Tractor rides, vendors, a pumpkin patch with carving station, archery – there was no shortage of fall delights Saturday at the V.I. Justice Initiative’s Harvest Festival, which raises money for the organization and the legal work they do within the community.
Spearheaded by attorneys Casey Payton and Melanie Turnbull, the idea for the Harvest Festival – now in its second year – came from their own experience as toddler moms and wanting to support activities that benefitted not only their own children but others across the community. And, thanks to the organization’s development director Tess Monsanto – who organizes the event and brings in all of the in-kind donations, the Festival has grown sizeably from the first year, with the addition of more non-profit and business vendors, but also a kid zone and the tractor ride, which for the first time took families through the entire Magens Bay arboretum. The crowd has swelled as well, with hundreds swarming the grounds, waiting in line or browsing the booths.
Along with offering some fall fun, the event also represented the coming together of many in the community, whether through donations or sponsorship of the Festival, or by vendors who were also raising funds within the event for a worthy cause. Toward the entrance of the site, on the far left end of the beach, Sage Ceasar and her friends were selling freshly squeezed lemonade for $2 a cup, which they planned to donate to the Humane Society of St. Thomas. The Caesar family recently adopted two cats from the shelter and saw firsthand how much the organization could benefit from the extra support – plus, according to Shay, making lemonade is fun because it tastes good, especially when grandma helps.
Coming up toward the pumpkin patch, a range of vendor booths lined the path, offering everything from fresh food, locally made jewelry and, for attorney Su-Layne Walker, a Mommies and Babies line of customized shirts and onesies. Walker has been developing the business since she had her son five years ago, inspired by the lack of clothing choices for families on island. Part of her inventory was also dedicated to breast cancer awareness, with a design featuring local hibiscus. Helping in the booth were Walker’s siblings, including sister Kimba Turnbull, who added a table filled with baked treats to the space – a hobby, she said, that she picked up from her own mom.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the day was the pumpkin patch and carving station, along with the kids’ zone filled with a V.I. Children’s Museum play area, face painting and the Tropical Treasure Hunt’s archery tag station. The V.I. Justice Initiative supplied the pumpkins for the patch through Merchant’s Market, but as part of its sponsorship, FirstBank VI purchased enough for the Nana Baby Home and Junior Firefighters, according to Payton. Meanwhile, young attorneys like Frederick “Andy” Johnson from the Territorial Public Defender’s Office volunteered to help families carve, providing detailed instructions for making faces and scooping out the inside.
Payton said the organization is looking to source pumpkins locally next year and will pay $10 a pumpkin to fill the patch. In the meantime this year, judges awarded the team from Barefoot Buddha the prize for best local pumpkin dish or dessert, served up as a vegan pumpkin soup.
For families, the event was free with just the cost of admission to Magens Bay. Each year, the Festival benefits the Virgin Islands Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization focused on creating opportunities for the poor to succeed through economic justice and poverty law. The VI Justice Initiative provides free legal representation, education and resources for economic and social mobility.
Major sponsors include RapierMed, Department of Tourism, Division of Festivals, Alpine Securities USVI, Southland Gaming VI, International Capitol and Management Company, Yacht Haven Grande, FirstBank, Magens Bay Authority, St. Thomas Properties, Office of Gun Violence and Prevention, and the Virgin Islands Source.