Cultivating new future at farm, market

As director of computer programming for a mail-order pharmaceutical company, Bob Vaughn spent 15 years commuting three hours a day to and from northern New Jersey.

The commute and the 10-hour workdays left little time for family, Vaughn said.

"The day was shot," he said.

That's why the Alpha native left the rat race and started a little farm in Plainfield Township. And he's since added to his resume, as manager of the Easton Farmers' Market, which opens for the season Saturday.

Vaughn, a West Easton resident since 1997, had done a bit of gardening in the past, but had no farming experience before he opened Mona Mae Farms last year.

"I wanted a different kind of career where I could be my own boss," he said.

Hydroponic tomato farmer

Mona Mae Farms, named for Vaughn's mother, features a hydroponic tomato greenhouse. Hydroponics -- the science of growing plants without soil -- allows farmers and home gardeners to extend the growing season through the winter.

After planting his tomatoes around Christmas, Vaughn said he'll have fresh tomatoes by the end of April, instead of by mid-July using traditional farming methods. He's also experimenting with hydroponic lettuce, and is considering growing peppers, cucumbers and eggplants this year the old-fashioned way.

Hydroponic farming is a labor-intensive process. But the peaceful solitary work is a welcome change from the fast-paced climate of his former profession, he said.

A second career at hand

Vaughn -- who designs and maintains Web sites on the side -- never imagined while sitting in front of a computer monitor that he'd be farming tomatoes or managing a farmers' market.

"I could not have predicted it in a million years," Vaughn said. "They say you have two or three careers in a lifetime. This is career number two, so we'll see how it works out."

Vaughn plans to spend his first season as market manager familiarizing himself with the market's operations. But other projects include maintaining and refining the market's new Web site that he designed.

The site will update patrons weekly on new vendors, activities, recipes and biographies on the local vendors. Vaughn said he'll also continue the weekly e-mail newsletter, work to attract new vendors and finalize details for a new frequent buyer program.

"We really want to try to get regular customers to the market," he said.

Changing of the guard

Lynn Prior co-managed the market for three years with Nancy Gameson. At the start of last season, Prior began searching for a new manager.

No one expressed much interest until Vaughn agreed last winter to take over, she said.

As a vendor last season, Vaughn offered input, attended all the board meetings and became involved in special events such as the Garlic Fest and Strawberry Festival, she said.

"He was ready to take over," Prior said.

And Vaughn's homegrown tomatoes?

"Once you taste them, you'll go to the market every week to get his tomatoes," Prior said.


Pot Growers Move Indoors

It's a growing trend in New York State: indoor operations cultivating massive crops of marijuana plants. This undercover agriculture yields a better product for the grower, but adds challenges for authorities.

When Steuben County police officers raided a property in Thurston last summer, they found 40 marijuana plants outside, and more than 240 growing inside.

"Around here you're dealing with a climate," explained Steuben County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Joel Ordway. "They can do an indoor grow year-round."

Members of the Steuben County Drug Initiative say indoor growing operations are on the rise locally, but are nothing new. They credit more aerial surveillance and theft.

"There's no honor among growers," Ordway said. "They all steal from each other."

Once indoors, there's the potential for more complex setups, including timed solar lighting and hydroponics like in the Thurston case.

"Anything from somebody growing a couple plants in the greenhouse in the back of their home or their trailer, up to some extremely elaborate indoor grows, where they're in false basements or an entire house," said Steuben County Assistant District Attorney Brooks Baker.

Of course, taking the plants out of the open poses new challenges for law enforcement.

"You're going to have to use more of the same kind of techniques you use in dealing with narcotics cases where it's not outdoors. It's not public," Baker explained. "You're more careful in how you investigate and it's more difficult to develop those leads."

From a prosecution standpoint, busting an indoor operation has its benefits. Baker says they're often accompanied by other illegal narcotics and packaging material that proves intent to sell.

"When you have a plant where they're producing marijuana they also tend to have other things as well," he said. "So, often other charges spin out of it."

With Steuben County boasting its largest number of prosecuted drug cases this past year, the message from those at the helm of the drug initiative is you can run, but you can't hide.

"The number of arrests has not slowed," said Baker. "Everyday I'm getting a phone call from somebody who's out there making an arrest."

