Please Support Local Chefs During the COVID-19 Crisis!

While everyone stuck at home with you (or just you) are probably enjoying your “cooped up corona” casserole cooking and your “bide your time” banana bread baking (again) while under self imposed house arrest, we have to tell you the secret to sanity:

It is Time for TAKE OUT!!!

A luncheon plate of falafel with a green salad from ARTfarm
Mash up the monotony once or twice a week and treat yourself to something delish, perhaps even made with ARTfarm ingredients — that you did not have to prepare. Luca’s lunch, 4/11/2020 from SALT at Great Pond: Ancient grain falafel pita includes sweet salad mix, cucumbers and fresh heirloom tomatoes from ARTfarm.

St. Croix is blessed with a robust and diverse food culture, with many high quality restaurants and imaginative cooks. During the pandemic times, restaurants and their many employees on our island are taking a disproportionately huge hit because of COVID-19 shutdowns. They are absorbing a large portion of the economic injury, for all of our protection in the community. Despite this big downturn in business and major layoffs, our local chefs are still trying to support local farms and food producers, and make people happy with their culinary talents. Please pitch in this month: give yourself a break from the kitchen marathon, while keeping their businesses and employees (and ours) viable during this economic downturn. We urge you to order some takeout or delivery! (Some restaurants offer delivery; most otherwise, you can use Island Direct, a delivery and errand service that delivers from restaurants, supermarkets and local farms.)

Check out these genius STX Restaurant Bingo game cards as a quick and playful guide to many local restaurants and food producers that continue to find ways to supply the public with food, offer to-go or delivery (from the brilliant minds at!

Island food blogger Anquanette Gaspard, “Cruzan Foodie,” is continuing to update a more exhaustive list of restaurants in the USVI offering offering takeout meals during the coronavirus crisis. Send her your links, favorites, updates and omissions!

And there is now a great Facebook page called “Takeout STX” you can check for daily specials from some of these restaurants and promote your favorites!

We initially hesitated to recommend ordering takeout. Like everyone else, we were concerned about family members getting sick, about food safety, and maintaining social and physical distancing. Some early information at the beginning of the crisis gave mixed advice on the safety of ordering takeout. But as scientists have continued to learn more about novel coronavirus and we have continued to read and research, we feel confident recommending that even the most anxious people can safely enjoy meals from their favorite restaurants, by exercising an abundance of caution with the following precautions and common sense:

  1. Know the source of the food. Choose restaurants you trust, that are clean, with fresh food and good turnover rates. (COVID-19 is not a food-borne illness, but getting one could compromise your immune system.)
  2. Order and pre-pay (include generous tips!) over the phone or online if possible. (Ask for no plastic cutlery or napkins; you’ll use your own.)
  3. Be careful to avoid direct contact with the staff and/or delivery person. Use a mask, and have them set the item(s) down before you retrieve it, maintaining at least six feet of distance. During pickup, you can ask the staff to place your food on the back passenger seat or floor of your vehicle.
  4. Once home, set the food packaging temporarily on a surface that you can sanitize. Carefully unpack the food takeout containers and place the food from the container onto your own clean dish or storage container, not touching the food directly, and discard the packaging. A big spatula, tongs, or a friend with clean hands, can help.
  5. Take out the packaging right away and discard; sanitize the surface where you unpacked the food. Wash your hands thoroughly before enjoying your meal!

Chef Chris Booth and his co-owner/partner Kelly Booth of SALT at Great Pond, on St. Croix’s South Shore stop by the farm multiple times per week to pick up produce. We asked them how things are going in the New Normal for their restaurant, which just celebrated its first birthday. “Well, it’s tough right now for everybody in this industry. We’ve had to minimize staff,” says Chris. “Sales are down at least 50%.” We asked him about food safety in the time of coronavirus. “Restaurants are already following very strict USDA and FDA safety regulations. Our kitchens and serving surfaces are cleaned and sanitized more often than a home kitchen. We use every precaution, and can bring your order right to your vehicle.” The crew at SALT have been coming up with some inventive international special menus that change constantly, including Asian, German and Mexican. “It’s fun to do, and we are offering a ton of food for the price. Trying to make it a really good value, and keep people happy in these difficult times.” We can vouch for the generous serving sizes!

Café Christine in Christiansted Apothecary Hall courtyard had briefly reopened for takeout, offering their reknowned lunch salads and sides in family-sized half or one-pound servings and whole pies of their famous quiche and desserts. But Chef/caterer/owner Lisa Coates has decided to wait until June with a plan to roll out a formal menu for pre-orders. “The restaurant industry is changing,” she observed. Lisa has been an early-morning regular for many years at ARTfarm, stopping in before 7am in season to stock up her café on fresh organically grown ingredients. Check out and like her Facebook page for updates!

