Youth and Agriculture: a Bridge to the Future (YABF) for From Tree to Table (FTT)

Final Report for CS07-053

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2007: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: U.S. Virgin Islands
Principal Investigator:
Latoya Mitchell
Virgin Islands Farmers Cooperative, Inc.
Co-Investigators:
Yvette Brown
Virgin Islands Farmers' Cooperative, Inc.
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Project Information

Abstract:

Forty years ago the US Virgin Islands was known as the “breadbasket” of the Caribbean and produced most of the food it consumed. Today, however, the Territory (110,000 residents on three islands) imports over 98% of the food it consumes even though it has year-round growing conditions and over 30,000 acres of prime agricultural land this is under-utilized. Rebuilding a profitable agricultural industry in the Virgin Islands is a multi-year task requiring a broad creative vision and careful comprehensive planning. The “From Tree to Table” (FTT) program is one of the first steps on this journey.

St. Croix’s unemployment rate is 7.2%, highest of all three of the US Virgin Islands, has the second highest unemployment rate in all of the US mainland, and 34% of its residents live below the poverty line.

A part of VIFC’s “Vision” for a revitalized agricultural in the Virgin Islands is to create the capacity to transform a steady supply of raw agricultural products (mango, pepper, etc.) into “Value Added” products (jams, chutneys, pepper sauces, beverages). This will increase farmer’s profit margins and improve the Territory’s food security. The FTT program is a “Bridge to the Future” that will utilize existing resources, now wasted, while new production capacity for agricultural products come on line. Note: VIFC is currently developing a 1,010 acre Agro-tourism project on St. Croix that features 170 acres of vegetables, 215 acres of orchards, 425 of goat production, and 11,000 ft2 of food processing space for value-added products.

Almost every back yard on the island of St. Croix has one or more productive fruit trees. Much of this “existing” production capacity, however, this goes to waste because individual owners are not able to consume all that is produced and don’t get their surplus fruits into the hands of those who can use it.

The initial plans of this project were to highlight the use of the wasted produce through the creation of value-added products that could be market under the umbrella of the Virgin Islands Farmers cooperative on the behalf of the students who were selected for the operation of the program.

Although there was much limitation especially in reference to financial support, the program was able to capture the student’s attention as to the important of the goals set by the program and their role in making it work.

The students were able to develop a leadership role amongst them, such as that of an Executive Board. They took their leadership role very seriously and put forth the effort to see that it works. The work carried out by Mrs. Latoya Mitchell, Mr. Kelly Gloger and myself was a valuable initiative to our community and it was very important that we were able to bring that emphasis to young high school students.

Due to the fact that we were not able to acquire the USDA grant approval for this project we had to operate on limited funds. We also was not able to keep a few of our pledge donors because of the same issue and so we moved on with very little financing. Early in the year two thousand and nine we were faced with the challenge of canceling one of the proposed trips in the outline because the major sponsor for that trip finances Stanford Foundation, was put under federal investigation. Stanford Foundation would have covered ninety percent of the expenses incurred on this venture. We were however able to acquire the funding from a few of the pledge sponsors as listed below

o HOVENSA LLC,. $5,000.00
o DIVI Carina Bay Resort $1,000.00
o Caribbean Reservation $1,000.00

Our In-Kind donators were:

Mrs. Frandelle Gerard of the University of the Virgin Islands Small Business Development office
Mr. Daniel Stanley Marketing Director for the US Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture
Mr. Ben Burkett of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives.
DR. Keecha Harris of
Ms. Rita Stinson Fruits and Vegetable Director of the Virgin Islands Farmers Cooperative, Inc.
Mr. Cornelius Blanding of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives
Mr. Dale K.K. Browne – President – Virgin Islands Farmers Cooperative, Inc.

The program will continue at the beginning of the new school year when the student’s return to school for the year 2009-2010. My service will be voluntary at such time again because of our financial restraints.

