Nov. 19, 2005 University of the Virgin Islands senior Amber McCammon holds up a spindly- legged arrow crab. "Would you like to touch him?"she asks. Several five-year-olds smile, but shy away. "No thanks," one says.
McCammon is presiding over a marine animal display, one of many of the mini events taking place at the 23rd annual St. Thomas-St. John Agriculture Fair Saturday. The animals are situated in two water-filled sand boxes. "Here," she says, picking up a rather unattractive sea cucumber, "how about feeling him? He won't bite he likes algae." One brave youngster reaches out for a tentative feel. "He's soft," he says. McCammon smiles. It's her job to teach the children about what goes on under the water. "It's important for the kids to know their environment," she says.
And it's important for the kids and the adults to enjoy all the bounty at the fair, human, animal and vegetable. It's one time a year when everyone gets together in a family atmosphere. Friends abound, running across the green, hilly grounds of the UVI Reichhold Center to greet each other, to compare notes on the produce, the pates, the plants.
The aisles are filled with foods jams, jellies, pates, stew pork, maubi and other local drinks, souse, red peas soup, cherry stew, gooseberry jam, sweetbreads, tarts, pumpkin
The event more than lives up to this year's theme: "Strive to Survive; Keep Agriculture Alive."
This year's rains have been a blessing, as witnessed by the hills full of bougainvillaea fruit trees, palm trees, sugar apple and banana trees. "Just look at all this!" says Norma Lewis. She and husband Leon Lewis are making about their fourth trek to the fair, looking at the plants, the poinsettias and orchids.
And there are rows of local products ranging from locally made soaps and candles by Jason Budsan, to Cheryl Miller's famous hot sauces, scents, facial creams, to booths carrying all manner of beaded jewelry, mahogany carvings, and even a "gothic chicken," made out of roofing material with a mango wood head. (However, the resemblance to Grant Wood's classic gothic picture is a stretch.)
And then there are the many booths of the UVI extension service, which hosts the affair. They run the gamut from information on an air pollution program, a 4-H program, urban forestry, and a sustainable agriculture display.
Meantime, the sounds of the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra ring out over the grounds, heralding the event's opening ceremony presided over by Irvin "Brownie" Brown, where Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and several members of the Legislature speak.
Winners of a high school essay competition are announced at the ceremony with the winner, Samuel Morris, of Charlotte Amalie High School, taking home first prize $100 and a tree of his choice. The runners up are Sequoia Rogers and Chelsea Hansen, also of CAHS.
Atop one of the small knolls, Charlie Leonard proudly, though quietly, is hawking his wares. Fresh brown eggs, home made hot sauce, honey, chickens, avocados, soursop. A big basket of the eggs sits at the center of the stand belonging to Bordeaux Farms, run by Leonard and brother, Joseph.
With a smile Charlie Leonard says, "Excuse me if I'm a little tired. I had an hour's sleep last night." He literally gets up with his chickens, or maybe he gets them up.
Leonard, and many of the other exhibitors get to the fair early. He got there at 5 a.m. to set up.
That's kind of late for Leonard. He sells his wares at Market Square on Saturdays from 4 a.m. until 11 a.m.
Leonard is a veteran fair vendor. "I haven't missed a fair the Ag fair, Carnival food fair, the Rastafarian fair since 1980," Leonard says. "Rain, whatever, I'm here."
On the other side of the green, there are animals, and where there are animals, there are children. Lots of children.
Joel Connors, a 14-year-old Antilles School student, is working with Lynette Boschulte to get Shetland pony, "Sal," hooked up and ready to ride. The pony cart is always a fair biggie. The ponies take youngsters for a ride around the fairgrounds.
It isn't always "Sal," however. The youngsters explain that Boschulte Farms has sent four ponies to take up the rides Saturday. Connors says they go for "about an hour at a time."
The Humane Society of St. Thomas has puppies for adoption. Two cages of five or six-week-old blond puppies with some Chihuahua, and a Rottweiler mix that Joe Elmore, society executive director, is cradling, while looking over likely adoptive parents standing around.
"We've got puppies, b'doodles of puppies," Elmore says. "We have about four litters now to adopt. In fact, we have already adopted one this morning. He looks at the one is his arms. "His brother is already gone."
Adoption isn't all that easy. Just as in human adoptions, the shelter has to make certain the critters are going out to fit parents. "Everybody sees a puppy, and then they want to have it," Elmore says, "but there are things we have to find out first."
Elmore says first, he has to find out if the potential parents own a home, or rent. "If they rent, are they allowed to have animals? Do they have a fenced yard? Do they have adult animals that might not get along with the puppy?"
Another potential problem, Elmore says with a smile, "is the guys that want to get a puppy to impress a girl. Puppies are seen by some as 'chick-magnets'."
A puppy can be adopted for a $50 fee which includes spaying or neutering, and all necessary immunizations, Elmore says.
And there's more than puppies. Children are gathered around cages of tiny orange guinea pigs, little gray and white spotted bunnies, and a ferret or two.
And then there's the birds. Cages of bright orange and blue peacocks liven up the atmosphere with their shrieks. There's ducks, geese, and a couple turkeys who seem to be keeping a low profile. It's that time of year.
In the back there is livestock, but not ordinary livestock. There are Barbados blackbelly sheep with enormous horns. However, the sign on the cage says "pure blackbelly sheep have no horns." These, apparently, have been bred with something called "moufflon" sheep, which is where they get the horns.
Next door there's docile looking St. Croix white horn sheep.
None of them seem particularly sociable, so the kids wander back to the pigs. Pens of pigs, orange pigs, spotted pigs, gray piglets. "Now, I like these better," remarks one young observer. "They're cute."
Traffic pouring in and out of the fairgrounds is managed cheerfully and efficiently by the Civil Air Patrol. Lt. Col. Clarence Hansby, who has found a moment to relax under a tree, says they have 20 cadets on duty, with three senior officers.
Judging for the competitions on everything from the biggest pumpkin to the best guava tart will be held Sunday.
The fair will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children. For more information, contact the UVI Cooperative Extension Service.
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