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

Project Overview

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.
Yvette Brown
Virgin Islands Farmers' Cooperative, Inc.


  • Fruits: avocados, general tree fruits


  • Education and Training: focus group, mentoring, networking, participatory research, study circle, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, cooperatives, marketing management, market study, risk management, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, public participation, community services, employment opportunities, social networks, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    Project Abstract 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. 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 fmits 2. Map identified resources in a GIS mapping system (Arc Map 9) 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 4. Work with nutritionists and food processing specialists to evaluate and quantify equipment requirements for business start-up 5. Develop packaging and labeling concepts and produce prototypes 6. Participate in a cross cultural business exchange with several youth production cooperatives on the US mainland 7. Receive training in cooperative development and management and credit unions 8. Complete a business plan for start-up and capital acquisition Sustainable long-term food security in the Virgin Islands must rest on a foundation of local production and processing. FTT links tVO educational institutions, the private sector (hotels, VIFC, Federation of Southern Cooperatives). and local and federal agencies (VI Dept. of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension) together to address this issue through an innovative entrepreneurial development enterprise that utilizes wasted resources. FTT is an integral step in a comprehensive set of initiatives being pursued by VIFC towards its goal of improving the Virgin Islands community's agricultural self-¬reliance. 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 initials plans of this project was 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 student who was selected for the operation of the program. The program also will offer key presenters from various agencies to include the University of the Virgin Islands, Southern Federation of Cooperatives, Southeastern African American Farmers that would give the recommended guidance as in relation to business to the participants so that they would develop a clear understanding of business structure in the field of agriculture to include drafting your business plans, marketing strategies, field operation and many more.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The Objective of YABA/FTT are to:

    1: Create a business and marketing plan for a successful transitional school-to-work student cooperative that utilizes an existing underutilized resource (dispersed back-yard fruit trees) to create a line of value-added products.

    2: Provide 40 students with cross-cultural business exposure and training in cooperative business management, credit union formation/management:

    3. Develop a line of Virgin Islands value-products produced by young entrepreneurs to help reduce the Territory's dangerous dependency on off-island food production.

    Approach and Methods

    The FTT project begins in October, Pre-award activities include the selection of student participants. working with the 4-H camp program to pilot a limited tree survey (GPS & tree ID training), VIFC member harvested & froze 200 lbs (stored at VI Ag Dept.) of Tamarind and Mango (out of season by fall). recruiting community cooks mentors. and the promotion of the FTT program at Mango Melee and to community groups (Rotary. Chamber of Commerce. Hotel and Tourism Association, etc.). Completion of these activities will set the stage for a rapid start of FTT at the beginning of the fall 2007 school semester.

    November 2007, VIFC will hire the Project's Coordinator (PC) and sign a contract with BizVI to design and install a web-based tree survey/data collection system to its existing web site. In the first three weeks of November the PC will conduct a participant orientation meeting, organize the task specific student research/action teams, and work with the Marketing Team (MT) to design and launch the project's promotions campaign (radio, TV, news paper, and power point presentation to community organizations). During this period all teams will receive training in tree ID and use of GPS hand-held devices.

    In January 2008 the PC and students launch the web-based tree survey/data collection system on VIFC's web site via a popular TV talk show and data collection begins. The PC continues to co-¬manage the program's radio/news paper/TV and face-to-face promotions while the MT promotes FTT via extensive use of the My Space and other social networking websites. The Product Development Team (PDT) begins to work with hotel chefs and community cooks to develop prototype product recipes. CES provides a workshop (industry expert) on small-scale food processing technology (equipment, production capacity, costs, etc.). PDT representatives take a field trip to tour food processing facilities in Puerto Rico.

    In February 2008 the Business Plan Development Team (BPDT) begins data analysis, GIS data mapping. The MT, PDT, and BPDT all attend entrepreneur training workshops given by UVI's Small Business Development Center. The MT conducts local market channel research for sales of fresh fruit and value added products.

    In March 2008 four FTT representatives are selected to travel to US mainland for cross-cultural business exchange and training by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC). Four representatives from the mainland youth cooperatives that were visited and a FSC trainer will travel back to St. Croix for completion of cross-cultural business exchange and cooperative development training. The MT and PDT conduct a televised taste testing event at The Divi Carina Hotel (over Christmas Holidays).

    In April 2008 the MT makes its final selections of the products to prepare for market introduction, completes label and packaging designs, and produces sufficient prototypes for a small production run. The PDT finished its work with a small-scale production run of marketing samples.

    May - June 2008 PC, MT, and PDT focus on promoting FTT's accomplishments to secure support pledges for local match of anticipated USDA funding of FTT Phase 2 - business capitalization and start-up. BPDT submits "Letter of Intent" to USDA Community Food Grants program and works to complete 1 st draft of FTT Phase 2's business plan. PC begins draft of final report to USDA of FTT Phase 1. USDA requests full proposal based on successful "Letter of Intent".

    June - July 2008 all project teams work collectively on the drafting the CFG proposal and receive guidance and assistance from UVI Small Business Development Center. BPDT completes five-(5) page summary of FTT Phase 2 business plan for submission with FFT Phase 2 application.

    August- September 2008 FTT Phase 1 teams submits FTT Phase 2 proposal.
    UVI MBA seniors finish business plan for FTT Phase 2 and present it to all project teams.

    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.