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

Project Overview

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.

Commodities

  • Fruits: avocados, general tree fruits

Practices

  • 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

    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.

    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.