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Grand Opening of Virgin Islands Agriculture Business Center in St. Thomas on January 18

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The University of the Virgin Islands, in a synergistic partnership with the V.I. Small Business Development Center (VI SBDC), is poised to inaugurate the St. Thomas branch of the Virgin Islands Agriculture Business Center (VI AgBC) on Thursday, January 18.

This momentous occasion is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Orville E. Kean Campus of the University of the Virgin Islands, particularly at the UVI 13D Research and Strategy Innovation Center in St. Thomas.

The opening of this center marks a significant step in bolstering agricultural productivity within the Virgin Islands. This initiative, emerging from the forward-thinking “2021 Agricultural Plan” as mandated by Act 8404, targets the enhancement of local agriculture. The overarching goal is to establish food security and sovereignty for the Virgin Islands community.

The VI AgBC has been meticulously crafted to empower local farmers and fishers. It provides an array of services at no cost to its clients, as stated by UVI. These services encompass individual consulting, business education, and technical support, all aimed at nurturing the growth of the territory’s agricultural and fishing industries.

Farmers and fishers seeking assistance will find a wealth of resources at the center. These include guidance in obtaining business licenses, crafting business plans, and training to secure financing through diverse channels such as funding, grants, and loans. Moreover, the center will facilitate training in vital business skills such as accounting, bookkeeping, cash flow analysis, and more, all crucial for successful business operations and expansion.

Strategically located to serve clients throughout St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John, the VI AgBC will have service centers on each island, staffed with skilled consultants and supportive personnel. This initiative is a key component of a broader effort to steer the territory towards a future of enhanced food security and sovereignty.

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Agriculture

Dr. David Hall’s Tenure Marks a New Chapter in UVI’s Agricultural Evolution

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As the curtain falls on his esteemed career, Dr. David Hall prepares to bid adieu to his role as President of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), marking his final appearance at the Agriculture and Food Fair in an official capacity. His retirement, slated for just a few months away, signifies the end of an influential era in UVI’s history.

During the opening ceremony of Agrifest 2024, Dr. Hall expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the Virgin Islands community for allowing him the honor to contribute to this “special and sacred industry.” Under his leadership, UVI has played a pivotal role in energizing Agrifest, highlighting the university’s commitment to advancing agricultural education and innovation within the territory through the launch of pioneering associate and bachelor of science degrees in agriculture.

Dr. Hall’s contributions extend beyond his presidency. As co-chair of the Food and Farm Council, a key component of the territory’s Agriculture Plan, he has been instrumental in elevating the profile of agriculture in the Virgin Islands. His humorous admission of not having grown anything personally in the last three years was coupled with a hopeful message about the enduring impact of the initiatives he has championed.

Tributes to Dr. Hall’s legacy were abundant, with Commissioner of Agriculture Louis Petersen and Senate President Novelle Francis acknowledging his visionary leadership and lamenting his departure. Dr. Hall was honored with gifts from local artisans, including a mahogany clock from Mr. Petersen, symbolizing the timeless nature of his contributions to UVI and the agricultural sector.

Reflecting on his tenure, Dr. Hall shared his pride in the university’s enhanced focus on agriculture, from the establishment of the School of Agriculture to the expanded academic offerings that now obviate the need for external participation in the fair. His personal involvement in the Agriculture Plan and the Food and Farm Council stands as a testament to his commitment to fostering sustainable agricultural practices and education in the Virgin Islands.

Dr. Hall looks forward to witnessing the continued growth and evolution of UVI’s agricultural programs, a legacy of his dedication to nurturing the seeds of innovation and education for the benefit of future generations in the Virgin Islands.

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Agriculture

Celebrating Agricultural Excellence at the 52nd St. Croix Agrifest

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At the forefront of Caribbean agricultural excellence, the 52nd Annual Agriculture and Food Fair in St. Croix concluded on a high note, with Steven Charles, Fransisco Dorado, and Charles Burton receiving top honors as Beekeeper, Livestock Farmer, and Crop Farmer of the year, respectively. The fair has evolved into a premier agricultural showcase, attracting participants from across the Caribbean, including St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, and Grenada, to display their products and share in the spirit of agricultural innovation and sustainability.

