Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen’s vision was hailed Friday at the groundbreaking for phase 1 of the $120,000 Bordeaux Farmers Reconstruction Project, a facility that will give farmers a permanent venue to sell fresh local fruits and vegetables every day.
Petersen, who glowed in recognition of the day’s historic significance, said it’s a "shared vision," as he recognized the roles of a bevy of government agencies that played an essential part in making the project a reality.
Petersen noted that submissions from contractors for the construction of the pavilion, including a steel structure with a big roof to cover all booths, are due Feb. 10, and after that the department wants to get to work "immediately." Phase 2 of the project, set to begin when additional funding is in place, will include improved restrooms and separate outside kiosks for food vendors.
The market is located on the west end of St. Thomas about 5 miles west of the University of the Virgin Islands campus.
Gov. John deJongh Jr., who was unable to attend the ceremony, praised the partnership between We Grow Food and the government agencies in a statement read by Special Assistant Luis Sylvester.
Reaching the heart of the matter, the governor said it does no good if farmers work all year with no place to sell on a day-to-day basis. "When we fully embrace our agriculture industry, when we form a consumer base that expects fresh fruits, vegetables and meats to be available throughout the year, then our farmers will thrive."
Members of We Grow Food, the farming cooperative that founded the Bordeaux market in 1993 and partnered in its reconstruction, were thrilled with the new project. Perhaps nobody’s smile was broader than that of Lucien "Jamie" Samuel, as he witnessed something he and his wife, Benita, have literally been working for every day for the last 18 years.
Fellow farmer Charlie Leonard also beamed as he rubbed his hands in anticipation of the water from the 60,000 gallon cistern. "I’ve got my pipes all ready for that water," Leonard said.
For years he, Samuel and other farmers have been dependent for water on the dams in Bordeaux, which sometimes dry up, and on their own wits in creating water storage containers and irrigations systems.
Acting as master of ceremonies, Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Luther Renee praised Petersen’s efforts, calling him a "man who looks at agriculture as a business." Renee said, "It’s time to invest more in our farmers for the benefit and good of us all."
Petersen praised the cooperation of St. Claire Williams, Housing, Parks and Recreation commissioner. As a first step in the initiative to enhance the aesthetic quality and utility of the existing marketplace, Petersen said, "In 2008, I went to Commissioner Williams and requested a transfer of this land from his agency to the department. He not only agreed – we had the transfer within 48 hours."
Williams said Friday, "It was a small role to play in light of what he wanted to do. Sports and fitness go together hand in hand with healthy eating. We need somewhere to buy real local food."
Julio A. Rhymer, chief financial officer of the V.I. Housing Finance Authority, which administers Community Grant Block funding, approved $240,000 for the farmers market design and construction. That amount was halved by the Senate, leaving $120,000. Public Works stepped in with an invaluable contribution, by preparing the design and architectural drawings for the new facility.
Rhymer praised the project and its ability to draw visitors as well as locals. "This is what we want to see when we give money to nonprofit groups," he said.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone and others praised the project’s tourism value. "It’s a big deal," said Malone, chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Technology, and Agriculture Committee. "People are no longer traveling just for the sun and the sea. They want to see heritage."
Petersen said the cistern will be fed from runoff from the roof of the new pavilion. "Eventually, when we drill a well down the hill, we’ll have a pipeline going to the cistern, and we will have three cisterns," he said.
The contractor for the cistern, John McCleverty Jr. of Mack Construction Enterprises, Inc., said he hopes to have the work completed in 90 days.
The Office of the Governor, We Grow Food, Inc., the Departments of Sports, Parks & Recreation, Public Works, Property and Procurement and the VI Housing Finance partnered on the project.