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Sunday Rain Fails to Deter Crowds at Ag Fair

Feb. 17, 2008 — Sunday is seen by many as the big day of the big fair — St. Croix's Agricultural and Food Fair — and while morning rains reaching into the early afternoon threatened to dampen the festivities, it was just a threat.
The midway was thronged with Crucians and people from surrounding islands looking to purchase anything from plants and produce to exotic lotions and handcrafted items.
This year's theme is "The Business of Agriculture, the Way Forward." The focus of the fair, now in its 37th year, were the agriculture exhibits.
The fair was the perfect venue to kick-off the Honey Bee Project under the Department of Agriculture.
"Without bees we wouldn't have all the lovely produce and plants on display here," said Wanda Wright, beekeeper in the project. "We're here to educate the community about the importance of bees."
Wright said she has a "Wandaism" that goes, "No bee, no we."
The pilot program has been around for a couple of months, Wright said. There are five novice and five experienced beekeepers that work together in the beekeeping industry. The industry has jobs for a number of different skilled workers, she said.
All sorts of beekeeping equipment was displayed in the tent, from smokers to gloves and bees. A frame from a hive with hundreds of bees in it attracted a lot of attention. On display hung a beekeeper's white jumpsuit with a bee veil attached to a brimmed hat.
Fairgoers were given popsicle sticks to sample golden-hued almond honey and sea grape honey. On sale were hand creams and body-massage lotions made by Francis Jackman from honey and different herbs.
"The potential in this industry is great," Wright said. Contributing sponsors to the project are the University of the Virgin Islands, the V.I. Farmers Cooperative and the V.I. Apiculture Association.
The farmers' market was crowded with people and booth after booth of shiny, green, flowering ornamental plants, blossoming fruit trees, fragrant herbs and blemish-free vegetables. It was a cornucopia of the Virgin Islands and neighboring islands' products — edible and ornamental.
For the third year in a row, Oswald Jackson has been chosen Farmer of the Year. The quality and quantity of the produce at his booth was evidence of why he won the award. All of the produce for sale at his booth appeared flawless. He had yellow non-acid and red tomatoes; young, creamy, tan-colored butternut squash; shiny purple eggplant; huge pumpkins; and green peppers.
Jackson, originally from Antigua, has been farming off Centerline Road on St. Croix for six years. Farming on St. Croix is better than his home island because of assistance farmers receive here, he said. In the beginning he only had a rotor tiller, then he found a benefactor who helped him with farm equipment.
"I believe God has chosen me and put me in this field," Jackson said. "I am humbled by the award, and feel good about how I have touched lives."
Taking home the silver cup for the grand champion of ornamental plants was Shady Lane Nursery. In its third year participating at the fair, Shady Lane also took a first place blue ribbon for ornamental horticulture. Mark Comstock and his wife, Niki, are owners of Shady Lane, located between Beeston Hill and the Department of Public Works' motor vehicle lot.
The award-winning display Comstock set up looked like stadium seating, with tiers of potted orange-flowered ixoras, feathery ferns, yellow lantana, red hibiscus and salmon- and apricot-colored bougainvillea.
"It is a real honor that the Department of Agriculture chose us as the number-one grower of ornamentals," Comstock said.
Comstock also had on display Shady — a hybrid yellow, red-centered hibiscus flower the size of a dessert plate.
"We grow our own plants from native seeds and cuttings, which makes a big difference," Comstock said.
Fairgoer Tracy Crump said she came to buy a lime tree and was very happy with the selection: "This one is perfect. It even has blossoms already."
The annual event has been hailed as the Caribbean's largest agricultural fair and is recognized as the third-largest event in the Virgin Islands, surpassed only by the V.I. Carnival and St. Croix Festival. Last year's fair recorded more than 55,000 visitors.
The principal sponsors are the Agriculture Department, the UVI Cooperative Extension Service, the Tourism Department, Hovensa, Vitelco and the West Indian Company. Also helping out was the St. Croix chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
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