University of the Virgin Islands’ (UVI) Dr. Louis Petersen, assistant director of Community Extension Services, St. Thomas-St. John, introduced Arthur A. Richards Jr. High School agriculture students to the AgDiscovery Program at an assembly on Dec. 5 in the school auditorium.
Encouraging students to apply for participation in the summer agricultural training, Petersen, the former commissioner of agriculture for the U.S. Virgin Islands, chronicled his experiences beginning from high school that led him to be a prominent leader and proponent of agriculture at home and abroad.
AgDiscovery sanctioned the UVI to participate in the program this year, according to Dr. Petersen. Several mainland institutions have been involved in the summer program sponsored through collaborative agreements between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) and the host institutions since inception in 2002.
“AgDiscovery looks at all career programs in agriculture. It introduces and explores the wide world of agriculture,” said Petersen, an entomologist who majored in horticulture and apiculture, with a minor in plant pathology. “Through its residential program, AgDiscovery also gives you a feel of what university life is all about.”
Students who participate gain experience through hands-on labs, workshops and field trips. UVI hosted 20 AgDiscovery students in August who visited the poultry farm at Arthur A. Richards Jr. High School guided by Velda Hendricks, the school’s former agriculture teacher, who is now the Education Department’s director of agriculture for the St. Croix school district. She also helped entice the visiting students into the local culture by arranging for field trips and introducing them to Crucian food, mocko-jumbie and other performances.
Agriculture students at the St. Croix Educational Complex, Elena Christian and John H. Woodson junior high schools have been exposed to the AgDiscovery program through similar presentations by Petersen.
A 1977 graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School, Petersen said his venture into agriculture began during a lengthy teachers’ strike in 1975 when he and classmates began to till arable soil around the school’s campus for farming and to keep occupied. Their enthusiasm soon caught the eye of then-governor Cyril E. King, who, recognizing their entrepreneurial spirit, gave the group summer jobs to continue planting on and landscaping their school’s ground. Thereafter, Petersen and his schoolmates — about five of them — were inspired to thread into the pastures of agriculture for their career pathways.
“We sometimes as young people or students wait for adults to take the lead and show us the way,” Petersen told the students. “We as young people at that time took the lead and showed the way. After that, the teachers followed wanting to be our advisors, and then the principal followed. So it is never too early to think of yourself as a leader or someone who can set an example and lead the wary.”
UVI, along with 19 other mainland universities, participated in the AgDiscovery Program this summer. Petersen is encouraging local students to apply for participation in the program at UVI. They will live on campus with all the amenities paid for by the sponsoring agency, and they will avoid footing the cost to travel to and from mainland institutions. AgDiscovery at UVI was conducted Aug. 1 – 13, 2016, for 13 to 17-year-old students.
Applications will be available in January for the 2017 AgDiscovery program at www.aphis.usda.gov/agdiscovery. The deadline to submit applications is March 1, 2017.
For assistance in applying for participation in AgDiscovery 2017, interested parents may contact VIDE St. Croix District Agriculture Director Hendricks at 773-1095, ext. 7094.