Organized by the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service (UVICES) office, in collaboration with other agencies, the UVICES held the Agricultural Enrichment Summer Camp (AESC), officially merging two types of agriculture related youth organizations (Future Farmers of America and 4-H) for the first time in the territory. The camp took place at the UVICES office on the University’s St. Thomas campus and was lead by their staff as well as junior counselors from various high school FFA organizations.
Earlier in the year, the FFA Hunger Drive and School-based Farmers Market held their collaborative activities in support of encouraging youth in agriculture while promoting general community agricultural awareness. The summer program was yet another experience for youth to engage together around the theme of agriculture education.
“This experience ‘kinda like’ opened my eyes. It gave me an opportunity to really not only look into just agriculture itself, but myself,” said Jonisha Aubain, AESC camp Junior Counselor and Charlotte Amalie High School FFA organization Treasurer.
Due to financial restraints, their regular 4-H summer camp has not been offered in the past two years. UVICES staff decided instead of waiting hopeful for renewal of funding, it was time to find a way to create another program for youth. The success of the program can be attributed through local partnerships with the Departments of Labor, Human Services, and the Virgin Islands University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.
“From the perspective of our partners, they were hoping to connect these young adults, from their unit especially, with job opportunities,” said Dr. Louis E. Petersen, Jr. Ph.D., UVICES Assistant Director of Agriculture & Natural Resources. “The success in this case is that we were able to make a partnership, a connection, with the Mahogany Run Golf Course who indeed accepted to have one of our youngsters, after coming to the program, work with them.”
The camp finished as of their closing program on Friday, August 7, 2015. The parents and general community were able to see for themselves what the youth gained at the camp closing ceremony which showcased presentations by the students that reflected their summer experiences while working directly with a diversity of agriculture professionals, including crop and livestock producers, landscapers, agricultural instructors, inspectors, enforcement officers, etc. during the six week program which began on June 29, 2015.
Ashlely “Ashanti” George, Albion “Chico” George and Dr. Petersen as well as other UVICES staff lead the youth camp during the six weeks. Photos were captured of all activities, guest speakers and field trips and can be found on the UVICES facebook page. An exploration of career topics in agriculture included:
- Veterinary medicine
- Livestock and poultry science
Irrigation and water usage activities and field trips included:
- Ivanna Eudora Kean High School aquaponic farm
- two local landscaping & plant nurseries
- tool safety & usage demonstrations
- Introduction to 4-H & FFA Organizations
- UVI Marine Science Center boat trips
- US Customs and Border Protection canine inspection demonstration
- plant propagation exercises
- local farms
- plant Identification exercises
- seedling production
- irrigation system assembly
Dr. Petersen reflects on the experience and shared that the six-week summer program successfully increased knowledge and created awareness of career and work opportunities in the field of agricultural science both for the youth and their parents. The second objective was also successful in equipping the participants with job preparation skills through classroom presentations, practical exercises, and field activities. One camper has gained employment at a position at the Mahogany Run Golf Course, a junior counselor is now employed at St. Thomas Adventure Tours with other potential job placements still in negotiation at other locations. As networking continues throughout the year, other students are expected to be connected to local businesses or organizations.
UVICES staff will stay connected to students throughout the year and will include them in other activities including the 31st Caribbean Agro-Economics Symposium happening on St. Croix from Monday, August 10. At the conference, FFA and 4-H students will present collaboratively on what we have been doing regarding the aspects of production, promotion through social media, and the actual market site. They also will share their success in the indoor systems they have used used a model for the issue of climate change mitigation.
The community can assist through volunteering their time and mentorship support, sharing the news of the activities as well as simply being present at various public activities to congratulate and further encourage the youth.
“We’ve had no 4-H program for two years, the public has been calling and we just responded to that need. So we like to pride ourselves, as we said, to responding to the changing needs,” he continued.
“That is exactly what we have been doing for the six weeks. We also like to pride ourselves on responding to the changing needs of the community,” said Petersen, as they have shown in providing a successful and effective youth camp.