Part of my trip to St. Croix last spring involved taking a bumpy ride to a reclusive corner of the island until we ended up at the Ridge to Reef Organic Farm. The purpose of our day excursion was to get a glimpse and taste of the farming lifestyle on the breezy isle. I’ve learned to visit such farms without much expectation. That way, anything I experience is automatically enlightening.
Owners Nate and Shelli Olive, are your atypical farm owners. They’re young, hip, and a bit rockerish. But, they also personify the vintage Woodstocker that’s all about peace, love and the betterment of our earth. It’s a great juxtaposition of consciousness and free spirit.
They’re mission is simple: to breathe and foster an organic and sustainable (and solar if possible) life which preserves the watershed food systems. In doing so themselves, they’ve committed to educate and faciliate their neighbors throughout the Virgin Islands with the resources and tools necessary to support a natural eco-system. Their farm was launched in 2010 and has since seen over 2,ooo visitors that can enjoy Farm Stays, field trips, or a delectable lunch prepared on site with all of the food sourced right on their property.
Our intimate group of bloggers and journalists came clad in terrain-friendly gear, ready to get our feet stuck in mud and our hair stuck in twining branches. I showed up in 4″ wedges. What in the world was I thinking?! Thanks to our faithful and comedic driver, my knees were spared several scuffs and bruises. My cork shoe did lose an embedded nail, but that’s a non-issue or worry when your backdrop is a luscious green forrest of mossy trees and humming pajaros.
(L-R: “Green tree,” or Moringa oleifera; Kale leaf; yuca stalk; farm table)
After an informal meet and greet we were immediately thrust into the acreage. We learned about their variety of kale greens, “green tree,” which is the Moringa oleifera and a superfood of which they make powder as a nutritional additive. One of my fave encounter was with the yuca stalk. The root, which is where our edible tuber comes from, wasn’t visible, but it was my first time seeing how it grows.
While most employees work all day long, either maintaining the grounds, herding chickens and goats to other parts of the farm or hosting one of the many classes offered, they do have some much needed down time. Hence, these lovely hammocks. You can’t see the entire bodice of the hut housing the laxidasical lounging, but it was pretty massive in height, all hand built and sturdy enough to withstand sand and wind storms. Fresh coconuts decorated the perimeter of the hut.
Plant life varies and thrives in abundance at Ridge to Reef. From the pluckable peppery arugula to the pink flowers used to decorate lunch and dinner plates, you’ll also find tamarind, which I love and used to suck as a street kid living in Miami, to stinky toe formally named Hymenaea courbaril or locust. This ubiquitous Caribbean seed is indeed foul-odored but throughly enjoyed as a sweet, extra fuzzy fruit that can used to flavor foods and drinks. Or just eaten outright. The preemptive alert kept me from impartially enjoying it. I smelled its funk, tasted its tickly fuzz and almost gagged. Ha.
Nothing like experiencing new foods on an island, far, far away from your comfort zone. It was all heavenly, actually. Our kitchen hostesses took pleasure in seeing us squirm our palates back to a known place.
An hour of touring the crops earned us a spectacular organic 4-course lunch with the type of setting you pay hundreds of dollars for at any exclusive resort. Our stained farm tables were decorated with enormous sunflowers shoved in Mason jars. A young violinist played classical pieces while we chatted and took pictures of the green abyss that dropped behind us.
Almuerzo was prepared by the very Southern Chef Tahirah Abu-Bakr, a Mississippi native. This beautiful woman took some of us by our hands and led us into her open kitchen where she offered a crash course in the ingredients she was using for our meal. Being a caribeña, I was familiar with most of her choices. The coconuts, having been just axed open by Shelli, were used as milk for the goat curry. Divine. I’m not a fan of fresh coconut water, but I got creative. Found a papaya leaf laying around, rolled it up an stuck it in my bright orange shell. I sipped and sipped until I was too full for another. The makeshift fruit straw completly altered the flavor profile of the water.
I had a water party in my mouth. Now that, I can get used to drinking.
(L-R: Chef Tahirah Abu-Bakr; cut coconut; farm co-owner, Shelli: my papaya straw)
Lunch consisted of a colorful salad replete with leaves and flowers handpicked earlier during our tour, followed by a patty of some delicious sort. Sheesh, forgive me for not remembering the components, though I can report that it was cocina neuva style and very bright. I enjoyed the curry goat the most, which as you’ve guessed, was also sourced from the very herd on land. Yup. We got to see those little guys roam around… the starch was yuca instead of American potato — a natural pairing.
Dessert was as an insanely perfect coconut and nutmeg custard which oozed of creamy cream. In due fashion, I ate my next door diner’s as she wasn’t too keen on sweets. Too bad for her.
(Clockwise: Press creds; eating sheep; yuca and lamb curry)
A final walk through of the farm led us to the Pablo’s chicken coup and the sheep yard. Both animals are used for their byproducts and sold to 50 CSA members, other buyers on the island, for use in the farm’s own Slow Down dinners (a concept similar to the Slow Food Movement) and for consumption by their own farm visitors.
As for the chickens, they serve multiple purposes. Not only are their eggs sold at market and used in the kitchen, but the live “chicken tractors” Nate has built, enable large moveable cages with open bottoms, to meander the property and weed or fertilize the ground. The difference is on your plate.
Nothing goes to waste at Ridge to Reef.
Good food is not the only reason to visit Ridge to Reef. Stay for a few days and enjoy any one of their educational and possibly life-chaning programs. If you’re not into a Pathway program which trains you to farm in a holistic regenerative manner, then settle for the bamboo craft class. Maybe you can leave with your own bamboo straws to sip your best cocktail out of. You can be off the grid, but you don’t have to sacrifice your chic!
* I visited Ridge to Reef Farm as part of my press trip to the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience. This visit and all expenses were compliments of the USVI Tourism and their supporting sponsors. All opinions are my own, always.