Introduction

The “From Tree to Table” (FTT) project has been designed as a first step in addressing the dangerous food security situation the US Virgin Islands (USVI) finds itself in today where 99.5% of the food consumed in the Territory is imported. The Virgin Islands Farmers Cooperative (VIFC) long-term goals are to rebuild an agricultural industry in the US VI that can attract and retain young local entrepreneurs and provide quality locally produced foods to the Territory’s residents. FTT is a “Bridge to the Future” that will act as an incubator for a new crop of young entrepreneurs in the agricultural and food processing sector.

FTT will build a team composed of three (3) senior MBA students from the University of the Virgin Islands and forty (40) senior high school students. This will be divided into three research/action teams who will be charged with researching and developing a business plan for a producer’s cooperative that will harvest, process, and market fresh fruits and a line of value-added products. The fruit feed stock for this business will be the existing “hidden orchard” of fruit trees located in thousands of backyards on the island of St. Croix, where much of the annual production capacity is wasted because it spoils before getting into the hands of consumers and/or processors.

Project Objectives:

Over a twelve month period the FTT project will:

• 1. Use an innovative prize-base internet survey system to quantify and locate the majority of backyard fruit trees on the island of St. Croix. Verify 5% of the internet registrant’s data via actual site visits. Conduct statistical analysis of the data to determine highest opportunity candidate.
This segment of the program is still in the formatting stage and so we will revisit it in the coming school year.

• 2. Map identified resources in a GIS mapping system (Arc Map 9).
This segment of the program is still in the formatting stage and so we will revisit it in the coming school year.

• 3. Work with professional (hotels) and traditional chefs to prototype a line of value added products, conduct public taste tests, research marketing channels for fresh and value-added products, and select final products for market introduction.
Both the students and the program advisors demonstrated a well orchestrated plan to seeking to complete this segment of the program. The students met their targeted goals and created a product that they enjoyed producing and also sharing.

• 4. Work with nutritionists and food processing specialists to evaluate and quantify equipment requirements for business start-up
The objective of this segment has not been completed as yet but he process has been establish to have it completed during the earlier part of 2009-2010 school year.

• 5. Develop packaging and labeling concepts and produce prototypes.
Students was able to identify their products labeling choices and upon proper funding the labels will be created once the product is ready for a small scale marketing sampling in 2009-2010 school year.

• 6. Participate in a cross cultural business exchange with several youth production cooperatives on the US mainland.
This was not possible because the funds were not allocated due to the denial by the USDA grant proposal that was submitted. Also many of the pledges of support for that proposal were also not received due to that outcome.

• 7. Receive training in cooperative development and management and credit unions
Each student were expected to get a clear understanding of the potential of having the training in the cooperative development, management of a business and also credit Unions and their benefits. They were introduced to the information from Cooperative leaders who have the information pertaining to all segment of cooperative leadership to include Credit Union establishments and Management.

• 8. Complete a business plan for start-up and capital acquisition
The final Business plan for the FTT student program will be established in the 2009-2010 school term. However each student has been given the opportunity at no cost to them the ability to have a professional business plan drafted for them in the area of their interest.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • CORNELIUS BLANDING
  • Dinah-Lee Brewster
  • Shanyi Bruce
  • Ben Burkett
  • Owuwole Flores
  • Latoya George
  • Frandell Gerard
  • Dr. Keecha Harris
  • Glenn Hewitt
  • Jahiayiva Jackson
  • Natalia Lake
  • Kasheema Miller
  • Maurice A. Newson Jr.
  • Anushica Raymo
  • Shante Samuel
  • Javon Stanley
  • Daniel Stanley
  • Rita Stinson
  • Bianca Wilfred

Research

Materials and methods:

The following timetable utilized in order to facilitate this project:

October 2007-identify School students to participate in program start in fall of 2007 Screen and identify students to participate in FTT 2007.

The Department of Education and the School administrator for the site that was recommended for the program was contacted and arrangements were made to secure the site.
The school administrators were able to give us the opportunity to promote the program at the facility during school hours via Power Point presentation draft by Mr. Kelly Gloger a member of the Virgin Islands Farmers Cooperative, Inc.
Organize tree identification workshop for 4-H students with Ag Department personnel.
Due to financial retraints we were not able to acquire the GPS equipment.

