Sadly, this year a 24-year-old tradition will not take place — the annual St. Thomas/St. John Agriculture and Food Fair. This would have been the 24th fair on St. Thomas (Nov. 22-23), and there will be the 33rd fair on St. Croix early next year with proper planning. For me, like a child waiting for December and Christmas day, my favorite months are November and February, and I was eagerly anticipating participating in the St. Thomas fair this year.
As a farmer on the island of St. Thomas, I also love this time of year, as it gives us all an opportunity to salute the farmers of the Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, this year we will not get an opportunity to honor the farmers; not because of the floods that have introduced so many challenges for all of us, but due to the lack of comprehensive planning on the part of the fair organizers. I am appalled, not surprised, that there was no alternative or back-up plan that would have ensured that the fair would take place somewhere on the island should the original location not be available.
While I should not be amazed that there was not an alternative plan to ensure that the fair would take place no matter what, I continued to be hopeful that someone, somewhere in this territory charged with leading major projects, events, and activities would have had the foresight to plan for the unexpected. As a territory, why do we not do this? Why do we continue unrealistically to take for granted that things will always be as they have always been?
Most of our leaders (no matter in what capacity) seem to take for granted that life is predictable, when in fact it is just the opposite. We continue to take the same path over and over, never acknowledging that at some point that path may become impassable; and when this happens (and it always will), we are (unbelievably) at a loss, give up and walk away.
The St. Thomas fair would have showcased livestock, plants and agricultural produce. It would have allowed our farmers to demonstrate to the community what can be done with water and sunshine. But this was not to be.
I have a great deal of respect for the farmers, not only because I can relate to them as farmers, but because of the unsung heroes that they are. As a farmer (livestock or produce) it is hard to explain to non-farmers how beautiful and rewarding it feels when you see a full plant grown from a seed or an animal come to life from another animal you have raised. It is even more difficult to explain to an individual in a suite or with a laptop the amount of daily personal dedication attached to the salad he or she is about to eat as an appetizer, the prime rib steak he or she may eat for dinner, or the colorful and sweet fruit salad either may have for dessert.
The St. Thomas agricultural fair would have served a dual purpose: displaying the state of farming on St. Thomas and introducing new methods of farming being explored by the University of the Virgin Islands. During the last few years, the Virgin Islands as a community appears to have been moving away from traditional agriculture and more towards technology. The belief is that technology in farming is good, as proven by the accomplishments of the UVI Extension Service program that has improved local produce and livestock production.
I am a supporter of technology and believe it can successfully coexist with tradition. However, it is my personal hope that this program will be committed not just to teaching farmers the benefits of technology, but also to protecting our farmland from being used for non-farming purposes (such the UVI St. Croix Technology Park, another commentary). Finding a balance between technological and traditional farming will allow us all to continue to enjoy the pride of the local traditional farmers and their contributions to farming in the Virgin Islands.
The agricultural fair would have allowed us again to honor our farmers. But let us not forget the fun it provides to the children of the territory, too. I am deeply disappointed that the decision was so easily made to cancel the St. Thomas fair. Both fairs provide an opportunity for family fun, learning and teaching. Although the organizers of the St. Thomas fair failed to develop alternative plans for ensuring the fair would take place, I trust that the same inadequate planning will not besiege the upcoming fair scheduled to take place on St. Croix in February 2004.
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