Ever notice how greatness often draws inspiration from the most improbable of sources? Such is the case with St. Croix’s fabulous ARTfarm, an unlikely agricultural success story based in an even more unlikely location, the whole thing inspired in an environment that’s about as 180-degrees from its friendly welcoming charm as possible…
St. Croix-native Luca Gasperi and his wife Christina run ARTfarm, a small local vegetable farm and art gallery that they opened on St. Croix’s South Shore in 2000. If you’re on the island and you like your produce fresh, this is one of the best places to go! You might not think so on the drive there, though….
St. Croix’s South Shore is a predominantly dry, though beautifully picturesque area, with rolling hills giving way to flat sections, salt ponds and mangroves that line the sea. The flora is polar opposite to the lush rainforests to the west, with cacti and spiny kasha trees mirroring the harsh environment.
For generations, the main industry around here was ranching. In fact, Luca still lives on, and ARTfarm is now based at the very same cattle ranch his parents worked when he was a kid.
Through lots of hard work, trial, error and more hard work, Luca has managed to tame South Shore, taking what it gives and adapting when necessary to produce an impressive collection of homegrown organic fruits and vegetables.
We grow not a ton of a few things, but a lot of many different things.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, assorted herbs, peppers, onions, broccoli, beans, lettuce, turnips, pineapples, pumpkin – all were on the price-list, handwritten on a piece of cardboard tacked to a wall on the day I visited. All of it looked really good too, much to the delight of the steady stream of cars that pulled into ARTfarm while I was there. Shopping hours are limited, so folks come early to beat the rush and have their pick of the crops.
Most of the customers lived nearby on the South Shore or East End, though a few had traveled from clear across the island. Private citizens, restauranteurs, catering chefs and even a few tourists in the know were there, all drawn by the excellent produce and the Gasperi’s warm, friendly service.
As long as you see a happy customer, then you want to keep doing it.
It’s a philosophy Luca picked up while learning the ropes of the vegetable farming business in Upstate New York. The year was 1999 and a life in farming was not in his plans. He was, instead, working as a graphic designer, applying his talent for art to the ad world. On his lunch breaks, though, he loved hanging out in Union Square with the farmers who brought their produce to the city to sell. Fast friendships led to a two-month internship and an epiphany for Luca.
That’s when I knew this is what I wanted to do in St. Croix.
His attraction to vegetable farming and direct to consumer sales was rooted in its contrast with the more impersonal nature of the cattle farming business he knew growing up. He explained to me that when you farm cattle, you never have contact with the customer.
There (Upstate NY), we grew vegetables, picked ’em, cleaned ’em… Then we went to the city and we sold them to the crazy New Yorkers. The crazy New Yorkers, besides being crabby, were always thankful.
Earning the love and thanks of the decidedly less crabby clientele he serves today still fuels Luca’s drive to grow truly exceptional organic produce. When you go, though, please be nice and mind your Ps and Qs… no matter your mood.
ARTfarm is open on Wednesdays from 3pm to 5:30pm, and Saturdays from 10am to noon. In the spirit of the internship that inspired Luca so long ago, ARTfarm welcomes volunteers interested in learning their organic growing techniques.
Yes, even if you’re visiting the island on vacation, you can try your hand at farming with Luca and Christina!