Tasting the “Bee Kind” Life

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I recently was lucky enough to be invited to a private local mead tasting at eat @ Cane Bay on a day the restaurant was closed for business.  Wanda Wright, owner of Wright Apiary and local mead artisan, asked myself, Katherine Pugliese (eat @ Cane Bay and the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience), and Roger Shepard (Premier Wine & Spirits) to sample her meads in preparation for her attendance at upcoming food and wine shows.

Wanda Wright

Meet Wanda Wright.  Local beekeeper, honey producer, mead artisan, owner of Wright Apiary, and all around amazing and wonderful person.  Wanda is an eternally youthful soul with a big smile and a heart to match.  She gives the best hugs!  And the flavors of her meads reflect the love that she puts into them.

Mead Varieties

For those of you who may not know what mead is, it is also known as “honey wine.”  It is fermented honey and water, and the flavor can range from sweet to dry, depending upon the age and the ingredients added to the mead.  Meads may be still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling, and they are served at all temperatures, from room temperature to chilled.

Wanda adds local fruits and spices to her meads, and she has six different varieties available – carambola, suriname cherry, mango, yellow plum, passion fruit, and guava.  It is important to note that these are not flavors – the mead carries only the lightest essence of flavor from each of these ingredients.  Rather, each added fruit juice to the original honey prior to being created into mead adds notes of distinction to the final product.  You can read the notes on the final tasting sheet for each variety.

Wright Apiary meads are recommended to be served at room temperature or slightly chilled, before or after dinner.  They make a delightful drink just for sipping while watching a beautiful St. Croix sunset as well.

Mead Tasting

Wanda gave us some interesting facts about mead, such as “mead has been enjoyed for centuries by nobles, notables, and ordinary people, but especially by lovers, honoring their union in a month long celebration, punctuated with drinking “honey wine,” giving rise to our modern day tradition of the honeymoon.”  Mead truly is a drink of love!

If you’d like to purchase and try Wright Apiary meads, the best way to find them is by contacting Wanda Wright directly.  She can be reached at (340) 277-6727, or (340) 718-2142.  Wright Apiary honey (not mead) is also sold at ARTfarm, which you can find on my map of St. Croix farmers markets and farm stands.

I hope you get a chance to taste these wonderful meads, as I was fortunate to do, and enjoy a bit of St. Croix love.  And as Wanda says – “Bee Kind!”  Thank you Wanda, for caring for your bees, for St. Croix, and for making these wonderful products for us.

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Try Some Free Fruit Tomorrow (6/19) at Southgate!

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TOMORROW (6/19) at Southgate – want to try a star apple or an egg fruit, but are afraid to spend the money to commit? Aberra Bulbulla will be giving away FREE star apples and egg fruits at his Southgate farm stand tomorrow when you mention that you saw this post on Go Local St. Croix!

He will be there from 9am to 2pm, quantities available while they last, so go get yours! Please feel free to share with your friends as well!

Don’t forget to not eat the skin of the star apple, peel and eat the tender fruit, and it is delicious. And egg fruits make wonderful smoothies!  Here are some videos to get you started:

Meet Local Farmer: Aberra Bulbulla

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Writing this post is a treat that I’ve been anticipating for some time now, because it meant that I was able to visit Aberra Bulbulla in his beautiful St. Croix orchard.

Aberra's Orchard

Aberra moved to St. Croix over 20 years ago, and worked as a research analyst at UVI as well as in the Cooperative Extension Service, specializing in irrigation.  He brought his love of tropical fruit trees with him to the island, and began planting his four-acre orchard 15 years ago – an orchard that is now full of mature trees loaded with delicious and beautiful fruits.

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And yes, Aberra’s smile grows larger as he walks amongst his trees, his passion and joy and enthusiasm rolling from him in waves that you can’t help but be caught up in, and feel a little happier for the moment being spent with him.

Aberra and his tree

Aberra is normally more quiet and reserved.   Such as he won’t tell you that he was Farmer of the Year four times at the Ag Fair, with the entire fair named after him in 2010.  He also won’t mention that he was Crop Farmer of the Year last year (2013) either.  But when you find those facts out, and ask him about them, he will smile broadly and say, “Yes, that was me” with no expectation of applause or fanfare.

Sugar Apple

Which means that Aberra is one of those wonderful farmers who – in my opinion – we don’t celebrate enough.  Because Aberra has not only created an orchard for his retirement, he has also planted into St. Croix’s future.  He has given us a blessing and heritage that few consider doing – and for me, the gratitude for this gift to our community runs deep.

