The University of the Virgin Islands’ Board of Trustees has established the School of Agriculture. This is great news. The history of how the university became a land-grant institution is one all Virgin Islanders should be proud of. It was local farmers, particularly on the island of St. Croix, who lobbied Congress to establish a land-grant institution. The Senepol cattle breed, which was a rising star of the agricultural industry at that time in the Virgin Islands, needed development using a more scientific level of research.

What better place to conduct research on our locally bred cattle — which became one of the top cattle breed in the world — than the (then) College of the Virgin Islands. In fact, during the establishment of a land-grant CVI, there was an endowment of $3 million to the institution. Thus, in 1972, CVI, now UVI, became a land-grant institution that created the Cooperative Extension Service and the Agricultural Experiment Station. Within this system of education and research, there is a teaching component, which is the school of agriculture or the teaching of agriculture education.

In a nutshell, Congress designated land-grant university or college institution, which then received the benefits of the Morrill Act of 1862 and 1890. The Act provided grants in the form of federal lands, and land for UVI were granted in the early 1960s by the U.S. government to establish the college.

The first part of the Morrill Act of 1862 reflected the growing demand of Americans for agricultural and technical education in the country. The second Morrill Act of 1890 extended access to higher education by providing additional endowments for all land-grant institution, which UVI received when it became a land-grant institution in 1972.

The Hatch Act of 1887 created the Agricultural Experiment Station Program, which is a key component of the land-grant institutional system. Then, there is the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which created the Cooperative Extension Service, which is part of the land-grant institutions that disseminate research information from the agricultural experiment stations to the public. Land-grant institutions are a major part of the American educational system and are unique, as in it connects to farmers, family and children. In short, the land-grant system meets the needs of all Americans through research, education, and teaching.

I recall the late Gov. Cyril E. King’s vision to establish a School of Agriculture at then College of the Virgin Islands. In the mid-1970s Louis “Akil” Petersen along with myself, Kava M. Kumbi Bramble, Michael “Ras Moe” George and Frank Francois and Miguel Francis (now deceased) established the Agricultural Club at Charlotte Amalie High School when we were students. King took us young people “under his wing,” so to speak, and supplied us with tools as we planted and produced vegetables on the school’s grounds.

As a result, the Agricultural Club became part of biology classes at Charlotte Amalie High School as well as part of the Youth Commission summer program in the mid-1970s and ’80s. Students were paid under the Youth Commission Summer Program for gaining a lifetime of agriculture knowledge and skills. We produced and gave fresh vegetables to the school’s kitchen and sold to Fruit Bowl. As we were about to graduate from high school, King encouraged us to attend college and study in the fields of agriculture, natural and environmental sciences.

At the time of our high school graduation, there was no degree program of agriculture at CVI. Therefore, many of us went onto universities on the U.S. mainland, while others joined the military, and others stayed home to look for employment.

The late Gov. King was our greatest supporter. I was a freshman in college in Georgia when he died in office in 1978. He loved young people and all people of these islands and was the greatest and still most popular governor ever elected in the Virgin Islands. His wife would support us by purchasing produce from our stand set up at school.

We promised Gov. King that when we finished college we would return home to help, in any way possible, the people of the Virgin Islands, especially in the field of agriculture, natural science, cultural preservation, and environmental studies. In 1978, the university officially initiated — under the Division of Science and Mathematics — an associate degree program in agriculture. This teaching degree program in agriculture satisfies the goals and mission of our land-grant institution.

Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Diane Collingwood is one of the students who graduated from UVI’s agriculture degree program. By the early 1990s, however, we lost the agriculture program at UVI. Under the leadership of UVI President David Hall and others, especially the 32nd Legislature, the program was once again introduced at UVI. It became a reality when the Board of Trustees signed off on a school of agriculture.

Under UVI’s School of Agriculture, students will be able to pursue programs both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Specific degree programs include animal science, agroecology, agricultural business, cannabis biotechnology, cannabis social studies, horticulture, regulatory science and general agriculture. There are also certificate programs in agriculture to include animal science, agrotourism, cannabis social studies, horticulture, general agriculture, agroforestry and aquaculture.

This is just the beginning of the agricultural degree program at UVI. In the near future, more agricultural degree programs will come online. And, in order for UVI’s agricultural degree program to be successful, it will take all V.I. residents and Virgin Islanders around the world to serve as ambassadors. Dr. Usman Adamu serves as dean as well as the director of the agriculture program at UVI. He can be reached at 340-692-4091 or email usman.adamu@uvi.edu.

— Olasee Davis resides on St. Croix