Land has already been leveled and mulched so eager students of the St. Thomas/ St. John Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) School can begin to plant crops in March, 2022. The school’s trailblazing agricultural initiative is open to creative farming ideas and will utilize new crop techniques. Program stakeholders anticipate that participating students will be inspired to forge career paths in one of the many and varied fields of agriculture. This new agriculture program will include a component for the school to distribute produce among vulnerable groups on St. Thomas and St. John, in the US Virgin Islands. Leading the development and implementation of this program is local elder, Carlos Robles.
Mrs. Gerene Joseph, Education Director of the North Caribbean Conference, congratulated the school for its thrust and demonstration of true education. “The Adventist philosophy of education, the holistic development of the student, is evident in this undertaking,” said Mrs. Joseph. “The lessons to be learnt and the direction of the school administration will certainly impact students now and in the future.”
The school’s principal, Ms. Renee Hodge, commented, “I am excited about incorporating agriculture in our school’s program and the impact that it will bring to our students and community, as well. This program falls in line with our philosophy of educating the body, mind and spirit.”
“We are providing the growing space as well as the start-up funds for the program,” said the school’s Business Manager, Ms. Linda McBean. “We reached out to the Department of Education who gladly requested a list of equipment needed, to lend financial assistance to the program. Mr. Robles indicated that he has reached out to Future Farmers of America, the premier youth organization that prepares members for leadership and careers in the science, business and the technology of agriculture. Membership in this organization also provides incentives for entrepreneurship. Students can apply for start-up funding to raise chickens for eggs, to become florists, or to open a landscaping business. It is hoped that the cohort of students would be so excited with the program that the school will lend assistance to them, in applying for funding to start their own agricultural program. The intention is to produce goods to the point where the produce can be sold to the community. This will give the students experience in the art of marketing and selling their produce.”
Among the critical building blocks of a feasibility study, was the question, “How does one go about establishing a viable agriculture program in today’s market?” The school administrators found the answer in Mr. Carlos Robles – a visionary leader, altruistic supporter, and dedicated member of the SDA Church.
Mr. Robles is a former Commissioner of Agriculture in the US Virgin Islands, a horticultural specialist with the University of the Virgin Islands, a farm management expert and he owns a horticultural consulting and training business. Agriculture has been the story of his life, since he moved from the stage of a neutral spectator to farmer and agriculture advocate. Mr. Robles stated, “One of the visions for this program is that every meal served in our school’s cafeteria should have something from the garden in it. The program will begin with the establishment of an agricultural club of about ten interested children, who will receive inspiration from guest speakers, field trips, and when they meet once per week. The program will expose the next generation to potential areas of service and career paths, not usually considered.”
As part of its community reach, the program plans to include the sale of vegetable seedlings and other plants to the community, with the proceeds being returned to the school. Additionally, the students will be encouraged to partner with a senior citizen independent living facility by helping with gardening. The aim is to cultivate in the students a spirit of community service and display the love of God.
Mr. Robles added, “We have built a legacy on traditional academics but we plan to take learning to the next level. We want to introduce, in the program, farm robotics or farmbot, for short, so that children interested in robotics can see this as a path to an interest in agriculture. It’s about marrying technology with agriculture. School leaders believe that for over two years students have been fixed on screens. This is the time for them to get out and embrace what is referred to as horticulture therapy – the process of using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health, as well as communication and thinking skills. After two years of constant screen time and living in a virtual world, it’s time for students to reconnect with the real world through connecting with creation and creation’s God.”
One parent, who declined to be identified, committed her child to the program since she has seen from her own experience that this is something valuable for any child’s development.
The St. Thomas/St. John Seventh-day Adventist School was established in the 1950s and is the only Adventist school on the island. It is an accredited K-12 institution, staffed with experienced Christian educators who are committed to excellence, and whose main objectives are to care, nurture, and educate for eternity.