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Thursday, June 20, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesVirgin Fresh Joins Local Farmers, WIC Recipients

Virgin Fresh Joins Local Farmers, WIC Recipients

The Department of Agriculture is creating jobs for local farmers who sell their produce through the Virgin Fresh WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

DOA hosted an orientation Wednesday night for farmers interested in the program. The meeting started with a small group, but ended with about fifteen local farmers joining to hear about the program.

The department and farmers in the territory are working together to provide Women, Infants and Children (WIC) recipients with fresh local produce. Farmers in the Virgin Fresh program will sell their produce to specific WIC candidates in exchange for WIC checks.

The Virgin Fresh program is dedicated to boosting the economy by offering jobs to farmers and increasing the demand for locally grown items. Over 95 percent of products currently sold in the Virgin Islands are imported, said Abbelle Bakr, grant manager for the V.I. Department of Agriculture.

“Jobs are scarce right now,” Bakr said. “This is another government effort to attempt to bring more money in and assist the money flow to residents.”

The Virgin Fresh program began on St. Croix and several farmers markets already operate on all three islands. The program is branching out to St. Thomas and then St. John.

The DOA is interested in involving farmers on St. Thomas in Bordeaux, Market Square and the Yacht Haven area, targeting places with more WIC recipients.

Many farmers voiced their hope that meat and poultry would soon be included in the Virgin Fresh program. Several of them sell both alongside produce.

For the time being, meat and poultry will remain on the back burner, said Bakr. The DOA first wants to gauge the success of the produce operation on all three islands, she said, and then discuss meat and poultry.

Farmers are required to meet DOA qualifications in order to work with the Virgin Fresh program. These include having a regular schedule and only selling produce that is grown in the territory.

Once Virgin Fresh is able to establish relationships with farmers on each island, the DOA can assist in buying items such as tools and fertilizer for farmers, Bakr said.

“The money isn’t important to us,” she said, emphasizing “the fact that we’re getting the proper things out to the community to eat.”

About 10,000 women and children in the Virgin Islands meet WIC criteria. Virgin Fresh is capable of assisting 5,000 people this year.

Those who qualify include pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as children ages 1 to 5. All funds not used will roll over to the next year, allowing the program to add more WIC recipients.

Adults WIC participants receive $30 and children $25 twice a year to use for local produce from farmers markets.

Getting schools involved is the next step. Nutrition education in WIC offices and schools is an important aspect of the Virgin Fresh program.

A similar farmers market program in Puerto Rico helped build a foundation for Virgin Fresh. A lot of information was borrowed from Puerto Rico, but at this time, the DOA does not have the resources to collaborate with nearby islands such as Puerto Rico and Tortola.

Virgin Fresh serves several other purposes aside from its partnership with WIC, the main one to encourage Virgin Islanders to buy food locally and support the economy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture helps fund the program, along with other grants.

For more information, contact Bakr at the Department of Ariculture 778-0997 ext. 239.

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