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LEARNING AGRI-BUSINESS, FROM THE GROUND UP

July 18, 2003 – The St. Thomas Livestock Association's Earn and Learn program has kicked off its second week in operation with some new arrivals — a box of chicks from Ridgeway Hatcheries in Ohio, which the participating students intend to see to maturity, slaughter, and then market according to demand.
"We're trying to teach the students that agriculture is a viable way of life," supervisor Sheila Shulterbrandt said. "And working with these chicks show the kids paths into fields like agri-business and agri-science."
The program participants, a group of about 15 ranging in age from 14 to 24 plus some younger volunteers, will have the opportunity to broaden their marketing skills by researching meat inventories, grade qualities, and the demand for different chicken products such as fresh meat, broilers and layers.
The six-week program also incorporates a lot of other activities.
"Agriculture is the backbone of society, and the kids are here to learn about all the various aspects," Shulterbrandt explained. "They will learn how to do it as a business."
The students have been collecting manure to make fertilizer by creating a compost heap, learning the proper way of felling trees, creating a coal pit from the wood, and mastering the proper usage of the tools needed in such procedures.
"I've been teaching the kids how to properly use the tools needed for farming," said Eldridge Thomas, a volunteer instructor from the V.I. Agriculture Department. "We've worked with the pickax and the machete, and the kids are learning how to be as safe as possible with them."
Additionally, Thomas is working with students in the area of food production, including the creation of box gardens and vegetable beds.
"We've started with soil preparation," he explained, "and I've taught them that soil must be turned and loose before planting … Compact soil just doesn't do the job."
After the beds have been created, he will introduce the construction of a drip irrigation system.
"I think that most people have the notion that agriculture is back-breaking work," he said, "and I want the kids to see that, if done properly, and if one utilizes the right technology, we have a little hope of turning them into farmers."
Students have already planted such items as parsley, thyme and local hot peppers.
"We hope to continue by planting things like tomatoes, okra, cabbage and beans, but the summer is so short that the kids won't get a chance to do everything," Thomas said. "They will at least know the basics, so that they will be able to do gardening in their own homes."
Shulterbrandt added that students will be learning the difference between short- and long-term crops. "It goes along with survival techniques," she said. "In the event of a hurricane, they will know what they can grow to sustain themselves."
Each participant has worked with seed charts and measurement systems and has studied how different land and climate characteristics relate to the growing of certain crops. Future activities will include lessons on beekeeping, a soil workshop with instructors from the University of the Virgin Islands and sessions dealing with the fishing industry, including the building of fish traps.
"I recommend this experience for anyone who wants to join," participant Elton George, 18, said. "I didn't want to stay at home this summer, and this has been fun."
His views were echoed by many of the other students:
"I like to work," Sanlin Robinson, 14, said. "I look forward to the gardens that we're going to get to make." She explained that farming runs in her family — her grandfather owned a chicken farm and her mother gardens.
Jahson Ludvig, 18, related his desire to learn basic agriculture skills in order to help out on his father's farm in Bordeaux. "I've gotten a lot more practice," he said, "and at the end, I'll know how to farm much better."
Several youngsters described their favorite activities and what motivated them to join the summer program:
"We deal with a lot of plants and animals and I like plants and animals," Ohuha Abiff, 10, said. "And I also like dealing with the culture of it."
Jevon Christopher, 15, and Peter Turbe, 14, focused on the experience of raising chicks, while Angelo Liburd and Sequan Hughes said they most enjoyed planting. Sequan added that he "liked seeing how the seedlings grew."
The Earn and Learn program, funded by a federal Community Development Block Grant with assistance from the V.I. Agriculture Department, will conclude on Aug. 11.

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