood, drought, or infestation.
CSA programs are often successful because long seasons allow farmers to share with their members according to the fluctuation of crops as they ebb and flow throughout the season. The shared-risk agreement taken on by farm share members gives a farmer a supportive chance when disaster strikes, which does not have to be a hurricane to result in total losses -it could be a tiny bug the size of a period. This helps the consumer maintain a supply of organic produce, since CSA's commonly use multi-cropping strategies that have a lower profit margin but higher stability in constant food provision for a local community.
Fortunately, for both farmers and CSA members, the length of the season (ours are 14 weeks for 3 seasons) gives the farmer a chance to "pay it back" over an average of weeks throughout the season if boxes are slimmer or more tropical during certain annual crop gaps, which are bound to occur for a farm delivering a high-quality CSA for many weeks of the year.
To that end, Ridge to Reef Farm has one of the longest CSA programs on the planet, including 42 weeks of delivery for 2014 to over 100 members. The CSA has grown 300% in the past 3 years. This is all driving towards the R2R goal to feed 1% of the USVI population with USDA certified and inspected local, organic food, which is not available at any other farm or outlet in the entire United States Virgin Islands.
Now available on all three islands, the continued growth of R2R is mostly due to the heart and dedication of the CSA members and the Ridge to Reef Farm Crew, who are making tremendous moves despite a set of challenges that in part explains the dearth of local organic food in the USVI.
First picks of these specialty organic seed crops go to the VI-CSA, which serves weekly vegetable and fruit boxes on St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas. After the boxes are full, additional top grade produce overflows into our www.vi.locallygrown.net market and some will be featured at this week's Virgin Island Agricluture and Food Fair (Feb 15-17).
Now, Ridge to Reef is pleased to soon be providing many of the most loved temperate annual crops, such as the famous heirloom open-pollinated tomatoes, who are showing off their amazing colors and vine ripening like a slow motion firework display. I took a deer's eye walk on Friday and shot a few photos for you to feast on.... while the full-on ripening starts!
THANK YOU ALL for supporting Ridge to Reef Farm and local certified organic produce in the USVI! And thank you to our staff past and current who makes it all work. Please, enjoy the photos and of course your food here that is being grown for YOU. Better yet, give us a visit in person and volunteer! It's not enough to KNOW... you got to GROW!!
In love, peace, & shared abundance,
Ridge to Reef Farm