February 2008 – Organized training dates for tree identification at Frandam Farm and also at the Department of Agriculture and various other sites throughout the Island.
We were able to enroll twelve full time students into the program through the use of the media, school administrators and the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture.

March 2008 – Place order for hand-held GPS units
Due to financial retraints we were not able to acquire the GPS equipment.

Project orientation meeting with student participants.

Project web site created with phone hotline for interested tree owners to call in for information & sign up

Tree identification workshop

After school training in GPS hand held devices

Students begin surveys of their neighborhoods to identify available resources and level of tree owner participation

April 2008 – Survey data collection continues

UVI Small Business Development Center conducts (business plan) writing workshop.
Workshop was conducted by Mrs. Frandelle Gerard.

UVI MBA students meet project participants and develop action plan for gathering information for business plan.
MBA student was not available during the given period but suggestions were made to have this segment postponed until 2009-2010 school year.

Field survey and June 2008 – UVI training of small team of team of students in GIS mapping of collected data
Field survey was done without the use of the GPS system. If funding is regenerated then the units will be purchased and the training will be carried out for this process.

Field survey ends and data analysis begins
Postponed to 2009-2010

Data collated into a spreadsheet showing fruit variety. Estimated quantity, harvest time/weight unit, estimated cost/unit of raw product.

Product Time Quan. Format Variety Cost of
Harvest Raw Pro.

Mangoes1 12hrs 200lbs Machinery Mix $250.00
Mangoes2 5hrs 250lbs Hand tools Mix 250.00
Tamarinds1 7hrs 235lbs Hand tools unknown 150.00
Tamarinds2 1hr 100lbs Shake tree unknown 60.00

CES food processing workshop held with experts on small-scale production (focus on processing equipment selection, space requirements, labor cost etc.)
Production Analysis Meeting – Students, CES staff, MBA students, food industry representative to identify products to produce with raw materials identified
Development of product prototypes begin (small team of students with CES staff and local chefs)

Business plan development team begins research on production equipment needed to process quantities of fresh fruit products located begins
MBA student assisted in assessing market for prototype products identified and local volume channels for unprocessed fruit sales
The process of developing a business plan is already in progress. All activities are now on hold until we can generate some funding to continue for the next school year.

July 2008 – Four FTT members travel to mainland for Cooperative training by FSC and cross cultural business exchange
Funding from the grant proposal was not acquired.

Product prototype team conducts taste test of products developed

Business planning team identifies packaging and labeling cost for most likely candidate products

August and September 2008 – Final product selection made and small production run completed to produce samples for buyer evaluation
Labels and literature designed for selected prototype products
Business plan is completed for by MBA student, FTT students, and reviewed by UVI SBDC staff
FTT Student and coordinator begin round of radio and TV talk show interview to talk about FTT Phase 2 and display developed product line

As you have noticed a large segment of this program has been postponed because of funding. What we have done is to conduct training centered around accomplishing those goals so that the student would be already be prepared once the program continues in the 2009-2010 school term.

Research results and discussion:

DATE TASK

September, 2007

*Meeting with all the program leaders and those of the Virgin Islands Farmers Cooperative to set criteria’s for the program
*Met with school principal to get approval process for the use of the facility, students and support staff in the program
*Promoted the program at the school to all students through the use of a video presentation created by the team of coordinators.
*Monthly program coordinators meeting

October, 2007

*Promoted the program at the school to all students through the use of a video presentation created by the team of coordinators.
*Met with the student to discuss the program. We also provided applications for those who showed interest in the program.
*Revised the prior developed Time Table for the program
*Monthly program coordinators meeting

November, 2007

*Follow up meeting with the school principal and counselors about the continue development of the program at their institution.
*Monthly program coordinators meeting

December, 2007

*Met with the student to give the guidelines for been a part of the program
*Met with the students and their parents to explain the program operation to them
*Met with the students & teacher to discuss the program and to further evaluate prospective candidates
*Monthly program coordinators meeting

