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.

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The Bountiful Summertime

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Mangoes in my kitchen

Ah, Summertime on St. Croix…the time of year when the pace slows down, the temperature rises a teeny tiny bit, and we all look occasionally to the East for the possibility of a storm, while relaxing on the beach, drink in hand.

The official start to Summer is actually June 21, the Summer Solstice, but on St. Croix we know that it’s actually a different day – and that day is the day you get to eat your first delicious, juicy, sweet, floral scented and tropical flavored MANGO of the season.  For me, it is a day I look forward to all year!  And that first mango is also a sign of more delicious bounty to come in the form of avocado, carambola (starfruit), soursop, and more wonderful tropical fruit treats, ready and ripe to enjoy in a recipe, on a dish, or simply out of hand.

And while the bounties of summer flourish, the pace of life also slows.  Our beautiful little island becomes a bit quieter and softer, as the hustle and bustle of the tourist season comes to an end and we enjoy our summertime visitors and the start of wedding season.  We watch the flamboyant trees slowly unfurl their summertime coats of red splendor and relish the scents of the greenery and flowers in the air.  The kids are out of school, the community gathers for picnics and family barbeques, and the beaches are the days of rum and long, summer languid moments of nothing but – peace.

Oh, and mangoes.  Have I mentioned mangoes yet?

This week I’ll be visiting Aberra Bulbulla and wandering through the variety of tropical fruit trees in his orchard, trees that are now laden with fruit and beauty.  I’ll have photos to share and hopefully some inspiration to try something new and local on St. Croix that perhaps you haven’t tasted before!  Our local bounty of fruits is tremendous, and today only marks the beginning of the season.  I hope you’ll stick with me over the next few months as I cover more of our lovely summertime, and continue to Go Local St. Croix!

“A Taste of St. Croix” Review: Farm to Table Musings

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So this year was my first year attending “A Taste of St. Croix” (simply known as, “the Taste”) as a local food advocate and blogger.  And honestly, I had very little idea what to expect and do other than I knew that I wanted to attend the event with one goal in mind:  Seek out and find the local food, and report on it.  I wanted to show a perspective of the event that was different from the beautiful and glamorous photo shoots, the glitz and the glitter, the laughter and the full tummies and happy smiles going into the night.  I was a woman on a mission, and I had ONE mission:  Find the local food ingredients, and taste what had been done with it.

I am happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed.  The theme of this year’s St. Croix Food and Wine Experience week has been “Food, Farm, Philanthropy,” and what I found at the Taste was that most of the chefs and restaurants had incorporated some aspect of that theme in their dishes.  Most had at least one or two local ingredients, and several had many more, with some being composed of almost entirely local food ingredients.  And I had some wonderful surprises!  Everything I tasted was very good, bordering on delicious.  To paraphrase the words of visiting chef Simon Stojanovic, local food doesn’t have to be boring!  And that’s the message that many of our local chefs were embracing as they created their dishes.

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I started out before the doors opened to the public, and I went from table to table seeking out the chefs to ask them what local ingredients they incorporated into their dishes.  The ambience is quite different without the crowds!  And I was able to see the items that the chefs were preparing for the judges’ table, and that was quite exciting too.  The atmosphere was one of hurried anticipation as each team prepared their table perfectly for the hungry throng about to come through the doors.

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Here’s Dashi’s table prior to the event.  You can see the fountain arrangement that won them “Best Presentation” – lovely!  And the sushi included fresh local wahoo in the rolls, as well as local mint and arugula in the chimichurri sauce.  Later I tasted the sushi, and I was nervous about tasting raw wahoo – and discovered that it is quite flavorful, it’s a tender fish that pairs well with the sushi flavors.  I now have a new way to enjoy local wahoo!

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Maria’s Cantina won Best Entree (tied with You Are Here bar) for her Pescado Veracruz – one of the few dishes to feature a local protein as the primary ingredient.  That’s fresh-caught mahi on that delicious Veracruz sauce, and boy, was it good!  Congratulations, Maria!

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Here is Salud Bistro’s table during the event – local pig ear salad!  I was very nervous about tasting pig ear for the first time, but it was chewy, crispy, and delicious, and the sweet tangy dressing and local vegetables in the salad made it wonderful.

Another table that featured a local protein item (which I don’t have a photo of, unfortunately) was the Galleon.  I am CRAZY impressed with how much local food their chef Kenneth Biggs is integrating into the dishes they serve, both at the Taste and every day.  I did not know how much focus this restaurant is bringing to local ingredients, and I’m planning on a visit to the restaurant really soon for an interview!  For the Taste, they served the ONLY local lamb of the night (from Sejah Farm, of course), slow cooked and served over a ravioli stuffed with local pumpkin and finished with a demiglace.  It was absolutely delicious, and I don’t usually enjoy lamb.  I asked Mrs. Brown of Sejah Farm the secret to her lamb, and she said it is that they responsibly slaughter the lambs while they are still very young, before the meat develops that stronger flavor which normally I don’t enjoy.  So the combination of the quality meat and the cooking was just outstanding.

