Oct. 4, 2004 – Percival Edwards, president of Farmers in Action, presented to the Public Services Commission a proposal that he said was "more significant than any resort or hotel or casino proposal."
He wants to wake the "sleeping giant" of agriculture. He said agriculture now contributes about $2.8 million to the St. Croix economy, but with some help it could be contributing $75 to $85 million a year.
Kendell Petersen, who assisted with the presentation at the PSC meeting last Friday, said, "We are not trying to re-invent the wheel." He said St. Croix was once the breadbasket of the Caribbean.
They saw two major impediments to agriculture making a comeback on St. Croix the high cost of land and the lack of a reliable source of water.
They listed several steps in a plan to overcome the obstacles and bring agriculture back to the island. They were:
-Create an Agriculture Authority.
-Develop an infrastructure for retaining water for agricultural use.
-Set up a fund to help farmers acquire land.
-Market St. Croix's agricultural strengths.
-Train more young farmers.
How they plan to make this all happen is with a two-cent tax on food. They are calling it an agricultural investment.
Edwards said this tax and the regeneration of agriculture on St. Croix would change everything. He said 1,000 to 5,000 people could be employed in agriculture, St. Croix could feed itself and Crucians would be eating high-quality food for healthier life styles.
Valencio Jackson, PSC chairman, appeared to like the idea but questioned why the group was making the presentation to the PSC.
Edwards said the group would like a letter from the PSC supporting the plan and also they just wanted to give the PSC a heads up on what they were doing.
Commission member Alric Simmonds asked how an Agriculture Authority would be different from the Agriculture Department and whether the Farmers in Action was working with the Agriculture Department. Edwards said that the Authority would have a different emphasis than the Agriculture Department.
Kelly Gloger, secretary for Farmers In Action, said the group, which was formed in 1998 and has 70 members, had been working with the department on setting up an experimental system for catching and retaining rainwater.
According to the farmers' plan, the tax would last five years and bring in $35.7 million.
Gloger said, "After five years it would disappear."
Fifteen million dollars would be designated to help farm startups. Another $15 million would be used to buy farmland. This land would be sold with two stipulations to farmers — the land will be kept productive and it will never be built upon.
Three million dollars would go to develop year-round water sources on the island ponds or tanks. Gloger said the plan also envisages tying into the Public Works Department's system to recycle wastewater in orchards.
Another $1 million would be used to develop a processing plant. According to Gloger, this plant would be able to do canning, bottling, freezing, drying and cold storage.
The group also envisages a million-dollar marketing campaign of "grown in the Virgin Islands" to pinpoint specialty markets across the globe through Web pages and catalogues.
The final $750,000 would fund the creation of the Agriculture Authority. This authority would manage the capital fund, land purchases and the water infrastructure.
The group used figures, which they said were from the V.I. Bureau of Statistics and covered the years between 1993 and 1998. In those years the production of vegetables dropped by 48 percent on the islands and the production of livestock by 30 percent.
Gloger said they had no figures from 40 years ago, but he concludes from anecdotal information he has collected that in the 60's most vegetables consumed on St. Croix were grown on St. Croix. Now, St. Croix produces only about 3 percent of the vegetables it consumes. The Farmers in Action think they can raise that figure to above 50 percent.
The 1998 figures show only about 172 people earning a wage in agriculture. Gloger said Farmers in Action think that number can be raised to at least 1,000 and maybe much higher. He said when sugar was big on the island practically everyone on the island was involved in its production and shipping.
Gloger said that this program would offer opportunities to youths who would otherwise be unemployed. He said, "Farming will fill their souls and fill their pockets."
The group's next effort will be to get the word out to the community. Gloger said the next group to hear the presentation will be an AARP group, He invites any group that wants to hear the presentation to call him at 778-4266 or e-mail him at Farmers in Action.
The group also plans to question all senatorial candidates to see what the candidates think of the plan.
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