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OPINION: Soraya Diase Coffelt: Farmers Need A Reliable Source Of Water On St. Croix In Order To Succeed

By SORAYA DIASE COFFELT

SPECIAL TO THE V.I. FREE PRESS

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FREDERIKSTED — The territory has a small, but dedicated farm industry.

Many farm in the Community Gardens on St. Croix and they struggle to receive basic government-sponsored support services such as proper and timely land preparation, and access to a reliable water supply to irrigate.

They also have to fight the weather, insects, and crop diseases of many types. In fact, as the attached photos
show, the very life blood of the Community Gardens in St. Croix, an old water tank is rusting
away, has started leaking, and when it finally fails, any remaining farmers there could be without
water and could once again lose their crop and income.

The second tower has not been watertight since the day it was installed years ago. It has sat empty.
Recently, the Governor announced a $250,000 grant to the V.I. Economic Development Authority
to explore the feasibility of processing and packing local fruit.

This is a tactic seemingly not part of any plan, not part of any goal or vision. What is the V.I. Department of Agriculture’s vision for the future? Since it admits that 97 percent of our food comes from the outside, what does it intend to do to develop our agricultural industry? Replacing worn pipe and pumping limited amounts of
water from ponds into failed/failing water towers is an unacceptable solution.

Over the past week, I have toured the Community Gardens, viewed the new irrigation trenching, and met with
farmers on St. Croix. The Governor’s quick fixes are insufficient. Much more needs to be done to
fight for farmers and their crops!

Farming, fishing, forestry, ranching and value-adding food can certainly become a $100 million
annual industry.

But to spend EDA’s time to analyze the feasibility of processing and packing local fruits is unnecessary as we all know that this should be part of a viable agricultural industry.

Moreover, calling a $43,000 investment in new pipes and the addition of one pump an irrigation fix is woefully insufficient.

Once again, this type of disjointed thinking shows the world we lack a cohesive vision and plan.

I propose we start with the basics, such as adding an education curriculum – right through higher
education, and continue promoting agriculture in middle and high schools – like the Elena
Christian Middle School’s farm program on St. Croix.

At the same time, we need to provide a model, financial and mentoring support for new farmers,
and coordinate the efforts of all farmers to provide food to the private sector — food service and
grocery, not just via farm stands. Farmers need markets for their produce. And, they need a
reliable water source.

I will continue visiting a variety of farmers on St. Thomas and St. Croix to listen to their ideas and
concerns before finalizing my plan for growing the agriculture industry into an economic
powerhouse in the Caribbean.

We will roll out more on my vision and transformational plan for this critical industry in the coming months.

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