FarmPod, LLC commits to contributing to the efforts to improve the sustainability and resiliency of the agriculture sector on St. Croix by installing a vertical aquaponic food production system on the Rudolph Schulterbrandt Agriculture Grounds of St. Croix in partnership with the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (DA) and V.I. Good Food Coalition (VIGFC). This system, known as a “FarmPod,” will be operated by the DA and VIGFC, and be utilized for public tours and educational programming. The FarmPod will produce fresh vegetables, herbs and fish, while the water and waste-catchment programs will support the irrigation and fertilization for a surrounding ground farm. FarmPod, LLC will provide training and consulting services to DA and VIGCF on the operation of the FarmPod, seminars for farmers, and long-term tech support for the FarmPod itself. The DA will host the FarmPod and co-manage outreach and education programs alongside VIGFC.
This commitment has four main pillars. First, commitment partners will recruit and provide training to a total of four high school or college student interns on the technical skills needed to operate the FarmPod. These students will operate the unit for one to two hours per day over a 2.5-month internship. Second, partners will coordinate and host educational tours of the FarmPod and surrounding farm grounds once a month from January to May 2020, and will participate in the annual Agriculture Fair hosted by the DA.
Third, partners will host monthly workshops to provide technical training, tools, and resources to farmers and the public on St. Croix, introducing new tools and technology to improve agricultural production and environmental resiliency on the island.
Finally, partners will work together to design a program to support the local Farm to School lunch program by providing schools fresh produce and fish harvested from the FarmPod and surrounding farm.
May – December 2019: FarmPod secures necessary funding for project, begin planning of program to support local Farm to School lunch program
November – December 2019: FarmPod set-up and installation at the host site, ground farm set-up, training
Jan – March 2020: First internship program starts with two interns; school/public tours are led once a month; farmers’ workshops are hosted one a month
February 2020: Agriculture Fair, exposure to thousands in attendance, lectures, demonstrations
March – May 2020: Second internship program starts with two interns; school/public tours are led once a month; farmers’ workshops are hosted one a month
In 2017, the U.S. Virgin Islands were devastated by two category five hurricanes, which had a crippling effect on the small but engaged agricultural industry. After the storm, it took months for power to be restored, and for fresh food to arrive through the ports and to the stores - creating an additional barrier to accessing fresh food. Currently, the Virgin Islands imports 98% of its food and spends over $1 billion dollars on imported food annually. The territory is working towards recovering its pre-disaster agricultural state and many small farms are struggling to rebuild or maintain their infrastructure, while still preparing for the next potential drought or hurricane season. Farmers in the territory are working to build an industry with limited access to land, ground water, education, resources, and technology.
As the territory works to rebuild, there is a growing interest in investing in more sustainable agricultural practices on St. Croix in an effort to increase local food production, decrease dependency on imported food, and to build stronger agricultural systems for farmers to support the community through natural disasters and climate changes. By increasing smallholder production and consistency through the use of education and technology positions, farmers can begin accessing larger markets and make agriculture an economic driver in the territory. Additionally, educational programming and outreach can help ensure that more persons in the community feel connected to where their food comes from, and are exposed to new agriculture technologies, facilitating the creation of a new generation of agriculturalists and farmers.
FarmPod is seeking additional financial resources to support the operations of the FarmPod. Specifically, the costs to implement electrical and plumbing preparations, obtain start-up supplies, and support the staffing for maintenance and outreach.
FarmPod can offer feasibility studies for nonprofits interested in acquiring a unit. FarmPod can also offer expertise and best practices to assist other organizations and communities in developing and implementing similar programs using a FarmPod.