Thursday, February 19, 2009

Day 23 - Agrifest

(Sorry for the spam posts, I ate small a mouthful of poisonous tropical plant that was misidentified as a taro root. I got a little too freaked out to go to sleep so I figured I would inundate you with blog posts. This is when I notice that I'm hundreds of miles away from my main source of my sense of safety – my husband. I love you Val! I definitely read too much about Calcium Oxalate poisoning. I’m totally fine. Big lesson to the everyone (even experienced botanists) that many plants may seem identical and have very different properties. Haha.)

As each week has progressed we have built on the information that was presented to us in the proceeding weeks. As I mentioned in my last post, this is week four and we are finally learning some of the real basics of organic farming. More than anything I see this as indicative of how VISFI views specific farming methods as less important than education, sustainable building fundamentals, and the principles and philosophy of permaculture. From here we will delve deeper into solar energy, slow foods cooking, and agrotourism. Last week's New York Times article about the struggle of small farms to diversify to turn a profit really highlighted the task that faces farmers.

Agriculture is a highly competitive business where the big industrial farms can undercut the little guy, especially if the little guy is employing more expensive, sustainable techniques, paying for organic certifications, and using higher quality inputs. Selling your beautiful tomatoes at the farmer's market is not going to solve that problem alone. Local farmers need to connect with their community through outreach activities such as farm stays (ecotourism), workshops and classes (education), and other value-added products and income streams.

While I am still waiting on the final numbers from the Department of Agriculture, I'm going to go into my summary of the Agricultural and Food Festival. The average estimate of attendance is about 30,000 people from all over the Caribbean. This is no small gathering.

First, I have to again highlight that the mission of the farm here is not just profit, the triple bottom line is: people, place, and profit. This boils down to; educate people, create a community, and sustain the system financially. If money is first the rest deteriorates. It is very clearly written into the statement of purpose. To seed beneficial relationships to inspire abundance, creativity, and joy (paraphrase).

My overall impression of the fair was; heavy on the food and culture, OK but not great on agriculture. This island is in desperate need to improve it’s image of farming and get people really involved in food production. While the funky chickens and farmer’s market vegetables were great, but I don’t think many minds were changed about agriculture as dirty and hard work not worth doing.

While we were selling our produce at the Virgin Islands Farmer’s Co-Op booth, VISFI chose to put together a kids activity booth. The purpose of our activities were to get kids involved in agriculture, beyond the food vendors. We chose to make Seed Balls, a technique for natural farming with little human interference. The seed balls are mini habitat. The clay ball ball encloses seeds and what they need to grow: compost for nutrients and the shell to protect them from predators and the elements. While some kids were into it and willing to get dirty, the majority of the bon’ya (born on island) children would rather watch.

Ryan Evans, Nate Olive, and I were in charge of planning and set up for the three days. The shelter that we built as a group for this display was awesome. Truly, it was the best highlight I can imagine for our upcoming Bush Skills Rendezvous. Our booth was situated in the middle of an open field next to the boy scouts. We realized that we would be spending the better part of three days in that field, completely exposed to the elements, so a shelter of some sort was absolutely necessary. Some of the guys and Don Young, one of our instructors, laid out a design, cut some bamboo, lashed it together, draped a tarp, and made a seriously durable and awesome tent. This is the type of industriousness that Bush Skills represents. Great work guys!

On top of that, a good friction-fire-making demonstration always pulls a crowd!

In the end, Ag Fair highlighted for me that there is still a long way to go in farm communication and marketing in order to truly reach the people capable of really making the necessary changes in how the island is cultivated.

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