The event was graced by notable figures such as BVI Premier Dr. Natalio Wheatley, who highlighted the critical importance of sustainability in Caribbean agriculture. The Department of Agriculture lauded the honorees for embodying this year’s theme, “Agriculture: Our Future and So Much More,” through their substantial contributions to the agricultural sector of the territory.

Praise was also extended by Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, who recognized the honorees for their unwavering dedication and pivotal role in advancing the territory’s agricultural frontiers.

Steven Charles, celebrated for his decade-long commitment to beekeeping, aims to expand his operations to enable honey exports from St. Croix. Fransisco Dorado, celebrated for his lifelong dedication to farming, has made significant contributions to the livestock sector in the USVI. Charles Burton, originally from the Dominican Republic and the 2024 Crop Farmer of the Year, acknowledged the local government’s increased involvement in agriculture, which has supported his and other farmers’ endeavors.

In a touching tribute, this year’s Agrifest Farmers Market was dedicated to Gloria Florita Neil-Felix, a longstanding participant and former Farmer of the Year, remembered for her dedication and bountiful harvests over three decades.

The fair also honored Melba Diana Williams and Avril Williams for their service and dedication as food vendors, and the livestock pavilion was named in honor of the Four H Teen Ambassadors, celebrating their fifteen years of dedication to the fair’s success.

A significant moment at the fair was the acknowledgment of Dr. David Hall’s retirement as president of the University of the Virgin Islands, marking the end of an era in the territory’s agricultural education and development.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. emphasized the theme of sustainability and agricultural self-sufficiency, outlining government initiatives to support farmers and increase local agricultural production by 33% as part of Vision 2040 and the Agriculture Plan. He encouraged Virgin Islanders to engage more deeply with the agricultural sector, underscoring the importance of sustainability and support for the next generation of farmers.

The annual Agrifest, held at the Rudolph Shulterbrandt Agricultural Complex in Estate Lower Love, St. Croix, continues to be a beacon of agricultural prowess, innovation, and community in the Caribbean.

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Agriculture

Launch of the Premier Island Food Systems Summit on St. Croix

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Marking a significant milestone in the advancement of food sustainability, the Virgin Islands Good Food (VIGF) organization is proud to announce the launch of the first-ever Island Food Systems Summit. This groundbreaking event is scheduled to unfold at the University of the Virgin Islands Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix, running from February 19 to 21, 2024.

This summit emerges hot on the heels of the 52nd Annual Agricultural and Food Fair, wrapping up on February 19, and aims to forge a dynamic and inclusive forum. Stakeholders from across the US Virgin Islands, the broader Caribbean, and the mainland United States are set to converge, with the goal of fostering a resilient and prosperous territorial food system through shared insights and collaborative efforts.

A roster of esteemed participants, including officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Black Food & Justice Alliance, the University of Iowa Extension, and other esteemed partners, will engage in panel discussions. Virgin Islands’ own agricultural community and food producers will stand shoulder to shoulder with these guests, addressing key issues such as the launch of a USDA Regional Food Business Center, enhancing cross-sector partnerships, bolstering farmer initiatives, crafting effective disaster response measures, and promoting youth involvement in food sustainability.

Adding a flavorful twist to the proceedings, the summit will also host “learning dinners” at select local establishments on Tuesday evening, before reaching its zenith with a gala benefit dinner. This finale will be orchestrated by the acclaimed St. Croix chef, Ralph Motta, promising an unforgettable culinary experience.

In an admirable show of support, VIGF is covering the travel expenses for farmers traveling from the St. Thomas/St. John area to attend the summit. Furthermore, through the Summit Scholarships program, VIGF has graciously funded the $100 event ticket for over 30 farmers across the territory, underlining its commitment to inclusive participation.

Backed by a diverse array of sponsors, including the V.I. Department of Tourism and the Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network, the summit is a beacon of the region’s ongoing efforts to enhance agriculture, conserve natural resources, and fortify food security. This event not only symbolizes a leap forward in the Virgin Islands’ journey towards food security and sustainability but also highlights VIGF’s dedication to cultivating a vibrant, equitable, and sustainable local food ecosystem.

For detailed information on the 3-day agenda, ticket acquisition, and more, visit the Summit’s dedicated website at www.islandfoodsummit.com.

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