January, 2008

*Met with the school principal discuss program schedule
*Met with the school principal review program outline
*Drafted documents need to administer the program
*Monthly program coordinators meeting

February, 2008

*Evaluated Farm sites where fruits would be harvested
*Submitted letter of agreement to the school as to what is expected from them for the program to move forward
*Monthly program coordinators meeting

March, 2008

*From Tree to Table Program officially began
*Met with program leaders to discuss strategies.
*Met with school counselors to collect the submitted applications and discuss each candidate for the program
*Student selection for the program was completed
*Preparation for students 1st harvest of Tamarind
* Monthly program coordinator’s meeting

April, 2008

*Made arrangements for the students to acquire Health Card which is a program requirement. The Program covered the cost of the card for each student.
*Preparation for students 1st harvest
*coordinate with Mr. Daniel Stanley/Marketing Director of the Department of Agriculture in reference to him speaking to the students
*Evaluated more student applications for the program
*Monthly program coordinator’s meeting

May, 2008

*Student harvested their first produce for the program (Tamarind). They harvested over two hundred pounds of unshelled fruits.
*Site visit to the Alternative Education School to present the program to prospective students
*Monthly program coordinator’s meeting
*Met with the applicant from the Positive Connection School program to complete their personal evaluation.
*Met with Mr. Steve of the Department of Health/ Sanitation Area to inform him about the program and to have him speak to the students on health issues
*Met with Mrs. Cyndi Ible-Fontal of Cyndi’s Modeling Agency, to be a guest speaker to the student in reference to how they dress, speak and present themselves as business leaders.

June, 2008

*Took student to the medical lab and the health Department to acquire their food health card which is a requirement for the program
*Contacted the program leader of the Alternative school to notify them of the students who were chosen for the program and made arrangements for a meeting with those students.
*Contacted the chosen students and their parents about their role in the program
*Second harvest of local fruit: mangoes, student harvested another two hundred pounds of fruit.
*Took student harvested produce to freezer storage unit at the Department of agriculture.
*Supervise student’s preparation of produce for their value-added product production
*Drafted the first segment of a photo slide show of the student activities in the program

July 2008
* Student was introduce to the DIVI Carina Bay Resort facility and also the staff members who would be working with the program by giving the culinary assistance needed to developed a chosen product.
*Students were given an assignment to research what were some of the products that they could market from the produce they hard harvested.
*The group visited Sejah Farm, the Lorraine Market and some of the small street side market stands to see how some other local produce was marketed.
* students harvested another large quantity of mangoes which was also put in cold storage.
* Student was taken to St. Croix Mango Melee where they were introduced to the many products that the local people of our community used the products they have harvested to create. They were also able to witness professional product preparation and presentation for a large audience.

August 2008

*DIVI Carina Bay Resort Chef Miss. Camisha Lynch held an orientation meeting with the student at her work site so that they could get acquainted with her since she will serve as their main contact at the facility.
*Student returned to the DIVI Carina Bay Resort and had a lesson in safety in the operation of a large industrial kitchen and some of the health requirement that must be made and followed diligently to prevent public health risk.
*Students again returned to DIVI Carina Bay Resort to begin their first hands on production of the group first product. They were able to create their recipes and prepared some of the ingredients for the dish.
* Students again returned to DIVI Carina Bay Resort to begin their actual production of the group first product. They create a mangoes cheese cake dish layered with chocolate chips cookies.

September 2008

*Student acquired feed back from family members, friends and teaches about the quality of the product they presented to them for taste test. They then gave each gave an oral report as to their findings from the evaluation of their testers.
*Student held their team election Executive board leaders. They elected A President, Vice President, treasurer, Secretary, Parliamentarian, and two trustees. They also learned the proper procedure through internet research on how to fairly conduct their election. In doing this the student learned about the impact of been just to each other and allowing each other the opportunity to be leaders as well as followers. We was able to see a difference in attitude in reference to attendance, how they spoke with each other, how they handled assignments and how much emphasis they placed on seeing that their program worked.

