For another year, V.I. Carnival’s Cultural and Food Fair brought out what participants said Wednesday is the “best” St. Thomas has to offer, from handmade crafts to jewelry and hats, to produce and every kind of dish under the sun.
“One of the best things about Carnival is being around friends and family,” Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr. said during the fair’s opening ceremony. “Because as you walk around, you’re going to be running around into people you haven’t seen for years, and I think that’s one of the most wonderful things about this season. In the Virgin Islands, we all know one another. We’re all connected in some strange way, and it’s those connections that keep us together, celebrating every year.”
This year, the fair extended way beyond Emancipation Garden, where various craft vendors were gathered, to Vendor’s Plaza, where food and sweets were being sold, and through Post Office Square and down the first half of Garden Street, where everything from live entertainment to more booths were set up.
Some vendors have been participating in the fair for decades, some for just a few years, but everywhere you looked, there were people laughing, crowds packing under tents to make purchases, and more color than can be imagined. Many of the more colorful booths housed fresh local produce, which farmers said they’ve been harvesting for months in order to put out for this, their biggest sale day of the year.
“We barely slept last night preparing everything,” said Trishelle Benjamin, whose father Trenton’s booth carried everything from fresh pepper sauce to purple carrots, which Trishelle said was something new.
“But it was worth it, we had a good day today,” she added. “My favorite part is always the pepper sauce, and this year, we carried mango, passion fruit, regular, and banana, which is also something new. That’s what’s so great about working with my father, he is always willing to take risks like that and try new things, and people really respond well to it.”
Speaking later, Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach said local farmers, with their produce and homemade sauces and stews, are one of the most important parts of the fair.
“There are so many things that we grew up with that are now rare,” Roach said. “That’s why it’s so important to support our farmers, as they put so much into the products they make, and promoting our agricultural resources. It’s important that they know we’re standing behind them.”
Along with produce and plants, food was in abundance Wednesday. Along with traditional dishes like whelks, stewed chicken, curry, and all kinds of sides, there were also booths that carried specialties, including meat pies, rotis, and kallaloo.
“There are so many traditional plates that people come out to sample,” said Helen Hodge, whose food booth was one of the most popular Wednesday. “I’ve been here for about 14 years, and we know that the stews, like stewed tamarind and stewed cherries, are also things that people are looking for. That’s what keeps us coming back out every year. It’s fun, but we enjoy how much everyone likes the food, we like seeing how happy they are and it’s also nice seeing those customers you don’t really see throughout the year, just on Food Fair Day.”
Throughout Emancipation Garden, craft vendors were also packed tightly. Many were return booths, selling homemade shoes, bags, and hats, but some were also new, including the booth manned by Tafara Hyndman, a mix of jewelry her family has handpicked throughout the year and products, such as tee-shirts and towels, that she and her sister made.
This year’s fair was also dedicated to the Charlotte Amalie High School Class of 1972 and themed “Bathe in Waters Blue” in tribute. Members of the class had their own booth close to the Emancipation Garden Bandstand and said Wednesday that they generally use the money they earn on Food Fair day to support scholarships and other needs at their alma mater.
“Neither age nor time has prevented them from participating in the fair for the last 20 years,” said Alenia Murraine, whose mother is part of the class. “Today is one of their main sources of fundraising, used to provide financial support to CAHS wherever there is a need.”