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Agriculture Department Unveils Four-Year Plan to Put Farmers First

May 1, 2007 — The V.I. Department of Agriculture is embarking on a four-year plan to support farmers while protecting the environment, improving communications and instituting sound programs and policies.
Agriculture officials and members of the UVI Small Business Development Center met with close to 30 Dorothea farmers in a Monday seminar, entitled "Farmers First," aimed at introducing the Sustainable Farming Act.
According to Agriculture Commissioner Louis E. Petersen Jr., “This [seminar] was intended to target farmers who have leased land in Estate Dorothea. And from what I could tell, every one of them turned out, and them some,” he said. More meetings will focus on other areas and farmers’ organizations, Petersen said.
Former Sen. and current Assistant Commissioner Luther Renee authored the bill as a member of the 25th Legislature, but the act didn't pass until the 26th Legislature, where it was sponsored by Sen. Neville James and supported by Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson.
"I always believed that agriculture is the key to economic growth and development that could spread employment to other sectors of the economy," Renee said.
The department’s strategic plan for 2007-2011 includes:
• Improved efficiency, responsiveness and productivity;
• Training for department staff and farmers to encourage better business practices;
• Outreach utilizing public relations, surveys, and the media;
• Infrastructure improvements, such as water storage and supply, and access roads;
• Compliance with the Sustainable Farming Act, including record keeping and education;
• Preservation of farmlands and rezoning to A-1, which allows for broader usages;
• Farmers’ responsibilities — management of property, cleanliness and proper acquisition; and
• Encouraging cooperatives and organizations for greater buying power and representation.
Petersen stressed that farmers should be more independent as time goes by. “If you are a farmer and are 100 percent dependent on the department today, you should not be 12 years from now. We are here to help farmers to help themselves.”
Noting that grant assistance is available for established groups, Petersen said he's already been able to assist We Grow Food, Inc. (St. Thomas), the V.I. Farmers’ Cooperative, and Farmers in Action (St. Croix) to obtain funds.
Farmer Elridge Thomas is in the new position of Outreach Coordinator/Farmer Liaison. “I’m coming on your farm to work with you… basically, a farm must make money!” he emphasized.
UVI student Dara Cooper urged attendees to turn in survey forms, which asked for information on customer service experiences and suggested improvements. “We can talk and talk and talk about what’s not working. But if we don’t have it documented, it will only be heard on the day you talk about it,” she said while addressing the group.
Deputy Commissioner Errol Chichester issued a call to action, stating, “I know we could play the part, and I’m hoping that the farmers are ready and able to play their part. Let’s play our parts and get it done.”
When one person left the room after complaining about the inaction of previous administrations, Ashley “Ashanti” George, a veteran of the department, responded, “The difference with this group right here, this is a team. It’s the right idea, the right people in the right place at the right time.”
In addition to promoting the Sustainable Farming Act, Petersen is attempting to secure a $2.5 million allocation under the Insurance Guaranty Fund. “Until these monies are received,” he proposed, “the law should stand and be in effect for the benefit of the Department of Agriculture.”
The department also sponsors a radio program entitled “Fresh from the Farm” Saturday mornings from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on WSTX 970-AM, St. Croix. The show is co-hosted by Stafford Crossman and Chichester.
For more information on the Sustainable Farming Act, interested persons may contact the Department of Agriculture at 778-0997 or 778-0998 (St. Croix), 776-6274 (St. John) or 774-5182 (St. Thomas).
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