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.
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.
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.
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.
And for the chefs at A Taste of St. Croix? Here are green beans…
And mustard greens! You can also see a bit of curly leaf red lettuce in this photo.
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!