Sapote Trees

Such as this tree – the “Mommy Apple.”  Many on St. Croix speak fondly of this fruit in their childhood, and most trees have all but disappeared.  But Aberra has one growing on his farm, and more on the way.

Mommy Apple

Or this unusual fruit – the chocolate fruit, one of many persimmons growing in the orchard, and my husband’s favorite.  Before Aberra, these fruits were tropical flavors that were not growing here, or were growing here very little.  But now they are here, and we are able to keep them growing for future generations.

Chocolate Fruit

Or the jackfruit tree!  I must admit to being seriously intimidated by this fruit, but it is quite popular in Asian dishes, and one of these days I’ll attempt my hand with one – each one being the size of a watermelon, or larger!

Jackfruit Tree

And of course, there’s an abundance of mangos, avocado, coconut, eggfruit, starfruit, guava, and many other local fruits, in several different varieties.

Orchard

And in addition to the fruit trees, Aberra is also growing decorative flowers, and has a greenhouse for starting plants that contains one of the island’s only miracle fruit trees.  The miracle fruit is called a “miracle” because of its ability to change a person’s sense of taste, leading to some entertaining experiences.  This is a really delicate fruit that lasts only about 12 hours, so having the opportunity to sample one is a rare treat indeed!

Miracle Fruit Tree

Aberra insisted on creating a giant bouquet for me of flowers and ornamental leaves, which I took home and enjoyed for many days.  I must admit to grinning from ear to ear as I walked behind him with this lavish gift.

Aberra's Bouquet

You can buy fruit from Aberra on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Southgate, from around 8:30 am to 1 pm.  The location can be found on my farm stand map.  Right now Aberra is bringing malay apples, coconuts, mangoes, eggfruit, and star apples for sale.  Avocados will be in another month or so, and there are more chocolate fruits and sapotes and sapodillas on the way, and guavas and surinam cherries and…well, the list goes on and on.  With over 300 fruit trees, there’s always something growing in abundance.

Mango

But there is one gift that Aberra exceeds in abundance even more than his fruit trees – and that asset that he holds is kindness.  Aberra is one of the rarest and kindest souls on the planet, and I find great joy and inspiration in being his friend.  I hope that by visiting his orchard with me, you do too.

Meet “A Taste of St. Croix” Farmer: Grantley Samuel

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I’ve been looking forward to writing this post about my good friend and amazing farmer Grantley Samuel for a few days now.

Grantley is officially the first farmer I met on St. Croix when I moved here two years ago.  I was new, confused, and had NO idea where to shop for the local fresh produce I’d grown accustomed to buying in Austin, Texas.  Grantley was kind, welcoming, and offered me help and ideas – he even told me how to cook a breadfruit the first time!  And he has a warm heart and a constant smile on his face.

Grantley in his corn field

Meet Grantley Samuel of G.L.G Plants & Produce – standing in his favorite place, his corn field.

Grantley is very proud of his corn, as he is his all his other plants.  My husband and I have discussed Grantley’s method of success, and it all comes down to the facts that he is professional, he is organized, and he is friendly.  And – most importantly – he sees farming as a career, and an important industry that holds a significant role in a successful community.  Grantley was Agriculture’s “Farmer of the Year” in 2012, and he frequently works with local schools and the University of the Virgin Islands for Agricultural outreach programs with children and adults.

Grantley's fields

Grantley’s fields are neat and organized.  He focuses on growing five primary crops – corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, and watermelon.  He uses a minimum of pesticides, and focuses 99% of the time when he does have to use pesticides, he uses organic pesticides.  He never sprays food crop items.  His philosophy is that if he is growing food that he wants to feed his family, then he should grow food that everyone else wants to feed their families as well.  And he is able to get tremendous yields simply by applying time-proven agricultural principles of crop rotation, adequate spacing, proper watering, and fertilization.

GLG Cucumber

Here’s a cucumber that’s close to ready to harvest.  And yes, you see a few weeds and spots – which illustrates what I mentioned above, that Grantley is able to produce some wonderful produce in his fields without excessive chemicals.  Local produce typically is not “perfect” produce – because it is grown for quality and taste instead of shelf life and appearance (traits of conventionally grown produce).  And I can personally testify that Grantley’s produce has a wonderful flavor!

A field ready for corn

This is a new 2.5 acre plot that Grantley is about to plant exclusively with corn.  In the future, G.L.G Plants & Produce will have roasted corn available at its roadside stand on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays every week.

