Saturday Shopping Day April 27

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Shopping Day 4/29

A great local shopping day this morning – we’re set for the next few days!  Malabar spinach, pumpkin, green beans, bok choy, carrots, cucumber, malay apples, sapote, bananas, papaya, grapefruit, and – LOCAL JALAPENOS.   I am grinning from ear to ear!

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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!

The Mighty Chocolate Fruit!

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Before I moved to St. Croix, I had no idea such a thing existed.

Chocolate Fruit

It truly is pretty darn ugly, isn’t it?  I mean, where in human history did someone look at this thing and think…Hey, I want to eat that?!?  This one is particularly large, about the size of a softball.

Chocolate Fruit Insides

Cut open though, you can see how the inside looks and tastes exactly like fudge pudding.  Doug made short work of this one tonight.

Chocolate fruit are actually persimmons – but they’re a dark-fleshed variety that has this unique flavor.  If you want one of your own, the best place to buy them on St. Croix is from Aberra, who has a farm stand on the Southgate corner on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.  He’s my primary source for unusual tropical fruits.  Give it a try!

Saturday Shopping Day

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One of the things I hear a lot when I talk to people about shopping locally is the comment, “I just don’t have enough time to do all that shopping.”  Well, over time with this blog, I hope to disprove that thought process!  It is possible to shop locally on one (or two) days a week, and get plenty of good local food to add to the weekly menus.

I primarily do all our shopping on Saturday mornings, and sometimes on Wednesday as well.  I typically go to the Farmer’s Market in La Reine (center island), and then the farm stands on the corner in Southgate.  About once a month I also visit Sejah Farm and/or Annaly Farms (for meat), and also sometimes ARTfarm on South Shore Road.  In addition, I will often stop at Quality Food VI for organic produce (and sometimes meats) that can’t be bought locally.  However, I generally do NOT go to all these on one day, that would be crazy!  It’s more about…what do we have at home, and what would we like to eat that week?  And then I decide on where to stop.  My shopping is generally 2 hours or so, and it gets most everything we need for our menus.

This week, I went to the La Reine Farmers’ Market, and then on to ARTfarm and the Southgate farm stands.  Here’s the picture of what all I brought home:

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This includes hydroponically grown butter lettuce, carambola, tomatoes, chocolate fruit, pomelo, sopadilla, soursop, pumpkin, dried peas, cucumbers, eggplants, limes, green bell pepper, bananas, avocado, honey, hot scotch bonnet peppers, tamarind candies, and a black cake – a local holiday treat!

So what am I going to do with all this?  Well, that’s the next upcoming post!  Stay tuned for the first of my, “What I Did With It” posts – dinner…tonight!