We also checked in with owner Frank Duggan at Duggan’s Reef on St. Croix’s East End, celebrating their 37th year as one of the longest-running, top seafood and fine dining joints in the territory. “We were closed for nine and a half months after Hurricane Maria,” reflected Frank. “We then had a great eighteen months, before this crisis happened. We’re working with our landlord and doing what we can to stay alive. We’re hoping, if safety precautions allow, to reopen June 1st, with a reduced number of tables spaced further apart, with staff wearing masks, and continuing strict sanitation and lots of extra handwashing.” Currently the Duggan’s Reef crew has been reduced from 17 employees to five, operating a full menu takeout service six nights per week. Frank reports that they are often doing less than a third of their regular sales – only 15 to 55 dinners served per night instead of 75 to 90. “But some customers are taking care of our waitstaff with big tips right now,” Frank said gratefully. “We will remember those folks when we are able to open again.” Check out their online menu, call to place your order, then enjoy the scenery and make a roadtrip out to Duggan’s – maybe pack some picnicking supplies, and stop and enjoy your meal at Cramers Park!

A painting showing fresh fish carcasses and fruit peels in a compost bin, gleaming like jewels.
One of Luca‘s 2019 paintings about renewal. Fish carcasses and fruit peels gleam like jewels in a compost bucket. These items break down along with clean hay and woodchips to create a nutrient rich non-synthetic fertilizer. One of the reasons our tomatoes, fruits and greens taste so good at ARTfarm, they are fed good food. By using local resources, we create a valuable biodynamic resource on the farm, reduce the use of fossil fuels to ship in fertilizers, and slow the flow of organic material to the landfill, where it is a biohazard.

In addition to purchasing our ingredients regularly and making delicious meals with our food, the following rockstar chefs and their teams get extra stars, because they also help ARTfarm make highly effective carbon neutral soil amendments with essential organic compounds and trace minerals for our gardens. They do this by reserving clean fresh fish and lobster carcasses from their kitchens that go into making our compost – and inspire Farmer Luca to make paintings. These chefs are reducing the load on our landfill and making something beautiful two times over. Special shout out to these composting superstars:

  • Chef Ken Biggs of Galangal* – has been regularly delivering fish carcasses to the farm for YEARS.
  • Chef Joe Stedman and owner Frank Duggan at online menu – save us bins and bins of lobster parts, (special thanks to ARTfarm volunteer Don Brown who puts these stinky bins in his truck and delivers them to us!) Check Duggan’s Facebook page for the daily takeout menu.
  • Chef Chris Booth at SALT at Great Pond – picks up ARTfarm produce multiple times per week, and hooks us up with fish carcasses when the fish are running!
  • Chef Ralph Motta of Motta Cuisine – continually innovating with farm ingredients, regaling us with stories of his goats, and bringing lobster carcasses from catering gigs.

More ARTfarm takeout recommendations:

    • Chef Digby Stridiron and his staff from AMA at Cane Bay and Breakers Roar Tiki Bar have also been regulars at the farm since long before the shutdown and are continuing to make great meals with local produce. Chef Digby is also preparing meals for My Brother’s Workshop during the crisis.
    • Chef Joe Smith at his famed Frederiksted BBQ joint Smoke STX is a former ARTfarm employee and farmer, and scrupulous about buying local meats and produce whenever possible. His food is off the chain. Take a leisurely drive out to Frederiksted and get some takeout!
    • Chef Isumyah and family at Vegetarian Creations put so much love in their food. Located in the Barron Spot Mall, Isumyah sources just about every possible ingredient locally and serves up amazing homestyle vegetarian/vegan fare including veggie lasagna, amazing fried cauliflower, and an array of handmade fresh local juices and health tonics.
    • Yonka and Damon at Café Fresco in Christiansted are doing socially distanced takeout. Farmer Luca’s favorite is a classic on the menu, the Phatty burrito. Yonka also makes delicious soups, and her flaky crust breakfast quiches-for-one are not to be missed! Check out their international dinner takeout specials, too!
    • One of our customers treated our family to Un Amore‘s family sized meatloaf dinner from Chef Frank Pugliese and it was AWESOME! And a good value, we got more than one meal out of it! Frank and Kat have been huge supporters and drivers of our island’s local farm to table movement since way before it was trendy.
    • Chef Jamey Hughson at Zalatina Foods is another local-food chef who has been offering pre-prepared family meals this year. Just heat and serve!
    • Joe at Joe’s Bar and Grille in Sunny Isle next to WAPA employs 18 people, serving amazing comfort foods in large portions. We love his eggplant parmesan, his mashed potatoes and his garlicky cooked greens. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed he and other small local businesses can get in on the next round of PPP relief loans!

Please support these talented artists and their employees, (and the many other chefs we have on the island who are scrambling to stay open,) and give yourself a little staycation in the kitchen!

ETA: *Galangal has decided to close for takeout and plans to reopen when they can safely offer dining in. Zion Modern Kitchen has decided to close for now. 😦

Stay home, stay healthy and be a helper.

Love, ARTfarm

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.

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.

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. 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!!