Dale and Yvette Browne have been providing local produce, eggs and meat from their Sejah Farms to St. Croix for more than 20 years. The 15-acre farm near the center of St. Croix, not far from the old Bethlehem sugar mill, sells produce from avocados to zucchinis, to the biggest, freshest chicken you can get on St. Croix and farm-fresh eggs, and more. And they support educational programs for young farmers, cook with locally sourced food and promote agritourism.
In line with that philosophy, the farm is hosting its third annual Bush Cook Chef Cook at their farm from Oct. 25-27. (Tickets can be purchased here.)
Chefs from the island will present their best dishes all made from what’s available on the farm. Chefs come with only a knife and a pot and have to come up with the tastiest and most creative dishes. The event is open to the public and attendees will get to taste what the chefs cook up.
Dale Browne said he believes “we can up level the agricultural processes on-island to make it more inclusive.”
He would like to see “more farmers creating value from their crops or livestock and growing demand for the local food market.”
“As of today, there’s only two supermarkets really reaching out to farmers. On our island, backyard growing is pretty normal now. What some may not know is a backyard garden can be a commercial garden. You don’t need a lot of acres to do so. It just depends on method and practice. This is where the component of education comes in,” he said, bringing to mind the parable that if you give a man a ﬁsh he eats for a day but teach a man to ﬁsh and he will eat forever.
Recently the farm hosted it’s ﬁrst summer program, with over 40 students ages 5-18 learning all aspects of farming.
“They were asked to leave their chips and soda at home and instead prepare lunches with food from the farm guided by a local chef,” Dale Browne said.
In this coming month, the farm plans to provide food to over 1,500 people throughout the territory, through a partnership with Cigna to enhance preventative care measures for V.I. government.
Over the next five years, the Brownes are looking to expand their crops and livestock offerings and add more technology, including solar power, to the farm. They are also set on turning the farm into an institute, providing what they feel is relevant to improve and diversify the culture of farming on St. Croix.
Dale said topics that are important include the language of industry, business planning, outreach, technical assistance, equipment sharing and implementing standards to assist farmers to meet the market.
“The education is there, but it’s not reaching the people because there is no outreach,” Browne said.
While few farms are embracing it yet, the Brownes feel agritourism is the future.
“We want to continue in this ﬁeld of agritourism development, where visitors or locals on-island can come for a few hours and learn. We see the need for it, so we would like to see tours coming here. They get to experience eating everything that’s local and take the tour and come have lunch if they want or stop in to enjoy a farm-to-table dinner,” Dale Browne said.
Moving into the future, Browne said he would like to see more focus on local agriculture, but with a new commissioner of agriculture, “a lot of patience will be necessary.”
“The Agriculture Department has been undermined for years. It’s been dormant for a while. It’s like if you woke me up from a long sleep and I didn’t know how long I was sleeping. I’d be a bit tired,” Brown said.
“For the future, I would like to see the department making a 10-year plan for our island and the industry. Then, getting it funded and implementing it,” he said.
The farm invites people to volunteer, and they host events where locals can get a taste of the food on the farm prepared by local chefs, including cooking classes and much more. Browne boasts with enjoyment that “customers can come directly to the farm and purchase items as close to the source as possible.”
Sejah Farms has a food basket program where you can get a weekly selection of fresh produce selected for you, and they are able to accept food stamps and other government nutritional assistance
Sejah Farms is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. They can be e-mailed at [email protected] or reached via telephone at 340-277-6046.