Plants in pots

And, don’t forget the herb and vegetable plants that Grantley grows for sale!  Some of the best on St. Croix, in my opinion.

G.L.G. Stand

You can find G.L.G Plants & Produce on my map of Farmers Markets and Farm Stands.

Talking about the bees

Grantley is also beginning to raise his own bees, and soon will have chickens for eggs as well.  Here he is talking with me about the bees and future chickens to be housed in a coop made with the reclaimed shipping container directly above his hands in the photo – and you can see the banana plants he’s raising also.

And that takes me to my closing thoughts about Grantley.  When we were discussing his bees, he told me something really profound.  He said, “As I learn more about bees, those bees, I wish we all could get along like those bees.  When I open that hive box, I think about how every bee in that box has a job to do, and they all know that they are dependent upon each other, and each bee’s job is important.  No bee is more important than the others, from the bee in the bottom of that box to the bee at the top.  I wish we all knew that we are equally as important.”

Well said, my friend.  I’m proud to know you, and I am thrilled with the hard work you put in for agriculture on St. Croix.  Thank you for it.

Meet “A Taste of St. Croix” Farmer: Toni Downs

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As we head into St. Croix Food and Wine Experience week, I thought it would be an ideal time to feature a few local farmers that I know, and talk with them about their “Farm to Table” efforts.  I specifically wanted to find out what produce they’ve grown for the chefs to choose from for the dishes that they will be preparing for “A Taste of St. Croix” on Thursday night.  So I toured two farms today (the other I will feature on Wednesday), and tomorrow I will be attending the “Chef/Farmer’s Market Day” at the Agriculture and Food Fair Grounds (open to the public 8 AM to 4 PM), and I’ll have more photos and information to share about the process our farmers go through to provide food from seed to plate.

So today, I introduce to you:  Farmer and Beekeeper Toni Downs.

Toni at her gate

And yes, she does smile that big all the time!

Toni moved to St. Croix a few years ago from Kentucky, where she served as the Eastern Apicultural Society Director 2007 – 2011 .  Toni has a number of years in the beekeeping business, and has been invited to speak at several apiary industry events, most recently an event for 400 “backyard beekeepers” in Connecticut, where she discussed Caribbean bees and their specific characteristics.  Since Toni moved to St. Croix, in addition to her beekeeping business, she has been growing (pardon the pun) her farm business, as well as providing valuable information and services regarding beekeeping on the island.  She has a group of hives that she raises for both honey and beeswax, and she rotates hives on her farm property as well.

Toni's tilled fields

The red box just left of center in this photo is one of her hives.  We didn’t approach it much closer today as it was windy and the bees were a little cranky from the weather, so I was happy to let them stay in their home for the day.  These fields have just recently been tilled and are going to be planted with Sunn Hemp (a cover crop), in an experiment in concert with the University of the Virgin Islands to find out if the bees harvest pollen from the sunn hemp plants, which would be valuable as a honey source in addition to a cover crop.

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Toni has food crops growing as well, here we see okra just getting started, as well as rows of corn – yes, that’s right, sweet corn on St. Croix!  Several farmers are now growing this crop with success, and you’ll be seeing it more often at farm stands around the island.

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Mmmmmm….corn…..

Green Beans

And for the chefs at A Taste of St. Croix?  Here are green beans…

Basil

Basil…

Mustard Greens

And mustard greens!  You can also see a bit of curly leaf red lettuce in this photo.

Queen Caribee

And of course, Toni will be selling her line of “Queen CariBEE” honey and products, made from honey from her own beehives, as well as local produce ingredients.  Right now many of her products (like this tomato/papaya chutney) also contain tomatoes from Ridge to Reef Farm…oh yeah, YUMMM!!!

Toni has a long-term goal of opening a community kitchen on St. Croix – a community kitchen that will rent space for production of food items in an inspected and insured environment.  She’s also working to expand her production of crops, and creating a dialogue with local restaurants about how food crops can best be supplied for restaurant dishes.  And of course, she’s always interested in preparing and selling more of her delicious products directly to the public!

But the best thing about Toni?  It’s her heart, and her passion for what she does.  Toni is kind and friendly and she cares about what she sells, and the people who buy from her.

Toni will be at the Chef/Farmer’s Market Day tomorrow with these produce items, and possibly a few more goodies I didn’t see today.  And after tomorrow, you can find her on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Southgate (marked on my map of Farmers Markets and Farm Stands).  Please stop by, say hello, and see Toni’s sunny smile for yourself.  You’ll be glad you did!