Pre-Thanksgiving Ag Fair Returns to St. Thomas

Chef Ashley Allen explains the finer points of carving a turkey during the St. Thomas-St. John Ag Fair.
Chef Ashley Allen explains the finer points of carving a turkey during the St. Thomas-St. John Ag Fair.

An early holiday season event, the St. Thomas-St. John Agriculture Fair, welcomed culture fans to a new venue this weekend. Traditionally staged on the grounds of the University of the Virgin Islands, this year’s fair appeared under the pavilion at Bordeaux Farms.

A familiar venue for those who frequent the monthly farmer’s market, a modest crowd strolled about and filled a bank of picnic tables with a panoramic backdrop of St. Thomas’ north side.

Organizers skipped last year’s fair in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. It wan’t until until January, when the group We Grow Food, Inc., held its event, that farmers had a smattering of crops to offer the public. Almost a year later, things were looking somewhat better.

Cucumbers, tomatoes and lemongrass, eggplants in purple and white, and basketball-sized watermelons filled vendors’ tables. Shoppers moved in for closer looks.

Bottles of oil, hot sauce and honey gleamed in the afternoon sun. Bordeaux farmer Charles Leonard set up a flat glass beehive display on table near the honey. His assistant raised the lid of a cooler under the table and offered a guest some slightly sweet carambola punch.

Gift shoppers browsed racks of garments in African print and baskets of locally made soaps, creams and lotions. Ag fair regular Aquanette Chinnery pointed to a basket of charcoal soap, with only two soaps left to sell.

The regulars came early and almost cleaned out her supply, she said.

Meatless food vendors filled cartons with lunch and take out ital. A bearded Rastaman in an herb cap fried battered cauliflower and loaded it into plastic box to cool.

The crowd drew nearer as chef Ashley Allen, dressed in a crisp blue shirt, explained the finer points of carving a turkey. A juicy brown subject lay at the tip of his knife.

Never use a serrated knife, he said. Serrated knives are used to slice bread. With a two pronged fork holding down a joint, he sliced through a thigh and quickly carved the dark meat into slices.

Before long, sliced turkey landed on small dessert plates. It didn’t take long for them to disappear.

UVI communications instructor Dara Monife said the crowd was a little light on the first day. But those who came stayed and enjoyed.

Connor’s petting zoo drew the eye of children a few feet from the admissions booth. One child, trying to be brave, climbed into a pen and lifted a box turtle. He quickly put it down and decided to make friends with a small, black rabbit instead. Golden silkie chickens, looking like punk rockers, peeked out from a wire cage. Two pygmy pigs, in a romantic mood, gave the young visitors a livestock demonstration. The children didn’t seem to mind, although some parents did.

Most years the zoo includes miniature pony rides, but the pony didn’t make it. For the young ones, the trip stopped short at the bouncy house.

More serious youngsters pulled up a stool on stage at the pavilion, next to adults and a set of conga drums. The Earth Mama’s Pan African Dance Troupe glided on stage in flowing robes while the drummers raised a rhythm. Seats at the front of the stage filled up.

When he was asked how the new venue was working out, Eldritch Thomas, president of We Grow Food Inc. smiled. As the head of the Bordeaux Farmers, he hinted he had his favorite spot.

Thomas smiled again when he mentioned the brief opening ceremony with comments from UVI President David Hall, former ag fair host.

“He said he wants it back,” Thomas said.