October 2008

*For the period of this month the student was visited by several guest speakers from various agencies to speak on subject from Business plan development to Marketing your product ion an efficient and productive manner.

November-January 2008

*Student again was greeted by guest speakers for this period

February 2009

*Student participated at the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture annual Agricultural fair by using their time to assist the farmers sell and promote their produce.
*One student from the program was able to acquire a Temporary Job at the Agricultural fair event because of how she has demonstrated herself throughout the program so far.

March 2009
*Preparation was been made for the Field trip to Puerto Rico. The trip was eventually canceled when the Stanford Foundation made an official reply that their finances was seized and they could not give us the pledge monies for the trip as agreed upon.
*Held monthly Coordinator meeting to discuss the future of the program.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We have accumulated several Newspaper articles from our local media outlets that have given positive feed back to the entire community in general. We have also received high acclaim from our local Department of Agriculture Commissioner, Dr. Petersen on how the program has developed over the short time frame with limited funding. All of the co-sponsors have agreed to continue to work with us as we seek to further develop the program and enhance its capability to capture the attention of our young people as well as the more mature generations. We are hoping that the program can be extended to our Secondary Education Students. We have generated the interest of other schools who are also interested in participating in the project as proposed and presented. The media such as our local radio stations, Newspaper and TV station has allowed us to communicate effectively and positively about our community.

There are many photos and Newspaper articles available that can be submitted as reference to the program.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The students enrolled in the program came with little business initiative and self confidence in such challenges. They had thoughts as to what they could plan for their future but most were uncertaint of how to move forward. They too had problems with seeing the waste that takes place on our Islands from time to time where fruits are concerned. They asked many questions as to why people would plant these products if they had no plan to use them. What this program has done for the student is not only answered many of those questions, but also provided an outline to them of the potential of using them for a valuable cost. They have learned that each of them has a business potential that they can pursue if they so desire. Within the program were two students who were able to pursue some business opportunities that they were interested in as their personal business. These students have learned the business process through many aspects of looking into their future. The steps in preparing a business plan has opened their eyes to the crucial benefits of knowing what you want out of a business and how to set the goals to get there.

The student learned about the large variety of fruit trees that are grown on the Islands. Some of which they thought could not grow in the tropical climate such as oranges and grapefruits. They identified fruits that they did not know at all. Some students were also able to learn new sites on the Island that they had no idea existed.

Not only were they introduced to fruit and fruits trees but they were also introduced to small lives stocks on various farms to include the University of the Virgin Islands Small livestock research program, Sejah Farm of the Virgin Islands and Frandam Farm.

To add to all of that the students have also learned how to conduct a professional fair election and how to apply leadership roles effectively and fairly. They have learned to use the knowledge gained to show off the potentials that they did not know they had. They have also shown their parents who were involved in this process in many ways how they can grow in wisdom once the opportunity to do so is allotted to them fairly.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Existing and Exhausted contributors

Southern Federation of Cooperatives
Mississippi Association of Cooperatives
University of the Virgin Islands AES
(Agricultural Experiment Station)
University of the Virgin Islands CES
(Cooperative Extension Station)
University of the Virgin Islands Small Business Development Services
Virgin Islands Council of the Arts
Virgin Islands Farmers Cooperative, Inc
HOVENSA, LLC.
Caribbean Reservation
DIVI Carina Bay Resort

Future Recommendations

As the project coordinators we would strongly recommend that the program seek further funding by submitting the continuation of the program as a proposal. They should also seek financial securities from the community on a broad scale. This concern was also supported by all of the presenters because they are very much interested in seeing that the program continue.

The program also needs to have a facility that would be available to the students who are enrolled in the program so that they can better develop their potential products. The service offered by the DIVI Carina Bay hotel was very essential in the initial introduction of potential products for the program, yet the limitation in time limited the student’s capability to see a greater end result other than creating the testing product.

Finally I would recommend that the students who participate in the program be accountable for a final report as to what they have acquired from the program and how it has impacted their future as potential business leaders.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.