With the scent of honey in the air, a small structure on King Hill Road in Coral Bay has been a hive of activity over the past few months.
Residents got a first hand look at the Department of Agriculture’s (DOA) Coral Bay Station happenings during the first St. John Mini Ag Fair on Wednesday, November 11.
Following the morning Veteran’s Day parade, about 75 people gathered in the shade of fruit trees on the station grounds to hear about new initiatives undertaken by DOA on St. John.
While DOA Commissioner Dr. Louis Petersen was unable to attend, he is committed to expanding services on St. John, explained the department’s Assistant Commissioner Luther Renee.
“Dr. Petersen wants to make sure that St. John is not left out at all,” said Renee. “Our labor here has already born some fruit. More than 17 people from St. John are participating in our beekeeping class — the largest contingent in the territory.”
The department has been promoting local farming through its “Home Grown” program, which assists residents in growing fruit and vegetable plants in boxes and old tires in their backyards.
“We must understand the need to feed ourselves,” said Renee.
Beekeeping classes have been some of the most popular initiatives offered at DOA’s St. John station. The department is currently conducting its third beekeeping course led by Love City resident Monica Altamirando.
With about 22 participants in the current class — hosted on Saturdays over a 12-week period at DOA’s Coral Bay station — Altamirando teaches participants everything from building hive boxes to harvesting honey.
“I love bees,” said Altamirando. “They’re just beautiful to work with. They’re incredible insects and produce so much for us.”
“Without bees we don’t have food,” she said. “It’s that simple.”
Altamirando also owns the shop Coral Palm in the Coccoloba complex, where she sells a number of products made with local honey and bee wax, from lotions to salad dressing.
“We’re really trying to promote beekeeping as a business,” said Daniel Stanley, director of marketing for DOA. “We’re promoting the beekeepers themselves and urging them to get labels and develop a Virgin Islands brand to differentiate between locally-produced products and imported products.”
The beekeeping classes have proven so popular, DOA officials are planning to offer future St. John seminars. The beekeeping program is funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture and is a partnership with the Department of Tourism and the University of the Virgin Island’s Cooperative Extension Services.
Ag Fair attendees also enjoyed a fruit tree grafting demonstration and were able to browse and purchase plants from the nursery on site.
DOA officials are also still working to develop a community garden on acreage around the St. John station, explained Raymond Thomas, supervisor of the Coral Bay station.
“We’re still trying to get the community garden underway,” said Thomas. “We want to subdivide the land and lease it out to farmers to do short term crops. That is still very much in the works, it’s just become a little more of a procedure.”
The public is welcome to stop by the Ag Station and participate in DOA activities, explained Renee.
“We invite the public to come and take advantage of our programs,” said the department’s assistant commissioner. “There is a lot going on here and we’d love people to take part in our programs.”