The non-profit organization World Central Kitchen supports nine agricultural projects in the Virgin Islands.
The organization provides direct financial support, training and volunteer opportunities to revitalize the islands’ economy and food systems, with grants disbursed through its network of food producers. The program aims to build resilient local food systems and strengthen food security through direct financial support to small-scale farmers and fishers, as well as small food-related businesses and non-profit organizations, by improving their ability to produce, distribute and sell food locally to reduce dependence on food imports.
Healthy Harvest Farm, Joshua Quetel, My Brother’s Workshop and Sugar Brown Farms on St. Thomas and Maldonado’s Fishing, NJ’s Fishing, Rico’s Fish Market, Rodgers’ Farm and Virgin Islands Farmers Alliance on St. Croix join the network.
Also located in St. Croix, Sejah Farm receives its second World Central Kitchen grant. Run by Yvette and Dale Brown, Sejah Farm grows vegetables and raises goats, sheep, poultry and eggs.
Sejah Farm used its first grant to acquire a cold storage unit, with both a cold room and a freezer, as well as a diesel generator to run the unit in an emergency. The Browns will use their second grant to create a learning center where local producers can learn the knowledge and skills to grow their business and advance food and nutrition security in the Virgin Islands.
Sejah Farm already works with a group of small-scale farmers whose produce they transport to market on a daily basis. Now, with the center, this interaction will expand.
“It’s not on a personal level this time for us, it’s more on a community level,” Yvette Brown said. “We will have all the equipment to set up an outdoor learning center for 10 people at a time and it will be open to any farmer on the island who wants to take virtual online classes or one of the workshops. and seminars that World Central Cooking has to offer, any type of agricultural course that is beneficial to small-scale farmers in our community. »
The idea for the center came from conversations with other farmers about learning challenges and sharing information.
It won’t be a large facility with computer labs and offices, but housed in a tent on the farm.
The Virtual World Central Kitchen courses offered will include a variety of topics, such as soil management, horticulture and pruning, as well as sharing information from different farmers in the network on the techniques they use on their farms. .
“These courses already exist and are offered by World Central Kitchen and other agencies, including the University of the Virgin Islands, so it’s really beneficial for farmers to be able to take their training programs,” she said. .
The facility will also be able to host small agricultural conferences and meetings of around 50 people and will be equipped with a projector and screen, speakers and microphones.
On the territory, the grants will fund capital improvements such as chicken coops, improved food packaging facilities and irrigation systems. It will also be used to purchase ice machines, fishing boat engines, lobster traps and other fishing equipment.
In addition to technical workshops to increase production capacities and improve business operations to increase sales and access to markets, World Central Kitchen assists beneficiaries through its volunteer network of local community members and visitors who provide community service to help participants achieve their goals.
“Through this network, we have supported 29 small businesses and organizations in the Virgin Islands,” said Mikol Hoffman, director of the Food Producer Network. “Nearly four years after FPN’s launch, we have hard data showing that network members can double their production and sales within a year of joining the program.”
According to Hoffman, members of the network “connect with food producers from all over the Virgin Islands as well as throughout the Caribbean, and are stronger today as a network than they were before individually.”
The new funds are expected to be released within the week, and Brown hopes to be able to order the computers and other equipment to open the center by the end of February.
“It’s a big investment and we need to recognize the work that World Central Kitchen is doing here in the Virgin Islands, as well as in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas,” Brown said. “They’ve been here since 2020, and in that short time they’ve had a significant impact on our farmers, helping them move through the stages financially, and also giving farmers the training they need. .”
The Food Producer Network was created in 2018 in response to the devastating 2017 hurricane season. Since then, $4.1 million has been awarded to food producers affected by natural disasters in the Caribbean and Central America. The program expanded to the Virgin Islands in 2020 and has invested nearly half a million dollars in food-related businesses.