Under a cloudless sky bursting with bright sunlight, the First Lady’s Herb and Tea Garden at Government House was dedicated Wednesday morning on a day seeming tailor-made for the occasion.
The garden is the island’s sweet-smelling answer to this year’s national Earth Day theme: "Earth Day: a Billion Acts of Green."
The garden project is a joint partnership between Cecile deJongh and the Department of Agriculture, part of the first lady’s continuing emphasis on healthy eating. The initiative seeks to raise awareness of the importance of contributing to green initiatives in support of a healthy planet and to inspire Virgin Islanders, especially youngsters to get involved.
Eleven youngsters from the Gladys Abraham Elementary School Garden Club needed no such encouragement. They burst into the garden, ready to work. Clad in garden club T-shirts, they each picked up one of the shiny orange-handled spades laid out in front of the garden and got to it.
Holes were dug, and pots of basil, rosemary, mint, lemongrass, celery, parsley and thyme were overturned by the careful young gardeners and placed into the nutrient-filled soil.
The kids are pros. The school garden club has taken first prize at the Carnival Culture Fair for the past two years.
"And they’re really excited about Carnival," Gladys Abraham health teacher and garden guru Vincent Henley said. "This year we made our own hot sauce. The kids take such pride in their work," Henley said, as he supervised the planting. "We have to defend our crown at Carnival this year."
The governor and first lady worked side by side with the youngsters, and it was hard to tell who was advising whom, but it appeared the first couple were picking up a few gardening tips along the way.
After his labors, the governor said, "It is clear from the level of excitement and natural interest in gardening amongst these students, and students territory-wide, that we are tapping into a passion for caring for one’s environment and one’s health.”
DeJongh added that the department of Agriculture is “elevating the conversation” about locally grown fruits and vegetables through its Virgin Fresh line, and highlighting the wide array of opportunities available through agribusiness ventures.
“Today’s ceremony is truly a fitting and symbolic tribute to Earth Week," deJongh said.
The governor, the first lady and Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Luther Renee thanked the Agriculture Department employees who helped create the space – Asinia Potter, Xavier Ramsay Troy King and Ruth Gomez, Department of Planning and Natural Resources environmental specialist.
Potter spoke about the metaphysical element of the project. "It’s a reuniting of heaven and earth," he said. "We give back; it’s a continuing cycle. It’s life."
The governor and first lady elicited a pledge from the students to tend and weed the garden.
"We’ll take care of it," Henley said. After Carnival, he said the group is planning to sell its produce at Market Square at the Saturday markets.
The first lady highlighted the importance of providing educational opportunities outside the classroom.
"Eighteen months ago," she said, "we built and set up a composter at Government House to raise awareness on recycling food waste to create nutrient-rich soil, suitable for use in a home or school garden. With this garden, we take one more step in trying to set an example of environmental stewardship and maintaining a healthy lifestyle."
Cecile deJongh said the herbs will be given to the Abraham youngsters to sell, "as well as adding a nice touch in Government House caterings. We can point out that they’re ‘homegrown.’"
Renee praised the youngsters for their enthusiasm and efforts and presented them with two gardening kits, "for upkeep in the garden."
He said, "This is an important occasion, celebrating Easter planting, a potent symbol of life renewed."
It is wonderful to see the cultural education of our youth being brought to the forefront of this initiative as it shows that there very surely are positive things coming out of their being mentored by adults that truly care and know the impact that spending time can have.
Passing on the torch of culture bearing and preserving
(traditions and values) through experiences in the arts,
cultural education, and community service.
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