A new partnership has been established between the University of the Virgin Islands School of Agriculture and the family of former U.S. Virgin Islands Commissioner of Agriculture Oscar E. Henry, the university announced in a recent press release.
The initiative continues a decades-long relationship between the university and the Henry family and involves the use and management of livestock and agricultural resources located on the family estate in LaGrange, Frederiksted on St. Croix, according to the press release.
Since the mid-1970s, the family farm has become a crucial research resource for the university. The new partnership will see the School of Agriculture maintaining approximately 60 acres of land, including 30 Senepol cattle and a herd of 40 St. Croix White Hairsheep, for research, teaching and extension activities, the press release stated.
“We could not be more pleased to strengthen our longstanding partnership with the Henry family who have been loyal partners in our shared vision to develop the agricultural sector in the Virgin Islands,” said UVI President David Hall. “The agreement will provide even greater opportunities for faculty research, student experimental learning and community outreach, complementing the full array of academic programs that UVI is offering in this critical field. We look forward to our continued collaboration.”
“This agreement with the Henry family will greatly benefit the St. Croix community and the wider Virgin Islands through the utilization of the farm as an Agricultural Research, Teaching and Extension Center,” said Usman Adamu, dean of UVI’s School of Agriculture and director of the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) and Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) while adding that the arrangement brings a significant enhancement of agricultural research, teaching, and extension opportunities for UVI students and faculty.
Reflecting on the long history of the farm and its relationship with UVI, Olivia Henry, who was program leader of the Home Economic Program within CES until she retired from the University in 1988, expressed immense pleasure and satisfaction with the new partnership. “The farm was my husband’s pride and joy. Visiting farmers from around the world always expressed their admiration for the layout of the farm. We are excited to see it now serve as a learning hub and to further the legacy that my husband and I began. When I worked at the university this was my dream,” she stated.
Students enrolled in the School of Agriculture academic programs such as agroecology, horticulture, agrobusiness and animal science will benefit from hands-on experiences provided by the farm, the release stated.
Having been an integral part of St. Croix’s agricultural community for decades, the Henry family has seen significant changes in the territory’s agricultural landscape and expressed concerns that people often do not recognize the importance of the sector to every aspect of life in the Virgin Islands, according to the release.
“Agriculture is also about textiles, production and business. My dream is to one day have an annex right here on the farm where students can also live. The possibilities are exciting,” said Mrs. Henry, a registered dietitian who earned a master’s degree from Columbia University and worked closely with the Cooperative Extension Service to create recipes from its produce. She is also the author of several cookbooks and a publication on native herbs.
Since Oscar Henry passed away in 2013, eldest daughter LeVelle has been working tirelessly to ensure the upkeep of the farm, which entails managing the sheep, cattle and fruit harvesting. Looking ahead, the Henrys are optimistic about the partnership’s opportunities, including the possibility for cutting-edge research to be conducted at the farm and for students to learn about all aspects of farming, especially advanced technologies such as autonomous tractors, satellite technology and drones, the press release stated.
“We’re not only continuing our father’s legacy but also building on the foundation he laid,” shared Alice Henry, who holds a doctorate in public health. “It’s exciting that our farm will be involved in research that benefits the community and adds to the literature within the field of agriculture. Our father would be pleased.”
“This 10-year agreement is a win-win partnership for UVI and the Henry family as we deepen our relationship, which is based on our shared vision to strengthen and enhance the Virgin Islands’ agricultural economy. We foresee that the fruits of this partnership will significantly help us to fulfill our three key mission areas: research, teaching, and extension,” said Adamu.
While the Henry family collaboration is based on St. Croix, it extends to the entire university, with a view to addressing agricultural issues and needs across the Virgin Islands and beyond. The Henry family farm has been used in the past by the AES; the CES has also used the farm for various outreach projects. The School of Agriculture, which has access to farmland resources on its Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix as well as at Estate Longford and offers four associate degree options, five bachelor of science degrees, and six certificates, is intent on building up its enrollment by extending its recruitment efforts throughout the Caribbean, the release stated.
Oscar Henry was one of the organizers of the Virgin Islands Senepol Association, first Chairman of the Territorial Advisory Committee of the then UVI Research and Land-Grant Affairs, and a board member of the Soil Conservation Service. Olivia Henry served as a board member of Our Town Frederiksted and volunteered with St. Croix School of the Arts in addition to other community organizations, it said.