Feb. 15, 2004 — The opening day of the 33rd annual Agricultural and Food Fair surpassed all expectations as farmers, vendors and culture bearers set up their booths and prepared for the hundreds of visitors that would be visiting the fairgrounds. The opening ceremonies began at 10 a.m., while a host of dignitaries took turns praising the organizers of the event.
Governor Charles W. Turnbull, dressed in a madras shirt and straw hat, commended Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Lewis and paid tribute to the achievements of past commissioners "for planting the foundation" of the event. Turnbull recognized the contributions of the corporate sponsor, the Ag Fair Board, and the "hard working farmers and artisans" who contribute yearly to make the fair the largest of its kind in the Caribbean. Commenting on the recent resurgence of cultural awareness and making special mention of his recent signing of the bill to make quelbe the official music of the Virgin Islands, Turnbull implored the audience to continue pushing V.I. culture to the forefront, adding, "The fair is a festival that celebrates culture and is a testament to agriculture."
Commissioner Lewis gave special thanks to the platinum sponsors, Innovative Communications and HOVENSA. "The department has weaned itself from the general fund," he said, "the fair is now self-sustaining." Lewis said the farmers market is improving through the department's efforts to put "productive land into productive hands."
The Ag Fair is jointly sponsored by the V.I. Department of Agriculture and the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service. UVI President Dr. LaVerne E. Ragster said the day was special for farmers. Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards, whose department is a gold sponsor of the event, urged residents and visitors to "experience the vast offerings of the Caribbean's largest agricultural fair. Other speakers at the opening ceremony included Samuel Ebbessen, senior vice president of Innovative Communications; Alex Moorhead, HOVENSA vice president of governmental affairs; Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen; and Senate President David S. Jones.
Awards, presentations and naming of farmers of the year
Several awards were presented to members of the community who played an important part in the continuing success of the fair. Awards were presented to:
– Mr. Rene Sagebien, past COO of HOVENSA, for his contributions.
– The family of the late Isabelle Williams a former agriculture marketing agent who was instrumental in the revival of the Fair.
– To Mr. Eric "Larry" Bough, former agriculture commissioner
– To Mr. Hector Torres, WAPA supervisor
The three main sections of the fair were named in honor of persons outstanding in the field of agriculture and native culinary arts. The sections are as follows:
– The Hans Lawaetz Livestock Pavilion, named for his contributions to livestock farming.
– The Gloria Neale-Felix Farmers Market, in honor of her contributions to farming.
– The late Alma Doward and the late Ione Miller-Pemberton Food Pavilion, named for their contributions to native cooking.
The highlight of the awards presentation was the naming of the two Farmers of the Year. Mr. James Hamilton was named Livestock Farmer of the Year, while Henry Schuster was named Crop Farmer of the Year. Hamilton, born in Dominica, has been caring for animals since age 5 and presently raises pigs, goat and white hair sheep on 20 acres of land. Hamilton called on the Legislature to stop rezoning agricultural land and to protect the farm land in St. Croix. Schuster, a former Commissioner of Agriculture, said he decided to compete for the title to "send a message to all crop farmers." In addition to supplying grocery stores and vendors in the territory with over 3,400 pounds of cucumbers a week, Schuster is raising 350 white hair sheep. The breed was developed in St. Croix and enjoys a high demand all over the world because they produce only meat, not wool. Schuster recently sold several sheep to a farm in the Philippines.
The Gloria Neale-Felix Farmers Market
Vegetables, herbs and plants of all kinds can be found at the Farmers Market, which is located in the large warehouse on the west side of the agricultural fairgrounds. In addition to crops, the farmers market houses exhibits from schools, the government and private agencies.
Fairgoers carefully picked their favorite produce and plants from the more than 60 farmers booths. A cornucopia of cucumbers, cassava, celery, pumpkin, watermelon, squash, thyme, tomatoes, bell and hot peppers, basil, rosemary, palms, coconut trees, and other recently harvested plants and vegetables were displayed for sale.
Eighty-three-year-old Andrew Noel, a first-time vendor at the fair, sat amidst an array of coconut palms from his garden. Noel, who started farming in 1968, said he likes the fair because it encourages entrepreneurship.
Of the 41 exhibitors at the market, HOVENSA had the the largest display: a replica of the FCC Complex, showing in great detail one of the plant's several processing units. Other displays used slide shows to depict the Environmental Health and Safety Unit, and the Design Computer-Aided Engineering Unit. According to human resources director Pamela Fagan, the most popular exhibit this year is the one offering information on the Process Technology Degree. "The young men are very interested; they are taking the applications," said Fagan.
The applied sciences degree in process technology program is a joint venture between HOVENSA and UVI. The program prepares students to enter employment as operations technicians in the process industry, which includes petroleum production and refining, chemical manufacturing, pharmaceuticals manufacturing, power generation, other utility operations, wastewater treatment facilities management, and food processing. (See "Process technology students ready to work".)
Have you ever wondered what cosmetology and agriculture have in common? Well to find out, just visit the display by the St. Croix Vocational and Technical School. The students manning the booth will give you well-documented facts explaining the links between the two areas. The display shows how plants are used in cosmetology, hair care and skin care. For instance, 12th-grade student Khym Pelle noted that carrot, castor and olive oils make the hair shiny and soft. She also explained the use of eggs for reducing the appearance of pores, the use of garlic to stimulate cell growth and fight dandruff, and the use of sage to massage the body and remove impurities. "Products are incorporating natural herbs into their shampoos and conditioners; the herbs can be used in their natural form for greater effect," said Pelle.
Other schools and associations on display were: Evelyn M. Williams, Eulalie Rivera Professional Development School, Lew Muckle, Alfredo Andrews, Good Hope, Good Shepherd, Freewill Baptist, Country Day and the Juanita Gardine School, Music in Motion Dance Academy, PAL, St. Croix Library Association and the Civil Air Patrol.
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