Fresh, Tasty and Locally Grown
Story and phtos by Jane Bakewell
Eating produce grown in the BVI is easy once you get to know the farmers
Visit any large grocery store on Tortola and you will see a cornucopia of vegetables and fruits, much like supermarkets in the US. An avocado may sport a sticker from Chile, an orange from Florida and a mango from the Dominican Republic. One has to search a bit harder to find the locally grown produce, although farming was once a way of life in the BVI, immortalized in early photos of the bustling market held weekly at the Road Town harbor front.
As one who loves her veggies and is a preferred local-vore, I recently set out on a quest to meet some of the island's local farmers who are making a stand, often with their "produce stands." You can find these small tents of produce right on the main roads, scattered from Sea Cows Bay to Road Town, tucked by the sea-sprayed coast at Carrot Bay and sprouting up like mushrooms on the curves of the mountainous Ridge Road. Just ask any BVI resident and they will let you know where their favorite vendor sets up and on what days – locally grown produce still has a loyal following.
I set out on my green adventure visiting several local farms and produce stands. I started first thing in the morning timing my schedule to be the "early bird that got the first papaya" at stands both in Road Town and Sea Cow's Bay, whose proprietors set up and start selling at 8am. Hanging out at the stands as buyers in cars slowed down to call for a bag of seasoning peppers to be held for them, watching the hefty breadfruits and slices of deep orange pumpkin tip the hanging scales, and listening to the laughter and banter, made me wish we had more of this outdoor market life in the BVI.
For farmers, who just set up stands weekly, Friday and Saturday mornings seem to be the popular times to sell. You can find Movine Fahie on Friday in her white tent just opposite the Craft Alive Village in Road Town. Trust me, you won't miss her, she has banana clusters so large they might require a forklift to carry. Bright green plantains used for cooking surround her tent along with breadfruit, pumpkin, eggplant, squash, okra, cucumbers and passion fruit.
Movine who has been an employee of the Department of Agriculture for over 30 years is also a prominent figure in the annual August Festival parade in her cultural costume along with her donkey "Jack" – a walking fruit and flower display. "Jack only comes out for the parade," Movine laughs, "he is on vacation the rest of the year." Movine admits farming runs in her family and being a woman-farmer has never stopped her. "I have six acres at Paraquita Bay (an area the BVI Government has set aside for farming) and I wish I had sixty acres," she says. "Everything I do is by planning, and I design my farm just the way I want it. Without planning you can't be successful."
There are some farmers who adhere to the strictly organic philosophy. Aragorn Dick-Read of Good Moon Farm is one of these. His two-acre farm is set on a terraced hill on Tortola's north shore overlooking Cooper Bay. Aragorn uses the lunar calendar for planting and is strictly organic. "In six years of farming we have never sprayed these crops with chemicals," he emphasized. Like the other farmers, Aragorn fertilizes his soil with a mixture of chicken, rabbit, horse – and yes, even bat manure.
Good Moon Farm's specialty is soft crops such as arugula, spinach, lettuce, mixed greens, scallions, tomatoes as well as herbs and "bush tea" (a popular local tea made from variety of wild herbs). "My market is primarily the marine industry, charter boats and super yachts," he explains. He also provides villas and local restaurants with his produce. Aragorn has a variety of fruits including mango, passion fruit and his specialty, the rare red banana, as well as exotic flowers. Aragorn splits his time between his farm and his work as a well-known artist and sculptor with a studio and shop at Trellis Bay. He will deliver on special orders and many place their orders through his website www.goodmoonfarm.com.
Another female farmer Arona Forbes partners with her husband Jeffrey who raises farm animals. Also a long time employee with the Agriculture Department, Arona has had a love for farming since childhood. "My father was a farmer and had land all over, from Josiah's Bay to Little Bay and Lambert." Part of Arona's farm is in Josiah's Bay near her husband's animals and the rest of her land is by her home in Sea Cow's Bay where she sets up her produce on Saturdays by the well next to Ebeneezer Thomas Primary School. Arona's stand is filled with bright watermelon slices, pumpkin wedges of various weights, peppers both hot and mild and her line of local teas, seasonings, flavoured oils and hot sauces.
Arona sells her herbal teas in convenient one-cup bags which she seals herself. "I have six different teas including lemon grass and spearmint, and I make my own mixture of all six into a local "bush tea," she says. Arona also sells her herbs potted, so those who want a kitchen container garden can have fresh herbs straight off the plant. The morning I visited she had a non-stop flow of customers, cars pulling off the side of the road. Obviously many know where to find her stand on Saturday mornings.
The challenges I heard most of the farmers express were two-fold; access to water and keeping the bugs at bay. Most of the farmers collect water in large 1,000 plus gallon black tanks, sourced from the sky or city water.
Dwight Pickering, another BVI farmer, who works fulltime as an announcer at ZBVI radio, puts a lot of effort into a part-time garden. "My problem is the weeding. There is something called pine grass that can grow over night," he explains pulling some out from his small farm in Greenlandww in the East End for me to see. The grass sends down a root like a potato and once you pull it up it will sprout again from another part of the root. Dwight's farm surrounds his house on all sides. Like a delightful jungle there are paths that lead from breadfruit and mango trees to tilled rows of squash and pumpkin. Dwight, like many other farmers, sells to the area supermarkets, which have begun to set up sections for local produce.
Making a choice to eat your produce closer to the source, not only tastes better but helps the planet and our local famers.