Jan. 21, 2007 — For residents, the annual Rastafari Agricultural and Cultural Food Fair is a fun event with food, music and arts and crafts. But for the members of the farmers' collective We Grow Food Inc., each year's fair represents a lifetime of hard work and struggle.
"It's a hard road we trod," said Ras Cubu Delano-Francis, a past president of the organization. "But we feel so blessed to be here everyday, working, doing what we do. And I would like to say that this event is but a stepping stone for us to get to where we need to be — it shows, on a small scale, just who we are, what we can do and what the community could be like."
The 10th annual event, which ran throughout the weekend at the Bordeaux tennis courts, was hosted by We Grow Food and funded in part by the V.I. Council on the Arts.
Speaking on Sunday, Delano-Francis and other members of We Grow Food's executive board shared some of their experiences with the crowd and proudly pointed fairgoers to the colorful stalls lining the fair grounds — booths packed with mountains of fresh herbs, bright green lettuce, cherry red peppers and bulging watermelons.
Board members spoke of the need for the local government to reinvest in agriculture, restoring it to a place of prominence in V.I. society. "Agriculture is something so dear to me," said Benita Martin-Samuel, one of We Grow Food's executive officials. "It's become a part of my liberty. And I firmly believe that everyone should get involved; everyone should be planting something they consume."
Martin-Samuel, who over the past few years has become one of the organization's most recognizable faces, was one of two women honored by the organization on Sunday, receiving a plaque and lots of glowing accolades from fellow farmers. In return, Martin-Samuel described the Bordeaux farming community as "hardworking," always progressing despite adversity.
"It's hard with the hilly terrain, the days where sometimes there's not enough water; but still they continue," she said. "Then there's hurricane after hurricane, and still they continue. It's wonderful and amazing– proof that that the most important thing is to never give up, to give to agriculture 100 percent."
A similar message was provided by "Sista" Monica Smith, who on Sunday received the organization's Farmer of the Year Award, along with a prize of $500.
"Food is the staff of life," she said. "So without agriculture, our community is gone. So I would like to ask all of you to come out and support agriculture, continue to show support for our way of life."
According to We Grow Food President Derrick Hodge, Smith is one of the Bordeaux community's youngest "and most hardworking" individuals.
"Your hard work and commitment to farming has helped the advancement of agriculture in our community," he said. "So keep on tilling the soil."
Hodge added that this is the first time in 10 years that a woman has won the award.
"This year we wanted to do something for our women, the empresses in our community," he said smiling. "We want to thank them for all their contributions."
Wrapping up Sunday's ceremonies, We Grow Food secretary Ras Ko-nya issued a challenge to fairgoers. "By the end of the day, I want no produce on these tables," he said. "Everything should be clean."
"Just remember, we have the fair once a year, but the struggle, it continues everyday," Delano-Francis added.
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