Testing Vegetable Varieties in Tropical Conditions on St. Croix, USVI for Farm to School Crop Production

Final report for FS20-327

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $12,480.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Virgin Islands Farmers Alliance
Region: Southern
State: U.S. Virgin Islands
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Nate Olive
Virgin Islands Farmer Alliance
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Project Information


The selection and utilization of seeds most favorable to local conditions is pivotal for ensuring sustainable food production in the southern sub-tropical region. This study seeks to identify the best non-GMO specialty crop seeds available for environmental conditions in the United States Virgin Islands to be used in the Farm to School Program and beyond. The study is performed by the Virgin Islands Farmers Alliance (VIFA). 

Trials were performed across four professional farms which evaluated various seed varieties for productivity, pest resistance, disease resistance, and heat resistance. Integrated pest management (IPM) practices were utilized. Five categories of seed varieties were studied: tomato, cucumber, lettuce, carrot, and watermelon.)

Results indicated that the best performing varieties were Celebrity tomato, Eureka cucumber, Rex and Muir lettuce, Yaya carrot, and Crimson Sweet watermelon. A detailed presentation of the trial methods, results, and implications was offered at the local Agriculture Fair as well as at a "Farm Field Day" event curated specifically for this project and held at one of the participating farms. 

Project Objectives:

VIFA regularly relies on surveys, interviews, and hard data to evaluate programs. The success of our trial grows will be evaluated as follows:


  1. We plan to sit down amongst the participating farmers and consultants to discuss the best experimental design and how we can replicate plots on each farm to strength our results.
  2. We will consult with Lauren Giroux, Johnny's Seeds (Director of Product selection and Trialing, and Dr. Amy J. Dreves, crop management specialist, grant draft & printable advocacy material mentoring at University of the Virgin Islands, who will provide a data collection form to record germination rate, plant growth parameters (height, flowering and fruiting time, pest levels, and crop yield.
  3. We will document a periodic one-on-one verbal interview with the farmers who are participating in the seed variety trials to compliment the data collection .
  4. Surveys of and communication with farmers will be documented to determine how our efforts can be most helpful and collaborative with existing community-based efforts to support trial grow program.
  5. Annually, we will evaluate the project by getting feedback from farmer collaborators and school faculty partners, and consultants to assess limitations, successes, communication levels and vegetable production.



Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Amy Dreves (Educator and Researcher)
  • Amy Dreves (Educator and Researcher)
  • Brian McCullough - Producer
  • Dr. Nate Olive - Producer
  • Leroy Peets - Producer
  • Roy Rodgers - Producer
  • Edmon Titre - Producer


Materials and methods:

This study was conducted across four professional farms on the island of St. Croix.  Thirty seven seed varieties were grown over a span of two years, from 2020-2022. Production methods included field grown, high tunnel, hydroponic, and certified organic methods. Integrative 

The crop types evaluated were tomato, cucumber, carrot, watermelon, and lettuce. Data was recorded weekly on plant growth, disease presence, and production.  Farmers rated tested varieties with known favorite varieties on a Likert scale of 1-5 (low to high). Productivity, disease, and heat resistance were compared. 

Research results and discussion:

To evaluate seed performance data variety rating indexes combined scores on production, disease, and heat resistance for a top score range of 15. The figure below shows overall index performance for each seed type, with clear favorites. Varieties performed similarly across farms and production methods. Generally, experimental seeds did not perform as well as varieties already favored by farmers. However, some experimental seeds exhibited beneficial traits such as marketability and flavor. Top performing varieties were Celebrity tomato, Eureka cucumber, Rex lettuce, Muir lettuce, Yaya carrot, and Crimson Sweet carrot. Rex lettuce performed best in a hydroponic environment while Muir performed best in hydroponic and ground environments.

Bar chart showing data on productivity, disease resistance, and heat resistance of carrot, watermelon, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber varieties.

Participation Summary
5 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Tours
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

45 Farmers participated
15 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Two educational and outreach activities were conducted for this project.

The first was during the 2022 Virgin Islands Agriculture Fest, a yearly event that celebrates local agriculture initiatives and culture and draws thousands of people. The Virgin Islands Farmers Alliance (VIFA) held a booth featuring a visual presentation of the study, results, and implications. Informational material, discussion opportunities, and crop tastings were available to event-goers which included many farmers from the community.

The second event was a "Farm Field Day" experience curated to showcase this study and its findings. The event was held on one of the participating farms and featured a demonstration of some of the methods used in the study, a presentation of the study and its findings, a farm tour, and tastings of crop varieties studied. Local farmers, members of government, local media, and members of the community were in attendance. 

Finally, results were shared on on-line platforms including our website and Facebook group.

Learning Outcomes

15 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • seed selection

  • integrated pest management (IPM)

Project Outcomes

9 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
2 Grants received that built upon this project
7 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This study offers economic and social benefits for local and regional farmers. The seed trials successfully identified seed varieties that are most viable in the southern subtropical region due to best disease resistance, heat resistance, and highest productivity rates. Choosing these varieties decreases the need for pest and disease management inputs and increases total output. This provides immediate and compounding economic benefit for farmers.  Social benefits observed included meaningful connections within the farming community and between farmers and the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). This study involved a diverse pool of farmers who ultimately developed working relationships and were able to share their experiences in a peer to peer format. For example, a poultry farmer attended the field day event and met vegetable farmers who now provide scraps on a weekly basis. Members from the  University of the Virgin Islands extension service as well as the new President of the UVI School of Agriculture attended the field day event and thus became aware of what farmers were doing on the ground, ultimately expressing interest in developing relationships with local farms to create educational opportunities in conjunction with the University. 

This project significant benefited the Farm to School Program of the USVI. All participating farmers contribute to the Farm to School Program and their improved efforts to grow Farm to School crops serves not only the local agriculture industry but also the public school children of the Virgin Islands. It is our hope that some of these children are inspired by the fresh food on their plates and grow up to become agriculturalists and ultimately give back to their community. 






In future studies building upon this one, we recommend evaluating the potential benefits of utilizing ground cover versus other mulches and bare field approaches. This interest developed because some farmers who participated in this study were utilizing ground cover through which they planted certain crops such as cucumbers and tomatoes. 



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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.