Sen. Allison DeGazon advances agriculture through aquaponics
Sen. Allison L. DeGazon shared her enthusiasm for the future of agriculture in the Virgin Islands at a ground-breaking ceremony Friday morning at the site of an agribusiness center to support aquaponics farming and entrepreneurship in Estate Bethlehem on St. Croix.
The Estate Bethlehem project is the launch of an initiative to address global hunger by FreshMinistries, a Florida-based interfaith humanitarian organization led by founder and CEO the Reverend Dr. Robert V. Lee III, who is working in partnership with Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., the senator, the Department of Agriculture and Farmers in Action.
The senator in her speech stated that the agricultural product in the Virgin Islands was mesmerizing. At one point the territory was lauded as the “breadbasket of the world,” and she has been working diligently to bring the territory’s product back into the spotlight through this initiative, schooling and legislation.
“At UVI, we are introducing new and major areas of study in agriculture at all levels, certificates, degrees etc. I am working with the Department of Education through a bill to guarantee that at least one item on our children’s food trays have a locally sourced item. My team and I are working to ensure we rebound the Farm to School Program, and Senate President Francis and I pushed a bill to increase the agriculture budget to the highest it has ever been to build capacity,” DeGazon said.
The senator also collaborated with Sen. Javan James Sr. to have an annual Virgin Islands Caribbean Conference to exchange technical ideas, engage children in agriculture and demonstrate the research from the University of the Virgin Islands.
She aggressively pushed bills to develop the weakened agriculture infrastructure to get more water to farms through bills No. 33-0065 and 33-0037 which are now law as Acts. No 8280 and Act. No. 8279.
This project is expected to provide a source for young Virgin Islanders to learn and gain experience in a new industry, while also providing jobs for residents.
In partnership with Farmers in Action, on land leased by FIA from the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, FreshMinistries is constructing the new center to house Fueling Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (FEED) program, to provide hands-on training and classroom sessions to individuals interested in owning, managing or working within the field of aquaponics.
FreshMinistries was awarded a $2 million grant by the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce to build the center so it can serve “as a catalyst for the revitalization of the agriculture industry and diversification of the territory’s economic base,” according to the EDA.
The project will consist of three 6,000-square-foot and three 3,000-square-foot greenhouses, an enclosed processing center with refrigeration units, storage, sinks and work tables, office and classroom space, and acreage where program graduates and co-operative partners can manage their own farming systems.
The senator thanked Dr. Lee for his work with administration to make the project come to fruition.
“Dr. Lee and team, Farmers in Action, all those who had a hand to play in this development, on behalf of our esteem Senate President, I, Allison DeGazon, your Chair on Economic Development, Regulations, and Agriculture, thank you for helping to make agriculture in the United States Virgin Islands sexier than its been in a very long time,” DeGazon said.
“May the transformation from dependence to dependable continue. Virgin Islands, it’s time to rise up!”