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Virgin Islanders Come Together at Agriculture Fair

Feb. 20, 2005 – Thousands of residents and visitors converged on the grounds of the Agricultural Fair Grounds in Estate Lower Love, St. Croix, on Sunday, for the second day of the 34th annual Agriculture and Food Fair. The fair opened on Saturday – offering an array of Crucian cuisine, livestock, fresh vegetables, fruit and ornamental flowers and one-of-a-kind handmade items. One fair goer remarked the fair is "one of the last bastions of cultural togetherness" in the Virgin Islands.
The three-day fair, which began in the 1950s as a small event to display farmers' products, has grown to be the premier agricultural event in the Caribbean. Close to 50,000 visitors are expected to pass through the gates onto the grounds named in honor of Rafael ““Bucky" Plaskett. The food pavilion is named for Lena Schulterbrandt and the livestock pavilion is named in honor of James Peter Skov. This years' fair brought agriculture enthusiasts from Ghana, St. Kitts and Nevis, Aruba, St. Martin, St. Thomas and other Caribbean countries to display their wares.
"Keeping Agriculture Alive through Technology in 2005" is the fair theme. Organizers say it is important to utilize emerging technology to improve the production of farm products.
Saturdays' opening ceremonies saw a host of dignitaries on the stage under the main tent and about 100 onlookers witnessing the proceedings. Dr. Lawrence Lewis, commissioner of agriculture made opening remarks. Gov. Charles W. Turnbul added comments, along with Pam Richards, tourism commissioner, Michael Thurland, legislative assistant to Delegate Donna M. Christensen and Lorraine Berry, Senate president.
Awards were given to Robert Soffes, Otis Hicks, the family of the late Kai Lawaetz, Rafael Plaskett, James Peter Skov, Robert "Bobby" Henley, Lena Schulterbrandt and Dr. Arthur A Richards.
While the opening ceremonies were proceeding, fair goers roamed the grounds stopping to buy fruit plants, herbs, novelties and food. A popular spot to get some tasty lunch was at the east end of the fairgrounds where mutton, ribs and pork were roasted in a massive brick oven. Patrons were lined up calling out their orders. "The oven is the trick," a buyer from St. Thomas commented on the delectable taste of the meat. The man, who did not give his name, said he comes to St. Croix every year and heads straight to the nine-foot tall brick oven to get some of the Crucian fare to take home with him.
Some main features of the fair are the farmers market, which also houses school and other exhibits, the livestock pavilion, the food pavilion and the over 100 vendors selling jewelry, fragrances, mahogany furniture, local artists paintings, airbrush tattoos and an array of unique items.
Amata Yahoo Ben-Israel sat behind his table adorned with gold, silver, brass and copper jewelry. He was working with copper wire crafting another unique piece. "This is my first time selling my pieces at the fair," said Ben-Israel, "the crowd's reaction has been very good." Ben-Israel said he graduated from high school in St. Croix and now he lives in Atlanta where he has a thriving business selling his jewelry.
Another booth was raising money for its annual youth activities. "Positive Works" is a summer nature and mentor camp for youth six to 18 years old. They were selling T-shirts and bumper stickers with the message "Positive is How I Live."
A "Garden of Eden" awaited those who ventured in the coolness of the farmers market. Crowds of people, many whose arms were laden with potted plants, packed the aisles, browsing the assortment of herbs, fruit bearing trees, tables piled high with vegetables, jams, jellies, stalks of sugar cane piled five-feet high and ornamental plants bringing forth a variety of flowers in every hue.
Parents followed their children who directed them to the school exhibits. Represented were St. Patrick's, Good Hope, Central High, Elena Christian, Evelyn Williams, Arthur Richards, The Vocational and Technical School and other schools. Taking first place honors for its entry in the K-12 category was the Iraq School. Seventh grader, Tijani El-Shabazz explained the school's experiments with agricultural technology which includes growing "space tomatoes," and designing irrigation systems which are operated by a timing device. Rafa Bemouer, school administrator, said the tomato seeds were acquired from NASA through the International Space Station where the seeds were propagated. Bemouer explained that NASA has a program that invites school children to experiment with and track the differences between tomato seeds which were grown on earth versus those that were grown in space. Bemouer said this was the third year the school participated in the fair."
Another cultural attraction that held the interest of visitors was the "old time shop." Just step inside the threshold and you are transported to a simpler time when candies were a penny and a yard of fabric was 25 cents. The familiar black and white copy book stood ready on the wooden counter to mark down customer accounts. Old-fashioned hurricane lamps were displayed as well as "box" cheese, "pet" milk, tomato sauce and tins of sardines. "This reminds me of when I was growing up in St. Thomas," said Glenn Brady as he looked around the store. Brady and his son Shaun came to St. Croix to spend the weekend. "I didn't come for the festival," Brady said, "but there was no way I was missing the fair."
Shaded from the noon-time sun in the rear of the shop a group of young boys sat attentively watching Hugh Clark as he fashioned kites out of dried palm fronds, paper, glue, string and strips of cloth. "I’'ve been making kites since I knew myself," Clark said. "It was an everyday thing, as soon as the winds got high, it was a good time to make a kite." Walter Thomas, 87, was watching on, reminiscing on his own youthful days. "There is a science to make it go up," Thomas said."It's all in the length and weight of the tail." Thomas challenged Clarke, who is at least 40 years his junior, to name the price of the paper that was used to make the old time kites. "2 cents," replied Clark, "that is what I was told."
Linda and Philip Griffen of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., said they have been coming to St. Croix for seven years. "We love it," the Griffens said of St. Croix. They said they are returning home the next day after a six- week stay on island. Being in St. Croix during the Ag Fair was a welcome bonus. "We were just lucky to come at this time," they said.
The fair is jointly sponsored by the V.I. Department of Agriculture and the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service. Other sponsors are Department of Tourism, Hovensa, West Indian Company, V.I.Port Authority, AARP of the Virgin Islands, Banco Popular, Carribean AutoMart, V.I. Lottery and Water and Power Authority.
Monday, Presidents Day is the final day of the fair. Gates open at 9 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Admission is $2 for children, $3 for seniors and $5 for everyone else.
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