What do you get when you put a businessman, a Realtor, a farmer, a sustainable design firm and an environmentalist in a room together? The answer to that question in years past could have been a fight. Now, the combination makes a coalition. And what a coalition it is becoming!
On Aug. 6, this very coalition held a press conference to speak out about the proposed site for the new University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park. Opinions within the coalition were reached through entirely different angles but centered on one unifying conclusion: Whatever may come of the park, farming and farmlands must be protected and promoted.
Frank Fox, president of St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, wants to see both industries promoted. Roland Groder, president of the V.I. Territorial Board of Realtors, wants to see land put to its best use. Kendall Petersen, vice president of St. Croix Farmers in Action, wants to see all prime farmland protected for future use. SEA wants a comprehensive land and water use plan.
All agree that farming is an enterprise that could better be managed — on St. Croix in particular, and in the Virgin Islands as a whole. Why is farming so important? At this moment, it is practically dead as an industry in the Virgin Islands. Dead industries are not big money makers and certainly do not make for great investments.
Some would argue that farming is just a bad investment. I would answer that failure to invest in farming is a mistake that we cannot afford to make. Last Sept. 11, all shipping and flights to the Virgin Islands were suspended. On average, a family has about a two-week supply of food. As catastrophic as it was, imagine if Sept. 11 had done more damage. What if Los Angeles had suffered a heavy hit? What if the terrorists had used dirty bombs around the country? What if, God forbid, some idiot had gotten his hands on a nuclear weapon and used it?
It is not inconceivable that shipping to the Virgin Islands could have been disrupted for weeks, in a worst-case scenario. What would we have done? Would we have eaten dirt? People who cannot feed their own cannot do much else. We need farming, and we need it badly.
Farming is only a microcosm of what is currently wrong in the Virgin Islands. Our government runs from one "get rich quick" scheme to another. We need leaders who take a long view and plan accordingly. That is why one should look closely at which leaders signed the declaration to protect farmland and promote farming.
Michael Bornn, Gerard Luz James II and Hope Gibson were the first candidates to sign. Others came along later. There is no money to be made in committing to protect farmland, only "blood, toil, sweat and tears," as one business proposal after another threatens to bury our precious farmland under mounds of concrete.
Can we build a technology park? Of course, but we must build it where it belongs. That location is not farmland, unless the sponsors of that location do not mind a few thousand voters casting their ballot for someone else. That is the beauty of the coalition.
Editor's note: Bill Turner, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, was formerly a teacher and vice principal at the high school level in Puerto Rico.
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