Farmer and owner of Humble Buzz Honey Works Jahnai Caul showcases homemade honey and plants for sale during the Virgin Gorda Agricultural Fair on Tuesday. (Photo: PROVIDED)

Farmers and Fishers Week kicked off on Sunday and will continue until the end of the week, culminating in a Market and Exhibition Day on Saturday in Paraquita Bay.

Events began on Sunday with a virtual ceremony, followed by a school fair on Jost Van Dyke on Monday.

In Virgin Gorda on Tuesday, the agricultural station reopened after many years of being out of service.

The facility — which will house staff from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries — was destroyed during Hurricane Irma in 2017 and wasn’t rebuilt until now.

Instead, a custom-built office trailer had been providing services to fishers and farmers on the island, according to Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.

The station was officially dedicated during a Tuesday ceremony, where agricultural officer Lesley Maduro said the theme for the week was “Rise: A Time For Action, Inspiration and Impact.”

“With the reopening of the Virgin Gorda station, we have already fulfilled that part: action,” Ms. Maduro said. “I continue to encourage the farming community as a whole. I know it can be discouraging at times, but together we can do it. Going forward, it is imperative that we devise ways and means to securely feed our people.”

Farming history

Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley also spoke during the ceremony, recalling changes over the years that have affected the agricultural sector in the territory.

“The [VI] historically was the breadbasket for the entire Virgin Islands, including the US Virgin Islands,” he said. “We used to feed St. Thomas. But they realised that they were building our economy, so they made things more and more difficult for the [VI].”

Over time, he said, the USVI began to ship more goods from the mainland, added a cattle tax, and began utilising refrigerators to store food for longer periods of time.

One of the breaking points, he said, was in 1954, when the VI experienced a severe drought and cattle in the territory were dying.

“The land can produce. We know it can produce,” he said. “What we hope this substation can do is be an area of demonstration where people can learn how to grow plants.”

Virtual opening

Farmers and Fishers Week began with a virtual kick-off on Sunday that centred around sustainability and featured comments from Dr. Wheatley, who is also the minister of education, culture, youth affairs, fisheries and agriculture.

“There is no need for me to emphasise how important it is for Virgin Islanders to be more self-sufficient,” he said. “It is clear how easily we are affected by what takes place beyond our borders, as we import the majority of what we consume.”

Now is the time to invest in internal growth while building “healthy partnerships” in the region and internationally, he said. “Careful investment and support for developing our local farming and fishing industries is necessary to build and further develop a well-structured, resilient and accountable food system in the Virgin Islands,” he said.

Dr. Wheatley added that cooking is a valuable expression of cultural heritage that should be celebrated.

Coming activities

The week’s events will continue through Saturday.

A ground-breaking ceremony for a poultry facility and garden initiative at the Claudia Creque Educational Centre in Anegada was scheduled for Thursday.

Today, Ken Pemberton is scheduled to reflect on the value of agriculture in the territory, and the celebration will conclude on Saturday with a market and exhibition day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Paraquita Bay.

Culinary contests

Competitions at the Saturday event will include the best local fruit drink, the best VI-style red peas soup, and a greased pig race. Livestock and other demonstrations will be on display as well.