Families feasted on fresh local foods, farmers did a brisk day of business, and tiny piglets wagged their tails at the St. Thomas-St. John Agriculture and Food Fair on Saturday.
The two-day Fair’s kickoff attracted hundreds to the rolling hills of the Reichhold Center grounds.
This year, the 28th Annual Fair is paying special tribute to Gene Emanuel, the beloved University of the Virgin Islands professor and radio personality, who passed away in July.
Emanuel had served as the Fair’s master of ceremonies for at least a decade.
“We must try our best to carry on the name of Dr. Gene Emanuel,” V.I. Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen said during the Fair’s opening ceremony. “This was his commitment, and this was his dedication.”
Jennilee Robinson and Kristi Birchenough were two of the many Fair-goers enjoying Emanuel’s local-foods legacy. The pair were taking a break from eating – or “grazing,” as Birchenough said with a laugh – to coo over a small brown pig that was noisily slurping water from its bowl.
The friends had shared a small plate from Yabba’s, which included a bit of everything the vendor offered, including “peas balls,” as well as fresh guava juice and a frozen sour sop drink.
The women likened the event to a state fair on the mainland, but with a distinctly Caribbean twist.
“Instead of a hot dog or candy bar on a stick, it’s all fresh and naturally grown,” Robinson said.
Up the hill, Jeanne Fatie Delsoin was busy helping customers who came to the booth of farmer Charles Leonard, whose wares include fresh eggs, Cornish hens, lemon grass, garlic chives, and homemade hot sauce.
Leonard said his day had started well before sunrise at the Market Square farmers market, and that it was not going to end any time soon. He planned to go back to his 2 ½ acre farm in Estate Bordeaux to harvest greens, prepare potted plants, and extract fresh honey – all of which he and Delsoin will sell again on Sunday at the Fair, which is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Back down the hill, vendors such as Diann Isidore of Love Livin, turned produce grown by farmers like Leonard into culinary delights. The company’s Life Food Plates were heaped with colorful raw dishes that included nori chips, kale salsa, and cashew and cabbage rolls.
While many teenagers enjoyed the day in casual T-shirts and shorts, Charlotte Amalie High School junior Tj Thompson, a member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, sported a crisp uniform.
Earlier in the day, Tj and three of his fellow cadets had presented the colors as the National Anthem and Virgin Islands March played to fair attendees and vendors.
Tj and two other cadets also enjoyed the Fair’s mix of local food, fellowship, and learning – all of which had been fostered by agriculture advocate Emanuel.
“It’s like education and entertainment put together,” Tj said. “And it’s nice to spend time outside with your family.”