The Virgin Islands Annual Agricultural Fair is set to begin this Memorial Day weekend, Saturday through Monday, May 26 to 28, at the fairgrounds in Estate Lower Love on St. Croix.
“It will not look the same,” said Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Robles. “We are outside of the norm because of the damage sustained by the two Category 5 hurricanes.”
The Agricultural Fair is normally held on Presidents’ Day weekend in February, but in September back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc on the fairgrounds and buildings as well as destroying the farmers’ produce, which is the focal point of the fair.
“The farmers were just not ready,” Robles said.
The theme of the 2018 Fair is a sign of the times. “V.I. Agriculture Strong. Rebound, Rebuild, Regrow.” The fairgrounds are named this year in honor of Sharon M. Browne, the
long-time and highly dedicated Food Vendors chairwoman who died recently. Browne’s death struck a blow to the board and the Agriculture family, Robles said.
The fair has been widely touted as the largest in the Caribbean. This year the fair will be reduced, Robles said, but several neighboring islands have committed to participating, including St. Kits/Nevis, Guyana, Grenada, Antigua/Barbuda and St. Lucia.
Attendees to the fair will see some changes. Entrance to the fair will be $4 for everyone. Robles said they are suspending children’s and senior’s prices for this year. The Farmers Market will not look the same due to the damages to the building however there will be produce as well as fruit trees for sale.
The promenade of yellow wooden vendors booths did not survive the hurricanes. They have been replaced by tents. All judging will be suspended, except for the Vienna Cake competition. The entertainment stages are reduced from three to two, located on the east and west sides of the grounds.
Vendors are down about 20 percent and the committee will look at this year’s attendance rates to see if there is a downturn. The fair usually has approximately 5,500 visitors a day.
Corporate sponsors with display tents include Viya, the Department of Tourism, FEMA, WAPA and the V.I. Lottery.
Crop Farmer of the Year and Livestock Farmer of the Year will be bestowed on two deserving farmers.
“We will continue to honor, respect and encourage the farmers”, Robles said.
Children attending the fair will have lots to do thanks to the addition of three acres of new amusement rides provided by St. Croix native Zephyrinus “Zepho” Thomas. The rides were first seen at the St. Croix Festival in December and more recently at St. Thomas Carnival.
Commissioner Robles gave credit to the hard work and dedication of the farmers, the fair board and the employees. He said everyone came together under the toughest circumstances to pull this off with a greatly reduced budget. He said the farmers are the central focus of the activity and the fair is a way to thank them for their efforts.
“Without everyone’s cooperation this could not happen”, he said.
Robles encouraged everyone to attend this year’s fair and get some much-needed stress relief.