Agrifest 2014 wraps up with food, fun


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ST. CROIX - Crucians and visitors alike took a last chance on Monday to hit the Oscar Henry Memorial Agriculture Fairgrounds, reveling in the cultural kallaloo that was the Agriculture and Food Fair of the Virgin Islands.

Shoppers snatched up last-minute bargains and arts and crafts pieces, while those seeking out fruit, vegetables and herbs were not disappointed.

There was a little something for everyone.

Children got up close and personal with bunnies and ducks and other creatures at the petting zoo at the Johnny Tranberg Livestock Pavilion. Parents bought chicks or tropical fish as pets. There were cows and goats and chickens, turkey and sheep to look at. The St. Croix Animal Welfare Center even had puppies.

And then there was food, lots and lots of food.

There was deliciousness aplenty to go around, from snacks and treats and light bites on the pathway leading to the Edith Matthew Food Pavilion, to more serious platters of Crucian cuisine for serious eaters inside the pavilion and the village of food booths just outside.

Children ran and played and bounced and swung, rode go-carts and horses, and slid down an inflatable water slide. There were tents chock-full of kid-related activities and plenty to keep entire families occupied.

Sitting in the mango orchard, Karen Heywood said she had the day off and brought her daughter, Tatianna Ascencio, to the fair.

"I think the best part was the animals and the food," she said.

Yoki Hanley, owner of itiba LLC, said her home-made soaps, body butters and lotions from natural products and oils seemed to be selling fairly well, although the crowd seemed lighter from her vantage point than in previous years.

"It's been well," she said Monday. "This year for me was a little better than last year. Even though it's been less people, to me, I did better this year than last. People are just coming in knowing what they want."

A canopy of clouds and a steady breeze kept things comfortable on Monday, although the clouds occasionally gave way to quick showers.

V.I. Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen Jr. said Monday that the first two days of Agrifest 2014 put the event on track to meet the yearly average of 30,000 visitors.

Veronica Gordon, who offered craft items, jewelry and kitchenware made from calabash and plants at her booth, said the crowds had been relatively light.

"There's an old Crucian saying, 'You could run bulls through here,' " she said. "However, it may pick up. We always have the late-comers looking for the bargains."

Gordon said it seemed to her that many fairgoers were there for the food.

Inside the Violet Drew Farmers Market, people were purchasing produce, honey, jams, herbs, plants and fruit.

Wilbert Drew sat and peeled sugar cane, which he then cut into smaller pieces, a sweet treat for fairgoers to chew on.

"I think it's been very slow," said his daughter, Calditer Saunders, who came to help her dad. "I think it's because of the economy, the downturn."

Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Errol Chichester said he thinks the market offered just the right variety of produce, home-made products, plants and ornamentals.

"What you need is here," he said. "I think we have an excellent variety at this farmers market."

Roniel Allembert, a second-generation beekeeper who sells his products as The Honey Man, was giving out lots of samples.

"It's good. It's been better, though," he said of business.

Petersen said that overall, the Ag Fair went "extremely well, and that's based on the responses from the participants and the fairgoers."

The Agriculture Commissioner said he had been concerned about attendance because so many people have left the island. He was pleased, though, to see that a number of them came back to visit St. Croix for Ag Fair weekend, he said.

"It speaks to the value of the fair that people see fit to spend money to be back home at this time," he said. "I think it's one of our best tools to promote the territory."

This year, Petersen gave a nod during opening ceremonies to the revival of the Future Farmers of America in the territory. The group on St. Croix had been defunct for about 15 years, while the St. Thomas-St. John District never had a chapter, he said on Monday. Now both districts have members at the high school level.

"That's a big thing, because it speaks to our future," he said.

According to Petersen, one of the more popular events at the fair this year was the tribute on Saturday to calypso giant Mighty Sparrow.

"That was a tremendous hit," Petersen said. "People were dancing."

Another offering that was well-received by fairgoers was the booth for the St. Croix Landmarks Society, which had its computer system online in one of the Agriculture offices and was helping people find their roots in the island's historical records, he said.

Petersen said the goal is to continue to improve and fine-tune the fair, so that it is the premier celebration of culture and agriculture in the territory.

"We've been trying to make it better and better every year," he said.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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