Expanded farmers market opens in Bordeaux
Published: January 17, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - With days to spare before the annual Bordeaux Farmers Rastafari Agricultural and Cultural Food Fair, the Bordeaux Farmers Market opened officially with a dedication Wednesday morning.
During Wednesday's ceremony, farmers and government officials celebrated a vision to grow agriculture from a neglected seedling to a thriving, viable branch of the territory's economy.
Officials from four government agencies and Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis held up the market's construction as an example of interagency cooperation and as "money well spent."
The market provides 22 stalls to farmers who have crops primarily in the immediate area of Bordeaux, as well as to farmers from Estate Dorothea, which both have about 300 acres of arable farmland, according to V.I. Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen Jr.
"All I can say is it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood," Edward Brissett, a Bordeaux farmer, said. "What we have here at the market is a thing that benefits islanders from all walks of life. In the future, it will be fun for the tourists to come here and see us. It's not only for the vendors."
Farmers will continue to bring goods to market two days of the month instead of one. Since March, the market has been open the second and last Sundays of each month and will continue on the same schedule.
This weekend, at the annual Agricultural and Cultural Food Fair, vendors will sell vegan fare to the beats of live reggae music in celebration of the Rastafarian way of life from 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday.
The "modern" facility and new irrigation sources represent Petersen's goal of elevating farming to something more than a cottage industry in the shadows of the tourism and retail sectors. Since the 1970s, farmers have been squelched by insufficiences to produce and market food because of a lack of infrastructure, according to Petersen.
"What we have launched at the Department of Agriculture is a broad initiative to address that insufficiency," he said. "This market addresses marketing, but it also addresses production."
Former president of the University of the Virgin Islands, Laverne Ragster, attended the ceremony. She said that since it opened, the university had been working with local farmers to encourage production because it is a land grant institution.
"If you don't have a place to sell your produce that's safe and clean, you are not really able to have a viable economic activity," Ragster said.
With most of the territory's food shipped in from Texas, California and Florida, farmers shut out of the stores' corporately controlled supply chains typically placed their produce on makeshift pallets of plywood and concrete blocks either on the site of the market or on the side of the road.
The new market provides a dining pavilion, wash basins for cleaning produce and a 60,000-gallon cistern. The cistern supplies farmers within a half-mile radius of the market with water for irrigating crops, saving many of those who do not have drip-irrigation systems from having to buy water from the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
The Agriculture Department also constructed a 2-million-gallon pond just northeast of the market that uses a standpipe to direct water from a natural stream, according to Petersen.
Bordeaux farmers once faced the stigma of being called "squatters" and felt they were a non-entity as far as local government was concerned, according to Eldridge Thomas, former president of We Grow Food, Inc.
On Wednesday, Thomas spoke about the history of his organization and the Bordeaux farming community. The departments of agriculture and tourism used to be one as far back as 1986.
"That merger was actually a good thing because both agriculture and tourism put money and food on the table and having them together meant that the government was putting agriculture on equal footing with tourism," Thomas said.
The market's opening means a positive end to two decades of struggle to legitimize the use of the land for agriculture and to gain funding through the local government, he said.
After Hurricane Hugo destroyed a tennis court on the site in 1989, farmers felt they were resurrecting the site of the market to a higher purpose, but they had to fight to secure the land from the jurisdiction of the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department, Thomas said.
We Grow Food, Inc. had put in a request for block grant funds to build the market in 2004 but was denied, In 2008, a second request for funding was approved by the V.I. Housing Finance Authority, according to Petersen.
Construction on the new facility began in Feb. 2011. Other government agencies that took part in the new market's development included Public Works and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
"We weren't received with open arms, but we took the initiative and started farming, seeing the importance of agriculture and the need to develop," Thomas said. "We pushed back in the sense of letting them know that this was important, and we were determined to follow through and develop this industry."
- Contact reporter Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.