The University of the Virgin Islands officially launched the V.I. Agriculture Business Center on Thursday at the UVI Great Hall. A crowd of 30 attendees gathered to celebrate the launch.
UVI President David Hall spoke briefly about vision, conception, and birth. “The vision part is you can’t achieve anything great unless there is someone or a group of individuals who really have a vision for what needs to occur.”
Hall said the reason the agriculture center could be celebrated is in part due to Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, who at the time the plan was envisioned was Senate president, and Allison Degazon, who at the time was a senator, and their help with the vision for the business center.
“That vision is really at the core of why we can be here tonight,” said Hall. He said at first, although fortunate to co-chair the plan, he was juggling a busy schedule but admits what made it easier was the vision. “We had to do the work of flushing out each mandate. We also added additional things, but the work that had been done by Senator Frett-Gregory and her staff created a pathway, and we used that guide to do the work.”
Hall also acknowledged this couldn’t be possible without all the other people who worked on the plan.
He then moved on to conception. Hall reflected on when the idea of the plan was conceived in one of their first town hall meetings. He spoke of a woman farmer who expressed that farmers need assistance in running and sustaining their businesses. “That was the first time the idea was articulated, at least regarding the agriculture plan. That is what started the ball moving,” he said.
Finally, the birth of the plan took place. Hall said, “The thing about birth, though, is you really have to feed the child.” Hall said that after presenting the plan to the Legislature and the governor, the question was whether this was going to be a nice and shiny document or whether they would have funding behind it. Through continuous conversation, they have been able to secure funding.
Hall said that this is only one small but critical part of the plan. One of the things the plan calls for is a local food and farm council. The Agriculture Business Center is in the process of an education pilot program, additional staffing, a grant matching fund, a public/private investment fund, and a data collection aspect.
Also present at the launch was Frett-Gregory, who provided some words of her own. “This is a good evening for not only myself but a good evening for the people of the Virgin Islands,” she said.
“One of the commitments in getting this done was that we funded it. The first piece of legislation that was passed in the 35th Legislature was funding of the mandates within the agriculture plan,” said Frett-Gregory.
“We are here today because of due diligence and the fact that we really wanted to see movement with agriculture in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
The creation of the Virgin Islands Agriculture Business Center will provide local farmers and fishers with small business education and resources. The implementation of this center is “the goal of the 2021 Agricultural Plan directed by Act 8404 to increase agricultural productivity locally to make food security and sovereignty a reality for those living in the Virgin Islands,” according to the agency’s press release.
A launch celebration for St. Thomas and St. John will be announced in January.