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Thousands Come to Agriculture Fair for Fresh Produce, Caribbean Specialties

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Feb. 16, 2008 — A bit after 10 a.m. Saturday, a crowd of several thousand island residents — a wide and representative swath of the St. Croix population — were already strolling among the food stands, vendor stalls and government information tents on the Agriculture Department's grounds, as the opening ceremonies for St. Croix Agrifest 2008 got underway.
This is the 37th annual St. Croix agriculture fair.
In the ceremonial tent, half the space was filled with chairs and benches for a few hundred spectators, and on the other half, a large stage was set up and filled with honorees. Some of the most prominent among the many dignitaries onstage for the opening ceremony of St. Croix's biggest festival, aside from the Christmas festival, were Delegate Donna M. Christensen, Gov. John deJongh Jr., Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis and Senate President Usie Richards. Packing the stage were a veritable who's who of visiting agriculture officials, local senators and commissioners, leaders of nonprofit organizations and their spouses.
Deacon Denis Griffith of St. Ann's Catholic Church led the invocational prayer, then the national anthem and other ceremonial rituals were taken care of. Then some words were spoken about the contributions of the individuals whose names have been given to the various parts of the festival.
Every year the fair renames its pavilions and grounds for Crucians who have played an important role in agriculture or in the agriculture fair. Some were honored posthumously this year; others are still going strong after decades of involvement in farming and in the fair. The fairgrounds were named in memory of Samuel Moore, who participated in the fair for 25 years as a crop and livestock farmer. Moore passed away last year.
Moore had livestock besides cattle, said Kofi Boateng, executive vice president of the V.I. Agricultural Festival organization.
"He had pigs, poultry; geese, ducks and laying hens," Boateng said. "He grew some of the biggest tomatoes you've ever seen."
George Moore and Margaret V.P. Moore accepted the award on behalf of their father.
"My dad has very big shoes for me to step into," said George Moore. "On Saturday, Sunday and Monday this is sacred ground in honor of my father, Samuel A. Moore."
The livestock pavilion is named for Henry Nelthropp, who passed away in 2006. Nelthropp raised Senepol cattle and dairy cattle on his Corn Hill Dairy Farm from 1968 to 2002.
Sue Lakos, the fair's director of livestock exhibits, said she remembered that Nelthropp milked the cows every morning as long as he was able.
"His favorite morning treat was a cup of coffee 'sweetened' with a few squirts of milk right from the cow, and a loaf of titti bread with ham and Swiss cheese," she said.
The fair's farmer's market is named in honor of local farmers John and Pearl Duberry.
Errol Chichester, local farmer and director of crop exhibits for the fair, spoke a few words about the Duberrys. John and Pearl Duberry first participated in the market in 1983, selling sweet potatoes in a shared stall. In 1984 and every year thereafter, the Duberrys sold an ever-growing selection of potted herbs, ornamentals and other plants. They retired in 2006.
The food pavilion is named this year for Lorreley Hall. The native-born Crucian has been making, cooking and baking rum cakes, sweet breads, sweet potato pudding, kallaloo, homemade local drinks and more for more than 10 years now.
At the ceremony, Vincent Doward was named livestock farmer of the year, and for the third year in a row Oswald Jackson won produce farmer of the year.
After the speeches, gifts and thank-yous were complete and everyone bowed their head for the benediction, the politicians and potentates joined the growing crowd of families out for the beautiful sunny afternoon at the fair. Christensen has a booth at the fair, and residents could pop in to say hello or speak their mind. DeJongh spent the afternoon going around the fair talking to citizens and poking his head into all the exhibition tables and booths.
Music and entertainment began on three separate stages beginning at 2 p.m. One showcased the Fairwear fashion show, featuring St. Croix residents modeling locally made fashions incorporating madras and other traditional elements. The cultural couture contest is in its sixth year. Afterward quelbe musicians Jamesie and the Allstars played traditional scratch-music favorites. On another stage, Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights struck up some old-time tunes as the St. Croix Heritage Dancers gave a grand quadrille dance. On a third, the Ebenezer Methodist Steel Orchestra filled the breezy air with steel-pan versions of classics like "Rivers of Babylon."
The sprawling grounds were filled with visitors and vendors, mothers holding babies, toddlers with ice-cream cones, sisters walking arm in arm, young men and boys running around with their friends, and revelers of all shapes and ages. The air was filled with the sounds of people talking music from many directions and, depending where you were, the smells of fried food, fresh herbs or barnyard animals.
Over the three days of the fair, judges award prizes for the best animals at the livestock pavilion, the best vendors in the food pavilion and, on Saturday, the best entries in the farmer's market.
Within the large hangar enclosing the farmer's market, dozens of stalls sold all manner of locally grown produce. Tables are mounded high with fresh tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, basil, parsley and herbs, along with plenty of more exotic and uniquely Caribbean fare, from just-opening Jamaican akee pods to ripe custard apple, star apple and sapote. Many hundreds pored over the fresh local produce all afternoon.
"I come over every year for the fair," said Wynn John, visiting from St. Thomas. "We've been doing it for as long as I can remember. I usually come the whole three days."
Local produce is better for you and tastier than what gets shipped in, John said.
"Local fruits tend to be sweeter because we pick it fresh as it ripens," he said. "When it's flown in, they have to pick it earlier to last the journey and it never ripens the same. We don't use all the pesticides and chemicals with most of the local produce, too. Eating local is the way to go, if only we could sustain ourselves with what we grow here."
At the other end of the building are educational displays put together by students at each St. Croix public school.
Here are the winning farmer's market entries and the winners of the Fairwear fashion competition:
Produce
— First place: Henry Schuster, Echo Valley Farm
— Second place: The V.I. Farmers Cooperative
— Third place: Gloria Neale Felix, Hope Vale Farm
Ornamental Plants
— First place: Mark Comstock, Shady Lane Nursery
— Second place: Grantly Samuel, GLG Plants and Produce
— Third place: Angelin Rampersad
Off-Island Exhibitions
— First place: Antigua
— Second place: the British Virgin Islands
— Third place: St. Thomas
Fairwear Fashion Show
Elementary School
— Winner: Mallika Payne
— First runner-up: Sh'Neah John-Lewis
— Second runner-up: Aiana Semper
Junior High School
— Winner: Antonia Prospere
High School
— Winner: Coralis Herrera
— First runner-up: Alea Hodge
— Second runner-up: Monica Christopher
Open competition
— Winner: Stacy Valmont
— First runner-up: Shermaine Samuel-King
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