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Ag Department Breaks Ground on Organic Garden

Pictured is Agriculture Commissioner Louis E. Petersen Jr. (left) and farmer Paul Samms.St. John residents will have to wait awhile before they’ll be able to buy fresh, organic produce grown close to home, but the idea is closer to fruition.
The Agriculture Department broke ground Thursday on land adjacent to the Agriculture Station in Coral Bay leased to seven St. John residents who want to farm organically.
Farmers still have to plant and subsequently harvest before residents will have locally-grown tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and other produce on their menus.
“We as a department are going to be there to support you,” Agriculture Commissioner Louis E. Petersen Jr. told the more than three-dozen people gathered for the ceremony.
According to Petersen, the department will grow seedlings at the Agriculture Station to help the farmers get their efforts under way.
The leased garden plots wrap around the sides and the rear of the Agriculture Station, which occupies two acres near Love City Mini-Mart in Coral Bay.
A farmer’s market at the site will be developed so the farmers will have a way to sell their produce, Petersen said.
The people selected to lease quarter-acre plots of land for $20 a year are Carol Beckowitz, Maureen Carsels, Colleen Brooker, Peter Amedee, Jacqueline Clendinen, Delroy Anthony, and Paul Samms.
Samms spoke at length about the benefits of eating organically grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
“I see that major diseases are caused by unhealthy eating habits,” Samms said.
While the Agriculture Department leases land to farmers on St. Thomas and St. Croix, this is the first time it has done so on St. John. And Petersen and others said this is the first effort at organic gardening for the department.
It took three years for the Agriculture Department to get to the groundbreaking point. After it discovered that a neighbor, Rupert Marsh, had encroached on the property with his septic tank, an exchange of land was negotiated so the garden project could proceed.
There are still obstacles ahead. Petersen said that the department needs to install a silt fence around the gardens but doesn’t have money in the budget. He asked that anyone with spare silt fencing donate it to the project.
The Agriculture Department sponsored a farmer’s market in Cruz Bay Park on Aug. 6 with mainly farmers from St. Thomas and St. Croix selling their wares. Petersen said it was a success, and he expects to hold another one.
In other Coral Bay news, Sen. Craig Barshinger announced at the groundbreaking ceremony that the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program will fund the majority of the estimated $8 million to $9 million needed for a 170-acre territorial park in Estate Carolina on land owned by the Egbert Marsh Trust. Barshinger said the local government will have to come up with $2.2 million. He said after the ceremony that a bill to fund the $2.2 million can now go forward because of the Forest Legacy Program’s commitment.
Reach the Agriculture Station on St. John at 776-6274.

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