The hills on the west end of St. Thomas are alive with the sweet smell of fresh produce. Here, in Estate Bordeaux, a group of Rastafarian farmers grow a bounty of fresh tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs on hand-terraced hillside plots and cleared mountain tops. These fresh foods are available for sale at the bi-monthly Bordeaux Farmer’s Market. However, it is these foods and much more such as prepared vegan dishes, locally-made juices, original handicrafts and live music that makes the annual Bordeaux Farmers Rastafari Agricultural and Cultural Vegan Food Fair held each January an event not to miss.
There’s always a question when visiting with another cultural group if the experience will be a comfortable one. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ at the Bordeaux Fair. People of all ages, genders, races and religions feel at home among the welcoming organizers, vendors and performers as well as fellow fair-goers. One big reason is that there is something for everyone while at the same time nothing like it you’ve ever experienced. For example, there’s no hamburgers or hot dogs reminiscent of typical fairs. No made-in-China or plastic crafts. Plus, the ambience of looking out at the rugged beauty of lush hillsides that stretch to the sea with nary a sign of civilization in sight is unlike any other locale on St. Thomas.
“This year’s theme, ‘20 Years of Struggle, Challenges & Jah Blessings’, really summed up what we’ve been about all these years,” said Eldridge ‘Sparks’ Thomas, president of the non-profit organizing group, We Grow Food Inc., while speaking on WUVI radio (AM 1090) with station manager Dara Monifah Cooper in December. “We want to bring a lot of joy to the community. People look forward to the fair each year. The main objective is to keep the tradition of agriculture alive and to produce good quality fresh, local, organic food for the island’s residents. After all, most of our foods are imported and costly. Our second objective it to showcase agriculture as a profession to our youth and bring attention to our industry.”
Fresh-picked produce is certainly the big draw. Papayas, sugar cane, sugar apples, avocados, limes, bananas, leafy greens like collage and kale, pumpkin, tomatoes, scotch bonnet peppers, root vegetables like yams and tania and fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary and basil are usually season in January and available from vendors set up inside the open-air market. Here too are the ‘dub masters’ or Rastafarian cooks selling vegan or in Rastafari-lingo ‘Ital’ dishes. There might be handmade tofu straight from the soybean seasoned with jerk spices and grilled over an open fire, hearty pumpkin soup cooked in a large African-style clay or ‘yabba’ pot, thick rich vegetable stews and what might pass for meatloaf only made from dried cooked beans. Thomas is known for his local fruit juices made of mango, tamarind, sorrel, soursop, guava, passion fruit and papaya. He is also a beekeeper and offers his honey for sale.
In the market’s center is a stage where presentations and entertainment are dished up throughout the weekend. The most honored of the addresses is the ‘Farmer of the Year’ award. This year the tribute went to Daniel Crabbe, known best by his Rastafarian name of Ras Nashamba-I. Not only is Ras a proficient farmer and long-time agricultural advocate, but he’s also known as one of the best Dub Masters on the island for his vegan breads and other baked goods. Entertainment also included live performances from local reggae singers, including several young people. The stage was also from where special activities such as farm tours were announced.
“We had one farm tour each day which started in the late morning around 11 a.m. The farms are located right below the market. The tour gives exposure to what a farmer does. Fair goers were able to walk down and see fruits and vegetables in different sizes and stages and see how well they grow in our soil,” Thomas says.
Just steps away outside the market were several booths with arts and crafts vendors. Clothing, jewellery, cloth dolls, scented oils and artistic paintings are just a few of the wares for sale. Kids enjoyed getting hands on in the Family Activity Center. Here, there were cultural craft projects like weaving straw baskets. All the materials were all supplied, there was supervision from those knowledgeable and the low tables were perfectly child-sized.
The Bordeaux Farmers Rastafari Agricultural and Cultural Vegan Food Fair is not only a Virgin Islands’ tradition, it also may be the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. It’s definitely an annual event to attend for an hour, a day or the whole weekend.
Admission to the Fair is $3 for adults and $1 for children. For more information, call (340) 727-6684 or visit We Grow Food’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WEGROWFOODINC