V.I. farmers share bounty, lessons at fair

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ST. CROIX - Thousands of people turned out during the weekend for the 43rd annual Agriculture and Food Fair on St. Croix.

The three-day fair, which will wrap up today, is the largest display of its type in the region and started Saturday with fanfare including royalty, a parade and a demonstration from the St. Croix Educational Complex Marching Band and Dancers.

During the opening ceremony, Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen highlighted the department's efforts to collaborate with agencies and private individuals to revive the farming industry in the territory.

Saying youth involvement is a huge part of reviving agriculture, Petersen highlighted the work of the Future Farmers of America.

Mitch Baker, an FFA student from Tennessee, congratulated his local counterparts and encouraged them, and their teachers, to take advantage of scholarships and grant money. He also urged them to seize every opportunity they have to propel farming.

University of the Virgin Islands President David Hall spoke of the work of the university's Cooperative Extension Service and the Agriculture Experimental Station.

Hall said the university has always supported the fair, an avenue to pay tribute to the farmers and culture bearers of the community.

Assistant Tourism Commissioner Brad Nugent also took the opportunity to extend a welcome to visitors. He said the department took great pride in welcoming three major cruise ships and their thousands of passengers to Frederiksted over the course of the fair. He also welcomed those visiting from neighboring islands who came to take in the fair or sell goods.

Organizers named the fairgrounds posthumously in honor of former Agriculture Commissioner and farmer Oscar Henry while the food pavilion honors Edith Matthews. The farmers market and livestock pavilion are named in honor of Violet Drew and John Tranberg, respectively.

In his 90s, Tranberg is still farming in the hills of Frederiksted and encouraged young Virgin Islanders to hold on to their land, make use of it and never trade it because of the love of money.

This year's Livestock Farmer of the Year is Frank Bermudez, and the Crop Farmer of the Year is Reuben Liburd.

Todd Colt was one of the thousands who attended the fair during the weekend. He zig-zagged through booths with a large pot of lemon grass in one hand and a small pot of green onions in the other. He said he and six of his friends traveled from St. Thomas on their boat for the fair, something that has become a tradition for them. While he said usually just comes to see the fair offerings and enjoy the culture, he always leaves with something.

"I really don't even need more tea bush, but this looks so big and healthy," he said.

As she waited in a long line for banana fritters and chicken wings, Cherry Francis said she usually comes to the fair with a list of things she want to eat and knows where to get each one. She said she enjoys the pastries, local drinks and local food that she can get from some of the best cooks and bakers in one place.

"Not everybody makes everything that same, but over the years I've learned who has the best of all the things I love," she said.

Gov. John deJongh Jr., in his last agriculture address as governor, said Saturday afternoon that while both tourism and agriculture have been advancing on their own, the fusion of both industries is what yields the greatest results for the territory.

Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone and Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen also made remarks.

After the ceremony and ribbon cutting at the farmers market, those in attendance fanned out across the fairgrounds to enjoy what the vendors, cooks and farmers had brought for sale and display.

The Agriculture and Food Fair this year marks more than four decades of celebrating agriculture and showcasing the island's best produce and livestock. This year's theme is "Agriculture: We've Always Been Green."

The fair is showcasing more than 60 vendors selling locally made items, along with entertainment, exhibits, fashion shows, calypso shows, animals, rides and daily food preparation demonstrations and competitions.

Local farmers and farmers from neighboring Caribbean islands, including Grenada, Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Guyana have had their produce, crafts and lots of plants on display and for sale.

The fair will open again from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and entrance fees are $6 for adults, $3 for children and $4 for senior citizens.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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