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Sunday, February 5, 2023
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Estate Bordeaux Farmers' Market Opens

Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen speaks from the Bordeaux Farmers' Market stage (Molly Morris photo).Joy was in the air Wednesday morning as the heavens opened and offered an appropriate blessing on the bright, handsome pavilion that now houses the Estate Bordeaux Farmers’ Market.

The newly completed structure is the answered prayer of the many farmers, supporters, government and private entities gathered to dedicate the new facility, located on the island’s west end, about five miles west of the University of the Virgin Islands campus.

In its 2011 groundbreaking, Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen had spoken of his vision for the market, still in the embryonic stages. On Wednesday, Petersen’s vision was recognized and he glowed in the day’s historic significance.

Petersen was introduced by master of ceremonies Luther Renee, assistant commissioner, who noted the overwhelming theme of the day: collaboration.The handsome pavilion that now houses the Estate Bordeaux Farmers' Market (Molly Morris photo).

Petersen began his remarks Wednesday with thanks to all of the project’s partners. "Please bear with me as I pour out my thanks to all," he said, going on to thank the Office of the Governor, the Departments of Sports, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Property and Procurement, Planning and Natural Resources, Housing Finance and the V.I. Energy Office.

Petersen praised the cooperation of Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Claire Williams. "Though he calls it a small role, we wouldn’t be standing here today without his help," Petersen said.

"As a first step in the initiative to enhance the aesthetic quality and utility of the existing marketplace," Petersen said he went to Williams in 2008 and requested a transfer of this land from his agency to the department. “He not only agreed – we had the transfer within 48 hours," Petersen said.

He said none of this would have been possible without the vision of the farmers’ organization We Grow Food, who transformed the site from the previous tennis courts into a farmers market in the early 90s.

"The market has attracted residents and visitors on market days and the annual Bordeaux Farmers Rastafari Agricultural and Cultural Food Fair since 1997," Petersen said, adding that the annual event is this weekend, Saturday and Sunday.

Mural in back of stage painted by farmers. The new facility consists of a 60,000 gallon cistern, the large gaily painted pavilion for vending, sales tables with lockable storage units, sinks for washing produce and a dining pavilion.

The sinks are a major improvement, and the wooden dining pavilion overlooking the ocean provides a comfortable place to sit and enjoy the bounty of fresh food, maybe a bowl of Jambie’s famous pumpkin soup.

“It is our hope that this new facility will encourage increased farm production and stimulate economic development – an area of priority for the deJongh administration," Petersen said. "It represents part of a broader initiative to improve farmland infrastructure in support of agricultural productivity and marketing in the territory,” he said.

He continued to say project partners anticipate the new market will serve as a model site for agri-tourism initiatives via networking with the hotel and taxi associations and the Department of Tourism to arrange year-round market days that showcase local culture and agriculture.

That remark hit home with Allegra Kean Moore, Tourism’s director of communications.

"The market is so great for the community," she said after the ceremony, "and it has lots of potential for tourism. We want to bring visitors here as a tourist attraction. And It will be wonderful for local events."Bordeaux Farmers' Market stage.

Assistant Commissioner Renee was just about as enthusiastic as an adult officiating at a function can get. Before he began introducing the speakers, he paused, looking around at the shimmering new venue, and said: "I don’t know of any marker in the world with a view like this. Wow! It’s magnificent."

Renee mentioned the mural behind the stage. "The farmers fixed up this stage themselves. The mural was painted three days ago, and some of the ladies from We Grow Food put up the plastic curtains on the dining pavilion last weekend."

A somber note was added to the ceremony when Renee said he only wished the young activist farmer Ras JahStarr Koniyah, who died last year, "could have been here to see it come to completion. He always said ‘Members, vendors and spenders,’ were all we needed."

In Koniyah’s memory, a poem of his "Poem-Value of Farmers," was read by Majestik F. Estrada-Petersen of Gladys Abraham Elementary School.

Petersen presented a plaque to Koniyah’s mother, Erma Pemberton, who is working on a project in his memory.

Another student, 11-year-old Naim Berry of Ulla Muller Elementary School, had the audience in her hand as she sang in sweet young tones the very adult Billie Holiday standard, "God Bless the Child."

Elridge Thomas, WGF president, gave a detailed and vibrant history of the Bordeaux area dating back to the years of struggle, when "the crop farmers and the livestock farmers were always fighting. We lost 10 years to that," he lamented. Thomas spoke of the efforts that brought the market back from two hurricanes and “the continuing efforts of the Bordeaux farming community to bring it to this day."

The presentations wound up with Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis. "We are witnessing nothing short of a renaissance in the production of food and agricultural products throughout the territory," Francis said.

"Our farming industry should be a thriving sector of the territory’s economy throughout the entire year, sustaining the livelihood of farmers and making available the freshest, healthiest food to all,” he continued. “This represents a true commitment to local food production, a significant sector of our economy."

Francis thanked all the partners including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which he said made this project possible through a block development grant.

Benita Samuel, one of the founders of We Grow Food, said she was thrilled to see the fruition of something she and her husband, Lucien "Jambie" Samuel, have literally been working on almost every day for the past 20 years.

Samuel was busily distributing certificates of appreciation to a slew of people for support of the Bordeaux farmers.

She spoke of the work yet to do. "We want to hang all the flags of the Caribbean nations," she said, mentioning among other projects a children’s center to the rear of the pavilion.

"For now," she said, "we will be open two Sundays a month, but our goal is four days a week."

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