St. Croix White sheep grazing in an old garden.

Our farm is designed with a subconcious permaculture philosophy. We grow crops on less than five acres in small garden and orchard areas. ARTfarm was built on a cattle ranch that had previously been in use by Danish colonists as a cotton and indigo plantation. For practicality we’ve tried to capture the energy of the land’s specific features and contours as much as possible to reduce our reliance on inputs. We’ve also reused building materials from modern demolition sites at every opportunity. Happily, as artists, this tends to be aesthetically pleasing to us. We farm in a very arid microclimate of the island and since 2015, droughts have become a more regular event. Judicious use of water is the key to success here.

We use rainwater catchment ponds to store irrigation water. Every bit of roof area is plumbed to one of three large catchment ponds. The irrigation system is run with solar powered pumps and drip lines to conserve energy and prevent evaporation. In 2015 we started building Hugelkulture beds to further conserve water.

We grow sustainably wherever it is practical to do so. No GM (genetically modified) plant material or seed stock is used. We look for varieties and crops that are drought resistant and harvest early. We use homegrown compost for soil amendments, made with fish waste from restaurants and brewer’s grains. Our methods follow or surpass the NOP requirements for USDA organic growers. We are not certified organic but farm as though we were. You can read about our decision not to certify, here.

We mostly work by hand. Crops are hand-weeded and harvested. We use a walk-behind tiller a few times a year to lightly prep some raised beds. We do a lot of hoeing. The irrigation system requires daily use and maintenance. We have part-time use of a diesel-powered skid steer with a bucket and we use that for occasional heavy tasks like moving large amounts of mulch around the farm. In summer 2011 we started actively looking for an electric, solar-powered tractor to replace the skid steer front loader, and to mow pastures (annually as maintenance – sheep keep the pastures maintained during the year).

Pest control is difficult in tropical and subtropical areas where there is no frost or winter kill. We use a combination of methods to control crop damage. Rotation with extended mulched rest periods, row covers, sticky barriers, interplanting, trying new varieties every year, manual removal of pests from crops, and recognizing and encouraging beneficial insects are all low impact means that we use, depending on the individual crop and the pest that presents itself. Supporting plants with good nutrition and the right amount of water helps them to defend against pests. There are a few instances where a foliar spray is needed to prevent the loss of a crop, in which case we only use either foodsafe products (boiling water, cornmeal, pepper oil or soap, for example) or OMRI certified, USDA NOP approved products. These usually work by targeting the individual pest, have a very short effective half life, and tend not to be broad spectrum.

In addition to food crops we also have a tree and shrub nursery where we focus on native plant species grown from locally collected seed for use in reforestation projects. We have successfully germinated and produced white mangrove, lignum vitae, white and pink cedar, gri-gri, pasture fiddlewood, water mampoo, coco plum, dog almond, turpentine, agave and others. We’ve also grown exotics and grafted crop trees such as mango, avocado, madre de cacao, moringa, neem, coconut palm, banana, longan and others.

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