The words of motivational speakers Les Brown (whom she loves), Steve Harvey and Dr. Myles Munroe, echoing from her cell phone, greeted me at the gate and welcomed me to Mill Round Farms BVI. Here is where I caught up with Empress Ruth and discovered her journey to beauty. With a rake in hand, dreads partially wrapped and gently hanging down her back, our conversation began. We connected. We were both in our happy place. Oh boy, here it goes!
Empress Ruth: My father and grandfather have always planted things around their homes but my real exposure to agriculture started at the age of 7 or 8, with Mrs. Lyra Hodge and the late Mrs. Winifred Hodge who would take me with them to their plots at Round Hill and Brewers Bay. I can remember having the task of shelling pigeon peas with Teacher Lyra’s husband, the late Irvin “Brock” Hodge, and then having the finger-licking pleasure of eating them in Teacher Lyra’s peas soup. Then she introduced it at the Ivan Dawson Primary School. I remember us participating in Farmer’s Week and winning. And then of course as a Rastafarian woman, eating healthy was my first priority. Then I met Alton “Ras Amdi” Vanterpool, who was already into agriculture and it just took off from there. We used to farm a plot at Paraquita Bay and we would share with friends and family. They were quite satisfied with what we produced. Feeding our children well and from our own hands made us feel accomplished. Being close to the dirt and earth feels natural. There is a connection, a “groundation”, a relationship.
ER: Mill Round Farm specializes in greens, even though we try our hand at anything. We have planted sweet corn, eggplants, tomatoes, but the greens, in particular varieties of lettuce seem to love our soil, therefore we are best known for lettuce.
ER: In 2019, we took a “work-cation” to Oahu, Hawai’i and was inspired by the level of consciousness in terms of eating and buying local produce. We brought back Hawai’ian chilies, which to our knowledge is only planted by us, but we are most known for our salad mixes of dark and light green lettuce with reds etc.
ER: We do lots of research. We usually buy varieties not found in the supermarket at Plant Wise, but also bring in seeds from companies that specialize 1) in organic seeds and 2) rare seeds. Lettuce was our focus based on the issues of ecoli that romaine lettuce was having in the US. Knowing that most lettuce is imported, we decided to try and it has been successful. We also plant based on customer demands. Others are because they look weird and interesting and we just would like to see the results on Virgin Islands soil.
ER: Keep it fresh, local and organic. Take time to listen to the plants, the soil, the moon, the sun, the changing time…and they will direct the work.
ER: Gardening is trial and error, and the errors are always teachers. We subscribe to organic pest control such as neem oil, cayenne pepper and planting strongly flavoured crops such as green onions between crops such as collard, cabbages which are susceptible to pests.
ER: We are both passionate about agriculture, but also about helping people. Amdi is a giver and hard worker by nature. He has taught me to be patient with the land, and being raised in a business environment, I had the business side. We complement each other in that regard.
ER: My children have always been on a farm. My last two children took some of their first steps between (the crop) beds. They often do not like the hard work of being on the farm, but they do enjoy the selling part and being on the payroll. They are expected to put in at least 2 hours weekly and earn allowances this way.
ER: Lady Sarah’s, Quito’s, Paradise Club, Captain’s Kitchen, Gene’s Restaurant. We have also recently forged relationships with Red Rock and Camdem Market.
ER: We work very closely with our brother and sister Jamal and Strassa Bradshaw of Plant Wise, who first told us about the competition. We were then contacted by VISAR and immediately went to work sowing the arugula that was one of the mandatory ingredients. We also had to make sure we had basil which was also mandatory. We were sent a list of restaurants to choose from and my intuition told me to go with Red Rock. My husband and I had eaten there before and knew what they could produce. When I met Carris Penn, the manager, and Chef Kevin, their vibe was positive and confident. Chef didn’t care about winning. He said that when he cooks, he thinks of his wife and child and that stuck with me. Our winning dish was tiger prawns on an arugula leaf, wrapped in prosciutto, topped with onions, bell peppers, torched goat cheese, black caviar, our Hawai’ian chilies and a basil aioli. We got the opportunity to meet and speak with His Excellency Governor Jaspert about our vision for agriculture in the BVI as well as to forge new business relationships.
ER: We have collard greens, purple and green bok choy, spinach, swiss chard, various lettuce varieties, basil varieties, parsley, multi-coloured corn.
ER: Water is always an issue for farmers. We are basically still piloting our business and its longevity. We have plans on implementing irrigation and exploring wells I know are found on the land.
ER: Our home was built by the late, great business man and my adopted great-grandfather, Mr. Rudolph Hodge. The home was built on the site of a sugar works, of which remnants can still be seen in the foundation of the home and the ruin adjacent. The house plot itself was built on the mill round. This is where the mules would have walked around to crush the sugar cane. As a child, this spot was always called “the Mill Ground” by the elders. However, my time studying VI History at HLSCC taught me that the correct term was “Mill Round” and thus, in honour of these elders who had personal input in my raising, we named the farm Mill Round Farm.
ER: We were granted permission by my great-uncle Mr. Stanley Hodge to use the land for our pilot. Currently we utilize maybe an eighth of an acre.
ER: Farming provides me with the exercise I need to stay fit. But most of all it is the place I go to get answers and to clear my head. It is a sacred place for my mental health as well as my physical health. In addition, my food becomes my medicine.
ER: We have a vision of not only producing crops, but also developing products from our produce such as oils, teas, etc.
Visit the farm in Cane Garden Bay on the way to Hodge’s Gas station daily between 5:30 and 7:00pm, or call them at 1 (284) 344-3376. Follow them on FB www.facebook/millroundfarmsbvi to know what products are available, or email at them email@example.com.
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We each find and see beauty through our own lens. Whatever that may look like to you, embrace it. Like Empress Ruth, being in my garden gives me life. I’ve crafted a not-so- organized garden, but it’s my sanctuary. It helps me to radiate my beauty in and out. My method is “whatever”, but it works. Enjoy some beauties from my home and garden to yours.