In the future, I think we’re going to see a world full of sustainable farms. Our current techniques are unsustainable. We deplete the soil with single-crop harvests. Year after year we grow corn on the same land and each year that land loses more of its vitality and biodiversity. As the microorganisms die, flooded by artificial fertilizers and pesticides, the land becomes increasingly barren. Eventually, that land becomes infertile and we move on, abandoning one wasted farm after another until we have nothing left. Barren soil is prone to erosion from wind and rain. As the last of the life-giving dirt is lost to runoff, the farm becomes a desert. This is how we will lose our green spaces, our food, and our future, unless we start farming responsibly. The Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute is doing just that.
VISFI is on the island of St. Croix in the Caribbean Sea. It is a working farm dedicated to sustainable building, solar power, animal husbandry, and community mentoring. It’s designed to provide a “full cycle” holistic experience, from the seed to the living plant, to the table. Their farm enterprise, Ridge to Reef Farm, is the only USDA Certified Organic farm in the US Virgin Islands. What I find so interesting about VISFI is that they advertise themselves as an “agri-tourism” outfit. This is an exciting branch of the volunteer/service tourism industry. VISFI welcomes tourists who are just looking to learn about their projects, but they are more focused on volunteers, students, and apprentices who want to participate in the day-to-day work and who will, hopefully, bring VISFI techniques back to their own farming projects.
As we’ve seen with many volunteer projects, inspiration is a first-hand phenomenon. Seeing something with your own eyes, being part of what makes it work, is powerful. Farming is a hands-on profession. It requires long hours, physical power, and mental resolve. People who are motivated to dedicate themselves to farming are already prepared for the labor, but they may not be prepared for the logistics. Sustainability isn’t just a list of best practices, it’s a mindset, and it’s best implemented on the ground floor. VISFI teaches farmers how to do that—how to build their own sustainable farms, from the chicken coops to the fruit trees to the outhouses. There’s a lot to learn and VISFI is a model farm on which to learn it. This is what other organizations can learn from VISFI: be the model of what you hope to teach.
VISFI has programs for short-term volunteers, interns, apprentices and students. Many of their programs are eligible for college credit for semester-long farm stays.