Three young men with motivation but relatively few years experience were honored along with icons of the island farming community when they were named Farmers of the Year at the opening ceremony of the 45th Agriculture and Food Fair of the Virgin Islands Saturday at the Rudolph Schulterbrandt Fairgrounds.
The Ag Fair – or Agrifest, as it is commonly known – is reportedly the largest event of its kind in the Caribbean and is held on President’s Day weekend every year. More than 25,000 Virgin Islanders and visitors from around the world are expected to attend to see the finest fruits and vegetables, prize-winning livestock and farm animals and experience a wide variety of culinary delights, culture, arts and crafts.
Each year, the V.I. Department of Agriculture and other sponsors honor those who have excelled in the industry at the opening ceremony. The governor and other officials praise and commemorate contributions made to the territory and the industry.
The crop farmers of the year are Phillip Titre and Leroy Peets of New Breed Farm. In three years, with help from the DOA, they expanded from a three acre plot to a 20-acre community garden. Now, they grow watermelon, cucumbers, eggplant, bell peppers, pumpkin, tomatoes and okra and sell their produce at their farm store.
Winning the award, Titre said, gives them “more motivation.”
“Our hard work the previous year was noticed by the Fair board and the Department of Agriculture,” he said, adding that former commissioner, Louis Petersen, helped them get their start.
The livestock farmer of the year is Stuart Drew of SGD Enterprises in Estate Lower Love. Originally from Nevis, Drew learned about farming at an early age and took up genetic breeding as a hobby. In 2012 he was laid off at the Hovensa refinery, so he enrolled in classes at UVI and took up agriculture full time. He and his wife Betty raise pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits on three acres near the Carambola golf course with only three farm tools – a machete, a weed eater and a sickle.
“Thank God, hard work does pay off,” said an emotional Betty Drew as they accepted the award, thanking the DOA for their help, especially during last year’s drought.
Stuart Drew is not the only farmer in his family. His sister, Violet Drew, and parents Wilbert and Rosalia Drew have vegetable stands in the farmers’ market this year. The senior Drews has been farming for more than 50 years and displayed giant pumpkin, multi-colored potatoes, bright red sorrel, papaya and shiny green beans. They also raise sheep and pigs.
Wilbert’s daughter’s produce included mountains of cucumbers, green beans, okra, hot peppers and a variety of herbs. She also sells home roasted and ground spices and plantain chips. The farmer’s market at Agrifest was renamed in her honor her last year.
During the ceremony, special recognition was given to several members of the agriculture community by renaming venues after them.
The fair grounds will carry Luther Renee’s name during Agrifest to recognize the former senator’s contributions as a teacher who introduced school gardening to middle school land, taught at the University of the Virgin Islands and served in the 25th Legislature. He also was senior economist at the Lieutenant Governor’s office and assistant Agriculture commissioner during the last administration. Renee continues to work on the organization of the Ag Fair.
10“I am humbled, unspeakably honored. This is the most wonderful honor I have every received and I cherish it,” Renee said.
The farmers’ market pavilion was named posthumously in honor of Joan Nelson, who was known for her skills as a seamstress, food truck operator and creator of jams, jellies and candies with a green thumb that won first place for her produce at Agrifest more than once.
The livestock pavilion was renamed for 89-year-old Kenneth “Glansa” Henry, who still cares for his goats and the food pavilion for the Friedensfeld Moravian Church, winners of the food competition year after year.
Retired educator Zoraida Jacobs was recognized for her love and expertise with flowers.
The schools participate in an educational exhibit competition and this year the St. Croix Educational Complex outdoor power equipment program won the prize by building customized mini bikes.
Students added to the opening ceremony as well. Third grader Daniel Lago from St. Patrick’s School played the keyboard and sang the National Anthem and V.I. March and the invocation was delivered by Ahmali Benjamin, from Claude O. Markoe Elementary.
Several recently deceased members of the farming community were recognized, including Eleanor Plaskett, Joan Nelson, June Anne Archibald, Veronica Frorup, Evadney Newton Elwin and David Hamada. Members of each family spoke about their relatives’ contributions and love of the earth and its products.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp welcomed the crowd and congratulated the fair participants. He said the fair is recognized as one of the finest exhibitions of crop and livestock production. He referred to the severe drought, the resilience of farmers and the hopeful theme “From Brown to Green.”
Other speakers to commend farmers included Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter who said he looks forward to the day Virgin Islanders eat homegrown produce every day.
Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett told of her support for the federal Farm to School program, recently expanded to the territory, and Senate President Neville James listed legislation enacted in support of farmers including a feasibility study for food processing plants and $500,000 for drought relief.
Errol Chichester, assistant Agriculture commissioner, commended farmers on their great resilience after the drought and said people should enjoy the various aspects of the event.
“And leave your money with farmers. They need it,” he added.
UVI President David Hall called the Ag Fair a “sacred event,” and Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Tourism commissioner, reminded residents to greet visitors visiting the event from cruise ships.
On Sunday and Monday, visitors can tour the fairgrounds, listen to live music, enjoy local food and demonstrations and learn about local organizations and Crucian culture.
Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children. More information and schedules can be found at www.viagrifest.ofg.