U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS — Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and FreshMinistries founder and CEO, the Reverend Dr. Robert V. Lee III, held a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning at the future site of an agribusiness center to support aquaponics farming and entrepreneurship in Estate Bethlehem on St. Croix.
The Estate Bethlehem project is the launch of the “Desmond Tutu Program to End Global Hunger,” an initiative to address global hunger by FreshMinistries, a Florida-based interfaith humanitarian organization.
“This is a project that has long been in the making, and not only is it part of the FreshMinistries’ efforts to end global hunger, it will provide an excellent source for our youth to learn and gain experience in a new industry, while also providing jobs for residents of the Virgin Islands,” Governor Bryan said.
FreshMinistries was awarded a $2 million grant by the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce to build the center so it can serve “as a catalyst for the revitalization of the agriculture industry and diversification of the territory’s economic base,” according to the EDA.
In partnership with Farmers in Action, on land leased by FIA from the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, FreshMinistries is constructing the new center to house its FEED program (Fueling Entrepreneurship and Economic Development) to provide hands-on training and classroom sessions to individuals interested in owning, managing or working within the innovative field of aquaponics.
The system blends aquaculture (fish) and hydroponic (produce) organic farming techniques into a climate-resistant closed-loop growth system powered by renewable technology. This soil-less, commercial-scale growth system uses 90-98 percent less water and yields greater harvest per square foot than soil-based farming.
No hormones, pesticides or herbicides are used, and growth rates for seafood and produce are much greater than in traditional farming; a two-pound tilapia can be grown in 180 days and a full head of lettuce in six weeks.
FreshMinistries’ project will consist of three 6,000-square-foot and three 3,000-square-foot greenhouses, an enclosed processing center with refrigeration units, storage, sinks and work tables, office and classroom space, and acreage where program graduates and co-operative partners can manage their own farming systems.
“We look forward to launching this exciting project, which will provide jobs, economic opportunity, and organic produce and fish in a part of the world with unique agricultural challenges,” said Reverend Lee. “This will improve the lives of families in the Virgin Islands, and help us launch similar projects around the world.”
FreshMinistries is a 501(c)3 interfaith organization working to eliminate extreme poverty by empowering communities and individuals to realize their full potential. Founded in 1989, FreshMinistries focuses on sustainable outreach in core-city Jacksonville and throughout the world, through programs to teach financial literacy, life skills, job preparation, business incubation, and other initiatives aimed at enhancing quality of life in impoverished and crime-ridden areas.
Also attending the groundbreaking were representatives from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the V.I. Department of Agriculture and the V.I. Department of Labor. Senator Allison DeGazon, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Regulations, and Agriculture, also gave remarks.