Liburd is Crop Farmer of the Year

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ST. CROIX - Reuben Liburd and his wife Sylvia make their living by farming a couple of acres in an area near the Agriculture Department.

It is hard work, but it makes them a living, said Reuben Liburd, who was named Crop Farmer of the Year during opening ceremonies at the Agriculture and Food Fair of the Virgin Islands on Saturday.

Liburd, who is 65, said in an interview that he was a carpenter by trade, but then had some problems with his leg that required surgery. Since then, he's been concentrating on farming.

Now, he and his wife lease approximately two acres, working the land and trying to outsmart the wildlife and the elements to produce good vegetables for sale every Saturday at the farmers market in La Reine.

He was surprised at being chosen farmer of the year, he said.

"I don't know. All this is new and strange," he said of being selected. "We just go out and work and try to do the best we could."

Born in Nevis, Liburd has been on St. Croix for more than 20 years. He has five children and six grandchildren, with a seventh on the way, he said.

The produce he grows varies depending on time of year and other factors, but the list includes cucumbers, peppers, carrots, eggplant, okra, dasheen, watermelons, beets, beans, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, kale, bok choy, papayas and tomatoes.

A very wet November and December created some challenges for local farmers, but Liburd noted that there are all kinds of challenges in farming.

They include too much - and too little - rain.

Liburd has set up an irrigation system for his crops to deal with weather that is too dry, and is planting in the drier parts of the land in slightly raised rows to avoid too much water with the rain.

Likewise, there are wildlife and pests to deal with, from deer to iguanas.

Liburd said he rotates his crops into different areas and has noisemakers set up in an attempt to scare away animals.

One of his favorite things about farming is providing fresh, tasty vegetables to help people get healthy.

"They tell me 'The doctor say I have to have greens, I have to change my diet,' " he said. "It's a good feeling, to know you're helping."

Liburd works to hone his skills through classes offered at the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service and the Agriculture Department, he said.

"Always, they have refresher courses for farmers," he said, adding that he even took one for beginning farmers, figuring he might learn something new.

Eating plenty of their own fresh-grown produce and keeping active by working the land also helps him and his wife maintain their own health, Liburd said.

"I will have to say that's the best: We feel good," he said. "Most of what we cook at home, we grow."

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