Revitalizing Agriculture on St. John

Coral Bay Organic Farm and Garden Center, the home of Josephine's greens, has served the community of St. John and St. Thomas for over 30 years by providing an abundance of fresh, healthy food in the form of organic salad greens, vegetables, herbs, and fruits.  Josephine and the rest of our family have worked hard to make nutritious food accessible to everyone by providing it to the majority of restaurants that want to serve local produce, as well as Starfish Market to cover the Cruz Bay area, and our family’s farm market in Coral Bay.  Our operation is 100% organic and sun-grown in natural soil.  Utilizing only regenerative methods of farming to assure the highest nutrition and health benefits of our food, while sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere unlike unnatural and energy-wasting indoor/container operations.  

Unfortunately, the farm and market building were completely destroyed during the hurricanes Irma and Maria, causing over $1 million in damages to infrastructure and inventory.  Due to the unrealistic cost of insurance premiums for small scale agriculture, we had no coverage.  Finally, after 3 tedious years of legal wrangling with biased government officials, Josephine now holds in her hands a building permit to repair the damages caused by the storms.

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Even though our family had completed the process of applying for the required permits to build an Agri-Tourist destination BEFORE the storms had hit, and by Virgin Islands law the permits were to be issued over 3 years ago by statute due to the government failing to act in the required amount of time as detailed in the CZM Act, the reconstruction of the storm-ravaged farm market was issued a cease and desist order.  What ensued was a series of events that illustrated a broad campaign by certain officials to stop the farm from ever again being able to produce food as it once had.  Two years after the cease and desist order, and one year after repeated false promises by the governor to fix the injustice being committed, a meeting was held between Hugo Roller II, his attorney, and Government House Chief Legal Counsel David Bornn, and Economic Development Advisor Toya Malone.  It was in this meeting that it was finally revealed that the government claims it had actually "lost" the permit application after it was submitted.  Mr. Malone and Mr. Bornn admitting that "the government dropped the ball on this one", were the first officials to finally show integrity by revealing the truth.  Yet even though it was clear that the government had made a huge mistake, they were still unwilling to drop the $8,000 fine which had no accompanying explanation (required by law) as to why it was being levied.   After another dreadful year, our attorney was able to cut the fine in half, get the cease and desist order dropped, and have the required CZM and Building permits issued in accordance with that agreement.

It is one of those sad ironies, not all that unique to Virgin Islands politics, that our farm market was the staging ground and storage facility for FEMA and VITEMA disaster response efforts for the Coral Bay region at no cost to the government while Josephine was Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture in the 90’s.  But not all politicians are cut from the same cloth.  The most recent gubernatorial administrations have conveniently forgotten the past service of our family, and when the building that had helped so many was in ruins from storms, the most destructive forces in trying to rebuild ended up being in the human form, rather than the natural variety.

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The last three years have put us and our farm into a very difficult situation.  As a consequence of the wasted time, money, and energy in fighting unjust actions, having to function with inadequate infrastructure, and sudden health crises including Josephine’s complete hysterectomy to remove a grapefruit size tumor, this is the first time in our family’s history that we have felt the need to ask for financial support.  We have for some time been encouraged to start a crowdfunding campaign, an effort that we had postponed as there was no certainty that we would even be allowed to rebuild.  Our financial position now requires us to sell off other assets that had served to stabilize our income during lean times.

Just the structural improvements to the farm market including a concrete slab roof and hurricane resistant doors and windows, to increase resiliency against future disasters, is estimated to be $186,118.30.   Once indoor furnishing, replacement of the three industrial refrigerators for produce and seed storage, the rebuilding of a destroyed bridge (that had spanned a gut) which now divides the farmland in half, and the replacement of the solar array and battery bank for well water are factored in, the total cost of simply revitalizing the farm could approach $500,000.  That number is dependent on the design of the bridge deemed accessible to all concerned.  To be clear, these are just repair costs and are in no manner associated with the projected cost for the Agri-Tourism project.

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We are in all earnestness asking you to consider donating to a cause that has already provided so much to our community in ways of food security, sustainability, nutrition, and education.   Our family is committed to keeping our local produce affordable and accessible to all concerned, which is why we have not raised the price of our greens in over 20 years, not even to index with inflation.  As of writing, the only local group to give aid to our dilemma was the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands in partnership with the American Red Cross.   They were an early life-line of funding after the storms, and provided us with an unsolicited grant of $62,698.85, at a time when we were in the midst of our darkest hour.  Your contribution will go a long way in not only restoring the farm to its former capacity, but increasing its ability to feed our island community, and to better survive future calamities.  All donations from this campaign will go into a bank account with the sole purpose of paying the rebuilding costs, so as to provide an exact accounting of your contributions.  Thank you so much.


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https://www.facebook.com/JosephinesBestGreens/ 

https://www.instagram.com/coralbayorganicgardens/ 

https://stjohnsource.com/2018/01/10/josephines-greens-return-to-market/ 

https://stthomassource.com/content/2001/09/17/coral-bay-organic-gardens-growth-venture/
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Organizer and beneficiary

Josephine Roller 
Organizer
Cruz Bay, United States Virgin Islands
Hugo Roller 
Beneficiary
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