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The Sweet Taste of Success

Feb. 12, 2009 – Twenty people now have the chance for the sweet success of entrepreneurial bee keeping on St. Croix after completing a 13-week, beekeeping project.
Participants in the pilot project received certificates and words of encouragement from officials at the closing ceremony Wednesday at the University of the Virgin Islands Great Hall.
Louis E. Petersen Jr., commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, told the participants they are ready to go on their own and become entrepreneurs. He challenged them to go out and make money, pledging support from his department.
“We see the potential for much success in beekeeping,” said Brad Nugent, assistant commissioner of the Department of Tourism. “Agriculture and tourism must work together.”
Nugent said the Department of Tourism will use a sales team to distribute honey to travel agents so people will remember how the Virgin Islands looks, smells and tastes.
“The challenge is now to get your products on shelves, racks, restaurants and in tourist's hands,” Nugent said.
The Departments of Tourism and Agriculture, UVI-Cooperative Extension Service and UVI-Small Business Development Center were project partners.
According to information from Daniel Stanley, director of marketing at the Department of Agriculture, the Virgin Fresh Apicultural Project was designed to increase the number of ecologically sustainable and economically profitable apicultural businesses in the USVI. Apicultural specialty commodities (honey, beeswax, bee pollen, etc.), have excellent production and market potential in the USVI. Production of these specialty products is feasible due to the year-round growing season and tropical climate while significant markets exist among local residents and tourists alike. Although apicultural products are available at USVI farmers markets, there is no organized system to increase their production, marketing or competitiveness as packaged specialty products to larger establishments such as restaurants, hotels and supermarkets. The purpose of this project is to establish a model system for the production/harvest/marketing processes required to create and maintain sustainable, profitable apicultural businesses and to stimulate growth of the local apicultural industry.
Significant demand exists for locally grown and produced products as they are considered to be fresher, more flavorful and nutritious, and have longer shelf lives than those imported. The apicultural class of specialty crops is no exception, as items such as locally produced honey will contain the flavors of the tropical fruit trees the bees derive their nectar from. Apiaries produce other valuable raw products that can be marketed, such as beeswax, bee pollen and propolis. These types of specialty products are becoming increasingly popular with residents as the global trends toward improved health and natural living become interwoven with local tradition and culture. In addition to residents' high demand for these specialty products, the USVI hosts an average of 2.6 million tourists annually, according to the USVI Bureau of Economic Research. This creates a potentially lucrative market for apicultural products.
Errol Chichester, deputy commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, said he was surprised that the large number of people stayed with the project. He expected to go down to five or six participants.
“Not many want to participate in something that generates fear,” said Chichester.
The participants learned about safety around hives and the role of queen bees. They had an intro to entomology and beekeeping. They learned about equipment, hive assembly, maintenance and starting a new hive. Among other topics included were collecting bees from the wild and extracting honey.
Five school age students also participated in the project. The youngest was 12 years old.
“My mom convinced me to do the program,” said 12 year-old Devin Boyd. “I think I will continue to do beekeeping.”
The trainers for the project were Roniel Allembert, Julie Beberman, Errol Chichester, Francis Jackman, and Wanda Wright, all experienced local beekeepers.
“This was the sweetest experience I ever had,” said Kimba Kaza project participant.
Another beekeeping training program will begin in April. Further information can be obtained by calling Stanley at 778-0998 ext. 256.

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