St. Croix, Virgin Islands

Caribbean Mar 2nd, 2018 to Mar 10th, 2018
Cost: $1,360.00 Partner Organization(s): Ridge to Reef Farm at the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute Service Type: Environmental sustainability & farm work Number of Participants: 10


We will be staying in St. Croix at an off-the-grid, USDA-certified organic farm amid the mountainous rainforest of the Virgin Islands. This farm runs entirely on solar power and filtered rainwater while producing healthy food for the local community. Ridge to Reef is carbon negative, meaning it intakes more CO2 than it emits, and prides itself on the ability to function as part of nature.  

We’ll drive up late Friday night (3/2) to DC to catch our flight early Saturday morning (3/3). We’ll fly into Henry E. Rohlsen Airport in St. Croix, Virgin Islands and be met by Kaya, the local taxi driver. Once there, we’ll camp in tents and cook our own food in their community kitchen for the week. We will then return to Charlottesville the following Saturday (3/10). There are no language requirements, but an interest in the environment, food systems, and/or sustainability is recommended. Note, trip price is subject to change depending on flights. 


For our service work, we will volunteer on the farm and in the gardens at Ridge to Reef.  Our jobs will be determined by what is in season and what the farm manager needs to accomplish at the time, and we’ll receive proper instruction depending on which skills we need for the task at hand. We’ll be outside all day, every day, soaking up the sun and learning how Ridge to Reef maintains their farms and gardens in an ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable way.  Ridge to Reef Farm is responsible for feeding 1% of the Virgin Islands’ population, including the school systems. As volunteers on the farm, we will help with accomplishing their goals for the harvest while promoting a more healthy island community.

Another key aspect to our service learning entails sustainable living workshops–such as fire starting, bowl and rope making, basket weaving, etc. Each day we will get our hands dirty, learn practical skills, and engage in discussions about our role on this planet and how we can alleviate our impact on the environment.


The US Virgin Islands are a group of three small islands just east of Puerto Rico. Although St. Croix is the largest of the three islands, it is still only 83 square miles– about the size of Cleveland, Ohio. Unlike Cleveland, St. Croix sports an exceptional topography of mountains, rainforest, and fertile coastal plains. Native cultures flourished until Europeans brought disease and forced indigenous peoples into labor camps. Christopher Columbus introduced the Virgin Islands to the Western world in 1493, and since then they bounced between Spain, Netherlands, Malta, Great Britain, France and Denmark before the United States bought them in 1916. St. Croix has a long history producing sugar cane, rum, and food in its role as a colony, although today tourism is the primary economic driver.  St. Croix has a population of ~50,000 with a density of 610 people per square mile. The majority of people are Afro-Caribbean, White, and Hispanic, with many people hailing from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Food systems are especially relevant to the Virgin Islands. Paradoxically, the Islands have to import much of their food despite the fact that they have a prime climate for agriculture. Ridge to Reef is dedicated toward amending this imbalance, and working there will offer a unique perspective on this small but globally relevant situation.


Visitors to St. Croix will see traces of St. Croix’s rich cultural diversity in the island’s distinctive arts, crafts, music, and festivals. Indigenous traditions are still visible on the modern-day island, fused with Afro-Caribbean and European influences. Notable icons include ‘Mocko Jumbies’ (traditional stilt dancers thought to chase away evil spirits), steel pan bands, and pulsating salsa music. Traditional folk dances, many with African roots, are seen on the island all year. There are six national parks throughout the three islands with many biodiverse reefs and 11,500 acres of protected land to hike. The population is primarily Afro-Caribbean, with a primary language of English and primary religion of Christianity.


The first weekend we arrive on the farm, Ridge to Reef will be hosting a Bush Skills Cookout where we will learn how to harvest and prepare an island feast, roasting produce from the farm over the fire.  Throughout the week, we’ll hike down the mountain to the beach, where we’ll play, swim and explore. In addition, we will take a guided mindfulness hike from the farm to the water. We’ll also take an all-encompassing island tour from the point of view of our friend Kaya, a local van driver. We will see Point Udall, the most easterly point of the United States, and have the chance to spend time in the major cities of Frederiksted and Christiansted. Depending on weather, we may even be able to snorkel at Buck Island Reef National Monument. At night there will be bonfires, stargazing, and music jams. We will discuss ideas such as the corruption in the food industry, how to farm sustainably, how to live various sustainable lifestyles, and the role climate change plays in our lives.


Gabby is a fourth year student studying Global Environments/Sustainability and Foreign Affairs. She is passionate about taking climate action on the individual, community and political level. Gabby was a participant on the Costa Rica trip her first year, created and led the Puerto Rico trip her second year, and created and led the St. Croix trip her third year. Now she is back for her final year to lead the St. Croix trip and couldn’t be more stoked and grateful!

Zach Schauffler is a third year in the College majoring in Political & Social Thought. Born near San Francisco in Pacifica, California, he later moved and grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia. Around Grounds, you can catch him giving tours to prospective students, hanging with buddies from Phi Sigma Pi Honor Fraternity, and writing really funny (hilarious, honestly) articles for the Cav Daily Humor section. He’s also involved with UBike, the on-grounds bikeshare, and with One in Four, a sexual assault prevention advocacy group. Zach’s ASB journey began his first year in the old-growth swamp forest of Congaree, South Carolina. The following year, he pioneered a trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California, and now he can’t wait to continue in St. Croix.

Zach and Gabby became friends two years ago through their simultaneous involvements within the sustainability community. Since then, they’ve worked together on projects, jammed at open mic nights, and dropped everything to record a spontaneous videos in full-body pencil costumes in the depths of Alderman.