Two years ago, the Senate passed legislation mandating that a comprehensive Agricultural Plan for the United States Virgin Islands be developed.
Thursday, the Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture heard testimony from farmers and developers of the plan about the 123-page document that resulted.
Leading the testimony was David Hall, president of the University of the Virgin Islands, who, along with Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson, was assigned in the legislation to develop the plan.
According to the executive summary, the goal of the plan is “to increase agricultural productivity locally to make food security and sovereignty a reality for those living in the Virgin Islands.”
The plan defines “food sovereignty” as a system by which “the food supply is produced locally through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, with the community having authority over their own food and agricultural mechanisms.” As for defining food security, the plan takes the definition from the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, “…when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
Hall told the committee he would not try to summarize the whole plan. Instead, he would emphasize what he saw as key priorities in the plan. He said first, an Agriculture Advisory Council and the Local Farm Coordinator position should be funded.
He explained the Council leaders will help “ensure that everyone understands that agriculture growth is critical to our existence.” He added the Council would “be responsible for collecting data, reviewing the Plan for changes, promoting backyard and community gardening, and being a repository for information relating to agriculture.”
Luca Gasperi, co-owner of Art Farm on the south shore of Saint Croix, also spoke about the need for the farm coordinator. Gasperi, a member of the team that developed the Plan, testified, “I think it’s very important that the person is not answering to the Department of Agriculture or the government but to the farmers.”
Gasperi said Art Farm has 40 acres with four acres growing food, and “We have livestock and fruit trees and vegetables.”
Sommer Sibilly-Brown, the founder and executive director of Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition and also a member of the team, testified, “The Plan can serve as a viable seed for the establishment of a thriving local food economy. As highlighted in the Plan, there is increasing urgency to address the fragility of the territory’s food system. It is imperative that we prepare for climate disruptions, supply chain breakdown, the long-term impacts of the war in Ukraine, and the impending post-pandemic recession. Now more than ever, we need to build capacity in the food system. My position is that this Plan is the right action, happening at the right time, and it needs to be expanded to a more comprehensive food system plan.”
Nate Olive, of Ridge to Reef Farm on St. Croix and a member of the team, wrapped up comments by saying, “My biggest fear is the Plan is not funded or supported.”
Sen. Kenneth Gittens, who chaired the committee meeting, sent out a press release on Friday. In it, he described the Plan as “a tremendous opportunity.” He added that he was deeply appreciative of the testimony from informed community members, including – Sommer Sibilly Brown, Dale Browne, Luca Gasperi, and Nate Olive.
Senators attending the meeting were Kenneth Gittens, Milton Potter, Javan James, Janelle Sarauw, Sammuel Carrion, Genevieve Whitaker, Donna Frett-Gregory, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis, Franklin Johnson, and Alma Francis Heyliger.