Farmers got together with potential customers Monday at Balter Restaurant during a meet-and-greet at designed to increase agricultural production on St. Croix by showing farmers there is a market for what they grow.
More than two dozen farmers attended the event hosted by the Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition and Taste of St. Croix and sponsored by the V.I. Department of Education and Department of Agriculture as part of National Farm to School Month.
Mike Yusuf, owner and operator of the Seaside Market and Deli, said, “I am here to meet farmers.”
With grocery store and restaurant owners in the audience, about two dozen farmers took turns at the mike in the courtyard telling potential customers what they grow.
Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Robles said many farmers now supply fresh grown vegetables to local businesses. The event was an effort to reach more farmers, letting them know about possibilities, he said.
Robles said federal food aid programs send $56.5 million to the territory annually, and grocery stores receive the lion’s share of that. Only about $7,000 goes to local farmers.
Nate Olive of Ridge to Reef Farm said since 2014 Ridge to Reef has been supplying locally grown produce to schools for its lunch program. Ridge to Reef’s produce is certified organic.
One of the hors d’ouerve served Monday featured watermelon. Education program manager and Farm to School liaison Sommer Sibilly-Brown said St. Croix farmers will provide students enrolled in the school lunch program throughout the territory with farm-fresh watermelons every week. The pilot program is called “Melonmania.”
The farmers providing melons are Badeau Chrisihnate, Samuel Tyson, Grantley Samuel, Louis Peterson, and farmers at NCIO Breed Farm. Chrisihnate said he planted 3,000 watermelon slips that he will harvest soon.
Lawrence Lewis, a past Department of Agriculture commissioner, said there hasn’t been a serious effort to promote gardening in the territory since the administration of Gov. Cyril King, who died in 1978. The success of the program will depend on children understanding and knowing what they are eating and the progression of gardening, Lewis said.
In another Department of Education event promoting agriculture, students from Arthur Richards Junior High School will sell eggs from the school’s poultry farm from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the La Reine Farmer’s Market.
A collaborative effort between the departments of Education and Agriculture, National Farm to School month features a series of events to show the local community – especially students – about the economic and health benefits of eating local produce.