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This was the Galleon’s vegetarian dish, which one second place in the “Vegetarian Fare” category.  Lentils with a sweet and savory local vegetable salad, very delicious!

The Palms at Pelican Cove won “Best Soup” for their Sweet & Spicy Plantain and Papaya soup, and I enjoyed it very much as well.  The soup contained local papaya, plantain, sour orange, lemongrass, bay leaf, and peppers as key components – one of the most purely local dishes of the night to be entered by a non-farm table.  Congratulations guys!

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Here’s lettuce from Tropics Hydroponics Farm being combined with other local lettuces by Central High School to create a salad dish.  I was there when this lettuce was bought at the Farmers and Chefs Market Day at the Ag Fair – and here it is being prepared to be served to a hungry crowd!

Another local dish that won in the “Local Fare” category was served by Lighthouse Mission.  They prepared spinach fritters to order on the spot, finished with either a sweet tamarind chutney, or a hot mango chutney.  This was perhaps my favorite vegetarian dish of the night.

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There were also local food vendors represented bringing local produce to feature.  Here’s a bushel of local tomatoes at Quality Food VI….

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And here’s a display of local honey products at the Department of Agriculture’s booth.  Local honey wine, one of my favorites!

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Local Farmers were also in attendance – here’s Luca Gasperi from ARTfarm, who brought a display of produce to display with local VI honey artisan Wanda Wright featuring her local honey.  ARTfarm prepared a flatbread that was then drizzled with a honey dressing from Wanda – out of this world!

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And here’s Mrs. Browne from Sejah Farms.  Mr. and Mrs. Browne entered the event this year as well with local foods prepared fresh that day from Sejah Farm.  Their dish was a local pumpkin soup that included coconut milk prepared fresh that day by Mr. Browne – and once you’ve had fresh coconut milk, you will never want canned again!  Mr. Browne also prepared local “golden apple” drink, which actually isn’t an apple but is from a fruit called pommecythere (pronounced “pom-cee-thay”).  Delicious and refreshing, very light and crisp.  You can often find their local juice drinks for sale at Sejah Farm, Saturday is generally the best day to find them available.

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And as the beautiful St. Croix evening wore on, people began to wear lots of happy smiles and satisfied faces.  And I stepped aside for a moment to pause and consider all that I’d learned that evening.

I thought about how most of the chefs that I spoke with told me that they would love to use local ingredients even more in their dishes, but sometimes they are challenged with sourcing them for their restaurants.  I also thought about how I heard from many of the farmers that they could increase production of the products for restaurants if they knew that there would be a consistent demand.  To me, this seems like the biggest challenge in the “Farm to Table” restaurant movement on St. Croix right now – and it is a “chicken or the egg” type of challenge, as in, the restaurants are seeking greater production of goods (for consistent supply) and the farms are seeking a consistent demand before they increase production and yields.  So the question then becomes – who moves first?

I had a great conversation with Andrew Havanchak from the You Are Here bar about his winning dish – fried shrimp corn dogs with a sweet and spicy pineapple sauce.  He told me that he felt bad that he couldn’t use more local ingredients in his dishes, and he would love to be able to find them!  In his winning dish, for example, the sauce contains both pineapple and hot peppers, both of which are grown locally.  However he is challenged to find a supply for his restaurant that he can use for his dish on a consistent basis, and restaurant guests are not always understanding when a dish can’t be served simply because ingredients are missing.  So he’s currently obtaining his supply from off-island sources to ensure that locals and visitors alike are not disappointed.  But I assured him that I will be taking on the challenge for him of sourcing the local ingredients that he can use.  I know we can do it, together.

And now that’s my personal goal for 2013 as the “Go Local Gal” on St. Croix – to find a methodology that enables both restaurants and farmers to work together and bring more of the wonderful local foods that we produce to the restaurant table – especially local meats (senepol beef, anyone?)!  Food personality Andrew Zimmern visited St. Croix a few months ago and issued us a challenge – “It would rejuvenate the economy here, putting farmers back to work, communities back to work. Keeping local things local. We stopped at a farm stand on Queen Mary’s yesterday … GLG Plants and produce, with a husband and wife who are teaching their sons how to farm. That to me is the economic model for success here.”  I want to rise to that challenge.  2013 is the year when we will be able to say when the Farm to Table movement really caught traction on St. Croix – and I can’t wait!

I hope you’ll all stay with me, as we all work together to celebrate the local culture and heritage of Agriculture and food that makes St. Croix so unique and wonderful.  Thank you, to the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience, for all that you do to bring awareness to the rich culture of food that St. Croix has to offer – and here’s to another amazing year!

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.