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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, August 18, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSt. Croix Students Get Authentic View of V.I. Farming

St. Croix Students Get Authentic View of V.I. Farming

Juanita Gardine second-grader Calvin Jackson pets a young goat at Wednesday's Agriculture Open House.Riding through the sunny green countryside, eating fresh tomatoes, watching hay baling and pig slaughtering, St. Croix children got a hands-on look at farming on St. Croix Wednesday.
The V.I. Department of Agriculture held an open house, inviting public, private and parochial schools in for tours, talks and demonstrations in honor of National Agriculture Week.
"My favorite part was the slaughtering," said Raheem Armstrong, a student at Eulalie Rivera Elementary, before heading out on a tram hauled by a tractor to tour the community gardens behind the Rudolph Shulterbrandt Agriculture Complex. Many of his classmates seated all around him on the tram voiced their agreement, all speaking at once in mild cacophony.
"What are the five steps to slaughtering?" asked Rivera 6th-grade teacher Catherine Brown, getting the students to answer back.
After dispatching the animal, the hair is burned off, then the animal is scalded with hot water, then the hide is scraped, then it is cut open and so on, the children explained, with students Dequan George, Shaunie Pemberton, Dinisha Parris and Moesha Messiah all contributing to the slightly gruesome, age-old story.
"I brought my children to see and experience this firsthand," Brown said. "It is a chance for children to see how agriculture affects them, because usually they just see meat and produce prepared in separate packages at the supermarket."
Brown and the children talked about cutting, gathering, baling and storing hay as the tractor pulled out and the tram began its trek through the acres of green fields behind the fair grounds. "How big are the large and small bales and what do they cost?" Brown asked her charges. Large bales are about 250 lbs and small ones maybe 30 lbs., they revealed. After the hay is cut, it is left to dry for several days before being baled. Once baled, it stays good for six months or more.
The tram passed grass-covered fields, freshly plowed plots, gardens in various states of growth, and also mango orchards—all interspersed with old colonial ruins of windmills, deep artificial ponds for collecting rainwater, big rusty water tanks and various farm equipment.
"This all used to be cane field," said Richard Roebuck, outreach program coordinator for the department. Roebuck stood, holding onto the side of the tram like a train conductor, pointing out what was being grown in whose gardens and detailing the purposes of each pond, tank and silo.
Ponds were very low that day because there has been little rain lately, Roebuck said.
He pointed out Violet Tyson’s plot, showing it was packed with different varieties of root vegetables, small plantains, a field of papaya trees, rows of cherry tomatoes and lots of hip-high okra plants with big yellow blossoms. The field next to it was freshly planted with banana slips—small, almost grass-like seedlings.
"Okra is good with saltfish, fungi and kallaloo," Brown said enthusiastically to her class.
A neighboring field, leased by a "Mr. Gibbs," had a fence covered in spinach and passionfruit vines, dotted all over with green, unripe fruit; with another adjacent field planted in pigeon peas, cassava and more.
The leases are really more like permits, Roebuck said, costing $100 dollars or so per year. They serve as much to ensure those who set aside plots really intend to plant anything, he said.
"We supply all the water, we offer cheap seeds and slips and rent equipment at minimal cost," Roebuck said. "We do all the plowing and harrowing. The water is free, but you have to be a licensed farmer."
"What do farmers have to be to get water?" asked Brown. "Licensed," came back a chorus from her class in the octave of elementary school children.
Later, back at the main grounds, students pored over displays of fresh produce, bees and beekeeping equipment, and veterinary and animal science displays. The experience was like a much smaller, more focused version of what one sees at the V.I. Agriculture Festival, with all the children getting direct, hands-on attention.
Students from Andria Bonit’s third-grade class at Charles H. Emmanuel Elementary gathered around a big display of fresh local produce from the V.I. Farmer’s Cooperative, one of several farm groups participating.
Standing in front of stacks of various tomatoes, fresh local eggs, unblemished fresh Swiss chard, collard greens and more, Yvette Browne gave out samples of marble-sized yellow pear tomatoes to the children.
"Tell mommy no more canned tomatoes," Bonit said. Browne, vice president of the V.I. Farmers Coop, said their stand at Beeston Hill is now open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. "If you want eggs, it is best to come early on Thursday or Friday," she said.
A few stands over, veterinary technician Ayanna Simon talked to a class from Lew Muckle Elementary about bont ticks and animal care. "The boy ticks are brighter in color than the girl ticks," Simon said, holding a vial with specimens preserved in alcohol. Simon explained that many male species in nature (humans excepted) have brighter coloring to attract the female.
The department is part of a successful bont tick eradication program, so hopefully the students would not see many of that particular breed in the wild, she said. Across a field from the impromptu market and display tent, Marilyn Chakroff told classes about the department’s greenhouses and seedlings, and about a program for growing native fruit trees and decorative plants.
When teachers and children got tired, they relaxed and lunched at picnic tables in the shade of the department’s large mango orchard, its trees just now showing green, fist-sized unripe fruit.
The open house went on until early afternoon, when the last bus full of exhausted students pulled out of the lot and made its way back to school.

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