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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeNewsArchivesNot for Profit: GrowVI Seeks Sustainable Nourishment

Not for Profit: GrowVI Seeks Sustainable Nourishment

Shanna JamesIt’s said to eat is a necessity but to eat well is an art. Top that with eating well out of one’s own back yard, so to speak, and you have the prevailing philosophy of GrowVI, a not-for-profit organization determined to bring farmer, chef and consumer together, providing a bridge toward sustainable nourishment.

It started about 18 months ago with the notion of Shanna James, owner with partner Justine Callwood, of Barefoot Buddha, a Havensight restaurant with an emphasis on fresh, local produce.

The idea, in fact, has mushroomed. At a Slow Down dinner earlier this month, the organization’s professionally designed and extensively detailed website www.GrowVI.org was introduced.
Its focus is to support the production and distribution of locally grown, organic produce, to educate the community about sustainability through the website, and to encourage community supported agriculture and gardens.

A Slow Down Dinner is described on the website, but, basically, it is a celebration of the simplicity and goodness of a locally harvested meal.

James lives her passions: healthy living, caring for the environment, recycling and eating locally produced foods.

"That’s the whole idea. It’s doing the right thing in business," she says of the restaurant where she practices what she preaches. "We use almost all local produce, or as much as is available."

She says, "I wanted organic food for the restaurant. That’s why we opened it. I was trying to buy from farmers’ markets and trying to get local wholesalers to bring in organic, but they said it’s too expensive, not enough market for it on island. I knew there had to be a way."

James is nothing if not determined, and in her gentle way she persevered. She initially looked for a half-acre of land on which the restaurant could grow its own produce, but the project soon changed direction.

She contacted Richard Pluke, senior agronomist at Fintrac, an international agribusiness with headquarters on St. Thomas, along with Carlos Robles and Albion George of the University of the Virgin Islands agricultural extension service.

Pluke brought his expertise gained from working with local farmers for the past four years. Also working with Robles and George, the project soon changed direction into a chef/farmer pilot project aimed at introducing more local produce in restaurants.

The idea blossomed.

James put a sign-up sheet at Barefoot Buddha for volunteers to help the farmers, and for volunteers for her first Slow Down dinner. And along came Chloe Beyer.

What first got Beyer’s eye, she says, was the idea of the Slow Down Dinner.

"I’d been getting Shanna’s newsletters about weekly specials, but when I learned about the dinner I really got excited about a restaurant owner concerned about sustainability," she says.

Chloe ByerBeyer took the reins and hasn’t stopped since. She, in fact, is the organization’s current president, as James right now is spending some time off-island. Treasurer Swazi Clarity and Elana Serrant make up the rest of the crew. Pluke, who coined the organization’s name, is a board member, however he is now on assignment in Tanzania.

If Beyer’s energy could be harnessed it could run the composting plant she sees in future, way down the road. Beyer literally jumped in with both feet, digging, planting, collecting other volunteers to help out the farmers on weekends. The organization is currently awaiting official non-profit 501©) 3 legal status, so it can apply for grant funds, she says.

Though James is pleased so far with the sustainable mission, she’s aware of potential pitfalls and the work ahead.

On the night of Nov. 16, however, it was all worthwhile as www.GrowVI.org was introduced to more than 70 paying guests. The dinner, served by UVI volunteers, was punctuated between courses such as citrus yellow ceviche with lemon sage, and a green plantain tostada, with poetry, a talk by beekeeper Francis Jackman, and a demonstration by Nate Olive of V.I. Sustainable Farm Institute on St. Croix which left everyone with a newspaper pot filled with soil and a pumpkin seed.

Olive told the diners, "Now, you’ll have something to sow from this dinner."

"What’s cool," James says, "is there’s more and more of us starting to move toward this goal. It’s tied in with environmental composting, the recycling association. Everything got merged. We started with the chef/farmer idea: everyone who got greens had to compost. There are about five restaurants right now in the program, including Patricia La Corte of Oceana Restaurant at Villa Olga who has a personal garden behind the restaurant. We’re seeing what worked, what didn’t."

One thing James is determined will work is recyclable go cups for restaurants.

"Whoever joins the program has to purchase biodegradable containers, and commit to composting."

The website has been in the works for more than a year, with James regularly providing information and photographs.

"Everybody has helped, We’re involved with great people," James says.

A friend, Moet Delatorre, designed the site.

What the organization needs now is threefold, James says.

– More volunteers for work at the farms.

– People who know how to write grants to help the farmers, who don’t have that skill.

– More people starting community gardens to stay connected.

"We really think those are the three best places to focus energy and effort," James says with a plea to look at the website. "It has its own blog, it’s connected to Facebook. We want to hear from you."

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