February 15, 2008  
Contact: Heather Gray
404 765 0991

Federation/LAF Offers Assistance to Farmers in the Virgin Islands
Virgin Island Farmers Break Ground on Revitalization Project

(Note: For 2 years the Federation/LAF has been assisting farmers in the Virgin Islands to re-energize their local production agriculture and marketing. This has included a number visits by Federation/LAF staff to the the Virgin Islands to assist in the project. The work has culminated in the creation of the Virgin Islands Farmers Cooperative and the recent ground breaking ceremony described in the press release below.)

The article below by Shari Wiltshire was taken from The St. Croiz Abis in the U.S. Virgin Islands. To see photos of the Virgin Islands co-op members and Federation staff please click here.

ST. CROIX (February 2, 2008) -Sustainable farming is making a comeback. The common practice of backyard gardening is on its way to becoming a legitimate business as the Virgin Islands Farmers Cooperative, Inc. held a ground breaking ceremony Friday morning at No. 9 Estate Grange on St. Croix to begin the development of phase one of a three-step plan aimed at restoring the local agriculture industry.

            Members and associate members of VIFC have a total of 1,010 acres of “prime” farmland to be used as part of their business. VIFC’s President Dale Browne, and his wife Yvette said they were elated to finally begin developing the 60 acres at Estate Grange.

            The idea to recover agriculture as a means of sustainable living in the territory has been a topic of discussion for some time, but it was in 2005 when VIFC began to formulate a plan to make their dream a reality.

            VIFC applied for and won a U.S. Department of Agriculture Minority Producer Grant in the amount of $172,950 in 2006. With that money they hired representatives from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives out of Atlanta, Georgia to come to St. Croix and hold daily workshops in the area of cooperative development for all VIFC members.

            Basically the Federation’s job is to help minority farmers in the South save farmlands and their professional consultants added local agencies in determining whether the abandoned 1,010 acres could be of use to start a farming business.

            Once a formal business plan was created, with the help of the VI Small Business Development Center, VIFC proceeded to lease the land from the Department of Agriculture.

            The three-part plan is divided into phases. Phase one is entitled “Estate Grange – Vegetable Production and Farmer’s Market,” and the title speaks for itself.

            VIFC’s associate member Kelly Ginger explained that VIFC will build an 800-square foot store, or market, to sell homegrown produce. The produce will be grown to the rear of the store. The entrance to the market will be located across the street from the Rehabilitation Center at Beeston Hill, but before the store can be built the produce has to be grown.

            VIFC has 18 three to five-acre lots of land to lease to any interested farmer with a business plan. Gloger said there are 15 farmers interested in owning a piece of the property and with that property comes access to water coolers, storage areas and a packaging shed to grade and pack products. In addition, a marketing manager, and production manager will be available to all farmers to guide them into VIFC’s ultimate plan of using the farmer’s vegetables and fruits for whole and retail sales.

            Gloger said the financial success of phase one and phase two, entitled “La Reine Forage Field,” will ultimately determine whether Phase III of the business plan, “Windsor Farm,” – a $10 million initiative to resurge the old site of the “Island’s Dairies” dairy farm – will be a worthy investment.

            VIFC has partnered with the University of the Virgin Islands, VIDOA, USDA and the community to move forward and make this operation a benefit to all in the territory.

Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 40th year,  assists Black family farmers across the South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability.