Through the aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season and now a global pandemic, St. John has continued to rely on imports to feed the island’s population. The St. John Community Foundation is working to change that with their program, Planting for Tomorrow, led by Dior Parsons.
“When COVID hit, we weren’t able to be sustainable on our own,” said Parsons. “We had to get food imported. I want to change that. God forbid another disaster hits, I just want to make sure we can survive.”
A grant from Global Giving for the creation of gardens and distribution of materials like composters, raised garden beds, and food-bearing plants kick started the initiative. Plans to host gardening classes are in the works, though temporarily on hold due to the pandemic.
“Global Giving has been very generous to recognize the immediate need for food distribution, and they were generous enough to let us shift to serve that need,” said SJCF Director of Operations and Interim Executive Director Jon Eichner. “They provided groceries and hot foods to seniors when we were locked down.”
As part of the food sustainability initiative, Parsons recently visited island seniors in their homes and Gifft Hill School to deliver breadfruit trees with the help of V.I. Fire Department’s St. John Deputy Chief Clarence Stephenson and V.I. Police Department Officers Jermaine Carty and Travis Richardson. The trees were provided by Trees That Feed Foundation with the help of St. Croix’s Ridge to Reef Farm.
“We were able to check in on the seniors and they really appreciated it,” said Parsons. “Word spreads, and now I can’t go to the grocery store without getting asked for a breadfruit tree. One thing I appreciated is the way the VIPD and VIFD built relationships with the seniors, giving them comfort to know someone is out there looking out for them. And it all came from just dropping off a breadfruit tree.”
Another facet of the Planting for Tomorrow program will be the creation of community gardens at the SJCF’s Foundation Park property in Estate Bellevue. A volunteer work party led by volunteer coordinator Nathan Visel recently cleared the trails that meander through the property, where Parsons envisions connecting seniors with island youth.
“My goal is to create a more food sustainable community but also to bridge the gap between our youth and our seniors,” she said. “A lot of our seniors have a green thumb and know a lot about our local fruits and what grows well. I’m hoping they can pass that knowledge on to our kids, and even to my generation. Let’s get back to enjoying the things I enjoyed as a child. A mango tree takes several years to bear; let’s get that process started so we can leave something behind for the generations that follow.”
SJCF is also planning a community garden at the newly reconstructed Adrian senior center. Everyone is welcome to join the next volunteer work party at Foundation Park, which will be announced ahead of time on the SJCF Facebook page, said Eichner.
Parsons said she envisions Planting for Tomorrow branching out in a myriad of ways as the program continues to grow and develop.
“One of our goals is to start planting some peppers and getting hot sauce recipes from our seniors so the younger students can take that and maybe even create a product from St. John, leading to a lucrative business,” she said. “The ideas and opportunities are endless. It’s a really exciting program and I look forward to all that we can offer.”