The 49th annual Agrifest kicked off Saturday, opening the largest agriculture fair in the Caribbean to the public with the presentation of the farmer of the year awards.
Eddie Russell, better known in the territory as a musician and member of the Eddie Russell Band, was named Livestock Farmer of the Year. Russell shared how he discovered a passion for something other than music in livestock farming.
The Crop Farmer of the Year award went to Grantley Samuel of GLG Plants and Produce. It was the seventh time Samuel received the honor. He told the audience of his desire to assist the future farmers of the Virgin Islands in continuing in the tradition of farming. He identified the need for elders to pass down the knowledge and info bestowed upon them, to create a lasting impact on the future generations. Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. called Samuel, “the face of farming in the Virgin Islands.” The ceremony concluded with the ribbon cutting in the exhibit pavilion.
A benediction from the Rev. Boniface-Blanchard of St. Patricks Church followed a performance by the V.I. National Guard Band. The ceremony started shortly after 10 a.m. with government officials and community leaders gathered to recognizing the outstanding contributions of the farming community.
Every year, the Rudolph Schulterbrandt Fairgrounds complex, the farmers market and the food and livestock pavilions are renamed in honor of individuals and families who are esteemed for their farming. This year the exhibit building is named to honor the late Rosalia Drew, a pioneer farmer recognized for her tremendous work and contribution to the Virgin Islands. Her daughter Violet Drew, who has continued in her mother’s footsteps, received the award in her honor.
She spoke of her mother being her hero and thanked the committee for the honor.
This year the livestock pavilion was named after S&D Feed, which has been providing feed to St. Croix for more than 25 years.
The fair’s theme, “Agriculture: Trendy in 2020,” was a topic that each person who presented touched on. Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson spoke on “reveling in the beauty of the community and it’s resilience.” He discussed the trends of people planting food crops in their offices and rooftops, using drones to monitor water, seeking to get close to farmers and slow cooking dinners in the bush.
Delegate Stacey Plaskett spoke on the importance of agriculture and the development of local sustainable food systems being imperative to the territory’s continued growth and the resilience and marketability of the Virgin Islands.
David Hall, president of the University of the Virgin Islands, introduced the joy he had in UVI being the first HBCU to offer free tuition and developing an academic degree program for farming. He introduced the first ever dean and director of agriculture programs, Usman Adamu.
“We are poised to help the territory move forward” Hall said.
Sarah Smith of the agriculture department boasted of the students disciplined work on the exhibit at the fair. Students from St. Croix’s Educational Complex Welding program, Alfredo Andrews Elementary and Juanita Gardine Elementary were called forward to the stage as Gov. Bryan presented and award to the winning school, Juanita Guardine.
Bryan spoke of his love for the Virgin Islands and his increased interest in sharing agriculture with young people. He recalled his memories of his grandmother, who was a horticulturist. He shared the excitement he felt planting seeds and “going back to see it every 5 minutes to see if it grew yet.”
The governor encouraged parents to consider the importance of getting children off the screens, off the phones and into the garden, or teaching a young one how to clean fish.
The fair continues Monday with cooking demonstrations, food, music, fresh produce and a farm animal display. Food and other vendors will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children and $5 for senior citizens.