Above: produce at the St. Croix Agriculture and Food Fair (All photos by CJ)
By Alexander Britell
ST CROIX — “Easy now. It’s hot.”
That’s the warning from Velma Cruz, who’s been bringing her hot sauce to St Croix’s Agriculture and Food Fair, or AgriFest, for five years.
Cruz, here marketing her eponymous sauces, is one of scores of vendors who have brought their locally made products to the Estate Lower Love in St Croix, the site of one of the largest agricultural fairs in the Caribbean.
The fair has been held annually for 43 years; over the past four decades, a festival once aimed simply at promoting agriculture now celebrates far more: local food, local culture, local crafts and local life on the southernmost of the United States Virgin Islands.
“The beauty about it is that people from all the islands participate right here,” Cruz says. “It’s a big event. What people like about it is everything is local.”
Above: Velma Cruz
The fair has also been a boon for vendors like Anil Bruce, who, with his wife Karen, has created a hand-painted t-shirt business targeted for the event.
True to the theme of the fair, it’s called “Ba’n Ya,” colloquial for “born here.”
“Our first year at the fair was eight or nine years ago, and we’ve continued doing this at local events,” Bruce says. “It’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest agricultural fair in the Caribbean — and it’s great, it’s celebrating agriculture, celebrating the way it used to be, and also innovation and creativity.”
Above: Karen and Anil Bruce of Ba’n Ya
More and more storefronts have popped up in recent years, from book shops to yoga sheds (and local music groups have also joined in) but agriculture remains the essence of the fair.
Above: watch this brief video to get a closer look at the fair thanks to the music of St Croix’s Ebenezer Methodist Steel Orchestra
The fair even features livestock and other animals and a large barn dedicated to locally-grown fruits and vegetables like those of Sejah Farm.
Above: Yvette Brown of Sejah Farm
Yvette Brown has been regularly taking part in the fair, trying to do her part to promote a sector that is still nascent on St Croix and the Virgin Islands, as is the case in much of the region.
Sejah Farm specializes in locally-grown produce — green bananas, carambolas, golden apples and tamarind dot the three booths at the barn.
“Everything you see here is locally grown within the Virgin Islands,” says Brown, who operates a produce market six days a week on the island.
Above: inside the food court at AgriFest
The bright greens, yellows and reds all scream of the potential for the sector on St Croix, where agriculture is “still in the developmental stage,” USV Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen, Jr tells Caribbean Journal.
“Our goal is to increase awareness — our goal is to showcase the potential of agriculture and our culture,” he says. “It’s about encouraging more production, encouraging more marketing and increasing awareness.”
AgriFest has become a magnet event for the USVI and the wider region. Indeed, this weekend has seen vendors not just from St Croix, but islands like Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia and Dominica.
“it’s going extremely well — attendance is up,” Petersen says of the fair, which attracts around 20,000 people each year. “The vendors are enthusiastic.”
Of course, Agriculture still has room to grow in St Croix, as in much of the Caribbean, a region that is home to a burgeoning movement to promote both local farming and food security, which obviously go hand in hand.
“We’re putting in our portion to make a difference [with agriculture],” Brown says. “This fair is more about showing what we can do. And when the community comes in and sees what we can do on the island, they get that eyes-on view of what is possible in the Virgin Islands.”