BVI Modern Farming
- September 30th, 2010
- in Yachting
High above the North Shore's Trunk Bay, Aragorn Dick-Read has created a working market garden and farm, Good Moon Farm, that promises to become a source of inspiration as well as a source of organic greens and fruit.
Aragorn is best known as the impresario of Trellis Bay, where his eponymous Art Centre stands with Jeremy Wright's Cyber Cafe as the spiritual hub of Burning Man culture in the BVI. Aragorn has long sold local fruits and vegetables from the arts centre, but his farm is an attempt to make available organically produced quality produce to the yachting sector, principally, as well as to local restaurants and private customers.
The inspiration Good Moon offers is to act as a counterpoint to the government's attempt to create an industrialized agricultural sector based on an array of hydroponic greenhouses situated in Paraquita Bay. On a recent visit, Aragorn was just getting the farm organized following the ravages of Hurricane Earl, which had torn down a grove of banana trees and generally made a mess of things with 100-mph blasts up the gulleys. Offering a visitor a cup of tasty bush tea—eucalyptus and cinnamint—he offered some thoughts on the purpose of the farm and his overall approach to commercial gardening and its place at the spiritual heart of traditional West Indian life.
“It was always my mission to get a piece of land that was fertile, and I found this piece that was actually farmed up into the late 50s, early 60s. This all used to be terraced land and they used to grow bananas, tania and other crops and before that it was growing sugar cane. It was good to actually find a piece of land that had been active for 200 years or so. It was all bushed over, so it had become re-fertilized and I could dig it out and start all over again.
“When we first started here five years ago, my crew, which was mostly Carib Indian friends of mine from Dominica, were living on the land whilst we were building—so as we were building we were making the garden and feeding ourselves off the garden.
Papayas are just one of the types of fruit available at Good Moon Farm.
“We are a long way from what our eventual goal plan is. I want to have all these beds irrigated, with a timer. We're doing raised beds on the terraces which limits the amount of land you can use, but it also makesit a lot more controllable, and you can walk around harvesting. We're making nice compost now, so you can concentrate on that one rectangle of soil and really build it up since we're not using fertilizers at all except what we put in from manure and compost. The whole key is in soil development.
“When my mum and dad first came here, when I was a kid, the BVI was still farming efficient. I've got strong memories, and now when I look at old photographs, you see these hills as just being lines (from terracing), you wouldn't see bush like you do now, or trees. Even now, if you look under the bush you can see the terraces where they would grow tania and sweet potatoes and bananas—they were feeding St. Thomas. Now you hear government ministers saying how brutal it is to have to work the land, and they're never going to back to ‘the slavery of the soil.’ It's a warped thing because the soil and the land and the understanding of nature is what made people strong and kept them fit and healthy and also to love the land. Now the BVI has a social crisis because the young generation don't know a tamarind from a tania. They don't know what there is around them, so they don't have a relationship with the land anymore, and so they're caught in the worldwide trap of materialism and popular culture.
“The long-term vision here is to have the plots producing under irrigation and to have a few cottages where people can come and stay and experience agro-tourism—low key, not villa tourism. We plant using the system of the moon—planting three days before the moon for above ground and three days after for below ground. It has a lot do with moisture levels and the lunar gravitational pull. That's why we call it Good Moon Farm. It's one of the nice mysteries to explore in life.”
Aragorn says that on a regular basis the farm produces lettuces, arugula, spinach; herbs like basil, rosemary, sage and parsley—these are the crops “we can produce 90% of the time,” he says. Sometimes things come “in floods.” Sometimes “we lapse,” he says, “but generally we keep the beds busy.” There are three tiers of his market. He delivers to the big supermarkets, to restaurants and caterers, and to bareboats and crewed yachts.
Aragorn with a fresh-picked fig. Photo by David Blacklock.
Aragorn jokes that in his own family there has been a complete turnaround since his father, who started the Ample Hamper shops, used to import fancy foods such as strawberries from New Zealand. Now he is pursuing a strictly local policy—if local can be defined as the Caribbean. He has developed a network from Puerto Rico to Grenada of like-minded purveyors who are striving to keep traditional agriculture alive, courtesy of laptop computers, mobile phones and the good moon.
For a full list of Good Moon Farm's offerings, check their web site: goodmoonfarm.com.
Paraquita's Greenhouses Shut Out Small Farmers?
The traditional farming practices that Aragorn finds so full of merit have been derided by the political establishment in the BVI as “old-fashioned, tiresome and inefficient,” in Premier O'Neal's phrase. In order to change the territory's agricultural sector, the government has invested in the construction of a complex of greenhouses at Paraquita Bay that will grow produce under the hydroponic method of cultivation.
Initially developed as a cultivation method for harsh environments where traditional in-ground agriculture is diffi cult or impossible—think deserts or coral atolls—hydroponics has become a mainstream agribusiness sector where large operators run vast greenhouses in harsh conditions. The world's largest grower, Eurofresh in Arizona, has about 320 acres under glass, where they grow pesticide-free tomatoes and other crops.
Closer to home, Anguilla's Cuisinart Resort has hypdroponics guru, Dr. Howard Resh, in charge of their dedicated gardens which include both hyroponic and traditional organic gardens.
The advantages of hydroponic cultivation are many, including lower water use than traditional methods as well as flexibility of production so that yields can more easily match demand, allowing for daily harvesting and marketing on a large scale. Because this method doesn't use soil as a growing medium, it is technically not eligible for the label “organic,” though growers may eschew pesticides. Additionally, of course, this method of cultivation avoids many of the natural calamities that affect the region—landslides, wind damage and the like. Dr. Resh's Anguilla facility claims to be built to withstand winds up to 110 mph, for instance.
Whether BVI's farmers and market gardeners can embrace the new technology remains to be seen—the scale of the operation would indicate that the era of the individual working a small plot of land is not part of government's vision for the future.