The All Star Steel Band played light renditions of classic reggae songs as folks gathered for the first day of the 15th annual Bordeaux Farmers’ Market and Rastafari Agricultural and Cultural Food Fair on Saturday, January 14.
The weather was flawless and the vibes positive as local farmers and artisans displayed and sold a variety of products and produce ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables, to prepared foods, to crafts, such as wood works and body products.
Anna Francis, a science teacher at Addelita Cancryn Junior High, said “Environment affects culture, and when students participate in art related to the environment it is a way for them to enjoy and appreciate nature.”
Francis is also the leader of the Environmental Rangers, a group of young people who learn about and promote environmental health and conservation to protect the reefs in Tutu Bay, Mandahl, and Vessup.
Craftsman Afreekan Southwell displayed his wood products, which included both practical household items and decorative sculptures. He uses local woods, such as mahogany, mango, kenip, and wild man jack; using local woods, he said, is very important.
In the center of the market people milled about looking at produce and enjoying the atmosphere. Farmer June Archibald had a spread of products ranging from hot sauces to jams for sale, and was offering samples of her delicious basil jelly.
Mother and son, Chinwe and Lasima, sold local lemon grass and spinach, as well as Mama Joe’s line of natural health and beauty products, a line started by Chinwe’s mother, Josephine. The pair also sold refreshing cups of lemongrass tea.
When word got out that Jambi Samuel was preparing a batch of his famous pumpkin soup, a crowd gathered waiting around his stand.
“I am a farmer,” said Samuel smiling “and I am a Rasta (give praise!) and this is my home. Welcome to my home.”
Samuel says that his pumpkin soup, which is fresh and local down to the coals used to cook it – Samuel makes charcoal from local red cedar – is the best in the world. After tasting it, one finds his claim hard to dispute.
In the midst of all the food and other fare, an announcer stood up on stage and asked “yam so heavy we need someone strong to bring forward so the people can see.” A man appeared carrying a yam approximately three feet in length. The announcer stressed the value of yams as a food saying “even when times are crucial, and all of your other crops may be ruined, you can go in the ground and dig up your yams. So people, plants your yams.”
An agricultural bounty was apparent throughout the market. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said he has been coming to the Bordeaux Farmers’ Market since it started, and has watched it flourish. As chairman of the Committee of Economic Development, Technology and Agriculture, he said this growth is “encouraging, because it gets us closer to our goal of getting more food from the farm to the table.”
Charles Leonard, a long-time St. Thomas farmer, sold a wide variety of different Caribbean fruits and fruit trees, as well as honey, eggs, and other produce with his young daughter, Britany. He talked about his work teaching at the UVI extension service, and experimenting with different strains of papaya, saying that he keeps such a diverse farm because otherwise he will get bored. He likes farming he said, because he loves the outdoors.
Farmer of the Year Milard “Black” Haywood also grows a plentiful variety of healthy produce, including sugar apple, sour sop, banana, mango, pineapple, governor’s plume, corn, kale, collard greens, and sugar cane. Variety has allowed him to have a balanced diet for the past thirty years without eating any animal products.
In order to become Farmer of the Year, Haywood said, he had to work hard, and make sure his produce was healthy and looked nice. He comes from a family of farmers, and his children are interested in agriculture too. He said he’d like to see more people in the Virgin Islands take up farming as a way of life, and start eating food that was grown here because it is more natural.
Haywood added eating and growing local food is possible because “agriculture is forever” and “the more people that are in agriculture the better it will be for all of us.” Food that is imported “isn’t as good” because of the harsh chemicals used in industrial agriculture. Plus, it’s impersonal, and, as Haywood said of good farming “You have to deal with a lot of love. You have to love it, you have to be in it, and it has to be in you.”
If everyone who visited this weekend walked away from the Bordeaux Farmer’s Market with only one thing, hopefully it was Haywood’s love of food; most also left with an armful of fruits, greens, crafts, jellies, cakes, and Ital too.