Caribbean Connection

Ridge to Reef Farm: Organic Food Deliveries in Paradise

csa tomsLiving on a tropical island certainly has its advantages — beautiful beaches, crystal clear turquoise bays and lush, green hillsides.

Head into a grocery store, however, and get ready to catch your dropping jaw. Last time my Mom was visiting, she offered to make one of my favorite dishes, eggplant parmesan. When she realized the small, scraggly looking eggplants were skyward of $7 each, not per pound, we decided a nice chicken dish would be just fine.

Eggplants are not alone; many items on St. John are expensive. Gasoline, milk and eggs, you’re going to pay more for them here than you would stateside. These items, and eggplants, kale, tomatoes, etc., are all imported and you have to pay for that; it’s the cost of living in paradise.

But you do hope that after paying $7 for the eggplant, it at least is good, great even. Sadly that is often not the case. These very expensive vegetables must be picked well before they are ripe in order to be shipped to the islands; this really affects the taste. And I’m not talking about organic produce here, just your run of the mill produce isle.

So when the opportunity arose to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with the sole U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic farm in the Virgin Islands, I jumped at the chance.

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Ridge to Reef Farm is nestled in a lush tropical rainforest area of St. Croix, which is about 40 miles south of St. John. Owned and operated by Georgia transplant Nate Olive and his island wife Shelli Brin-Olive, Ridge to Reef Farm is also the home of the V.I. Sustainable Farms Institute, which is dedicated to nothing less than changing local resident’s relationship to food.

The farm’s primary goals are to feed one percent of the Virgin Islands population healthy, local, organic food; share sustainable living and island heritage experiences to 4,000 local and off-island visitors annually; and to inspire action for a more healthy island and global community.

Ridge to Reef offers weekly farm tours, farm stays and a number of educational programs for local children, adults and visitors alike. Their most delicious program, however is CSA.

csaThe program is based on members paying for shares of the produce up front. You register and pay for a season, which is usually between 10 and 12 weeks, and you get a weekly delivery of beautiful, organic, fresh and local produce. It comes out to about $30 a week for the vegetable share and an additional $20 for the optional fruit share.

I’ve taken part in two seasons so far and I’m never going back to the grocery store. It’s so much fun each week to see what you got from the farm. Each week includes a bag of mixed salad greens, fresh herbs, beautiful vegetables like okra, cucumbers or squash. Fruits have ranged from star fruit (carambola) to bananas and coconuts.

I’ll admit that CSA poses its own set of challenges, for instance what to do with seemingly endless mangoes. Ridge to Reef Farm grows about 20 different types of mangoes and the summer food deliveries included several of them each week. I mastered the art of making mango chutney and mango granita, mango salsa and even mango fruit pops.

CSA has changed the way we eat, and for the better. Since you don’t want to waste any of this beautiful produce and you can’t just eat a salad everyday, you are forced to get creative.

The food is organic, locally grown and the money spent on it supports an active farm dedicated to the betterment of the territory. Plus, the eggplant is fresh and crisp and makes the best eggplant parmesan I’ve ever tasted – just don’t tell my Mom that it’s better than hers.


~ Written by: Jaime Elliott

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