By Melissa Batulis

Opinion: Support for Agriculture

Self sufficiency might be an impossible goal for Cayman Brac, but with rising fuel cost forever pushing up the price of cargo, any step towards increasing home grown foodstuff is a step in the right direction. The efforts of the Department of Agriculture (DoA) to assist the farmers on Cayman Brac might not appear hugely significant to the majority of the population, but the guidance towards some measure of self-reliance is admirable. The two latest projects – a water tank fed by a solar powered pump, and a seedling propagation facility – edge the Brac away from its total dependence on outside help, and demonstrate how alternative energy can be easily and cheaply incorporated into traditional farming. Teachers who head up the Agriculture Club at the Brac High School are quick to praise Chief Agriculture and Veterinary Officer Dr Alfred Benjamin and his staff for their constant support for all their agricultural projects. While the department has offered the high school encouragement in the development of new and innovative methods of farming, such as hydroponics and aquaculture, it has also been providing help in simple grow-box projects in the primary schools. Whether they are supporting working farmers by solving basic problems, or working with teachers to encourage young minds to develop new ideas and new ways of food production, the DoA is adding buffers to the vulnerabilities of a small island. The future is unpredictable and we had better prepare for all eventualities of a changing world. One day we may have reason to be grateful for the foresight of our Agriculture Department.

Kids Unlimited, Island Academy win big in Science Fair

Antigua’s annual National Science Fair came to a close last Friday with Kids Unlimited Primary and Island Academy Secondary scoring the best overall results.

The event was put on through a collaborative effort of the Association for Science & Technology Educators of Antigua & Barbuda (ASTEAB) and the Ministry of Education. It was sponsored mainly by Antigua Computer Technology (ACT) Co. Ltd., and the Antigua Commercial Bank.

The 15 schools that participated in the week long fair at the Multi-purpose Cultural & Exhibition Centre gathered there again last Friday to hear from the judges the results of their efforts. Also present was the Minister of Youth Affairs Winston Williams and Solomon Doumith, the managing director of ACT.

Elton Isaac, president of ASTEAB, said the projects were of an extremely high standard and demonstrated ingenuity, inventiveness, tremendous creativity, scienti-

fic skills as well as resourcefulness.

Dr. Anthony Richards, the government’s chief chemist, spoke on behalf of the chief judge, Dr. Helena Clare Jeffrey Browne, who was unable to attend the ceremony.

He observed that the projects reflected a very wide range of areas, from drawing straight lines to forming a curve, right over to demonstrations of generation of energy. He said the judges were also very pleased with the effort to make the projects dramatic.

The judges, however, advised that in the future the students should make a greater effort to link the projects to the Antiguan & Barbudan situation and prepare to explain the relevance to the local community.

The lack of correct or relevant measurements to accompany the projects was also mentioned. To this Dr. Richards said: “Science and technology is all about being able to prove something by having the facts and figures. So, if you had a windmill to generate electricity, one would like to know the wind speed and what voltage you got from that wind speed. We encourage the teachers to work with the students to be more numerate in the future.”

Barring the few drawbacks to the projects, winners of the pack still emerged, whose projects were just a bit better than the others.

Chantel Byron of Kids Unlimited was named the most outstanding of all the ca-

tegories when she emerged with four individual medals for her project, the Greasel Engine, which is a modified diesel engine designed to use vegetable oil.

Most notably, she won the overall Best Primary School Project ACT plaque. Kids Unlimited was also the best primary school winner.

Eutesha Browne of the Princess Margaret School was also outstanding for receiving five awards for her project, Comparison of Hurricane Protection Practices in the Upper Secondary category.

She won an ACT plaque for the Best Upper Secondary Project and the Environment Division trophy for Best Environmental Project.

Christine Persaud was the big winner in the Lower Secondary category for her project, Oil or Wind. She had the overall best project and won silver in the Environment Division’s best environmental project category.

For the number of projects submitted, the Island Academy Secondary won the Best Secondary school trophy.

The Dr. Hayden Thomas Trophy for Best Chemistry Project went to the Ottos Comprehensive School for Hydroponics, a procedure of growing plants without soil.

By Nikisha Smith

Success can be deep-rooted and rewarding

Reaping the award of their labour, several farmers and others were rewarded for their contributions to agriculture at the third annual awards and appreciation ceremony of the Agricultural Society. An impressive display of animals, fruits and vegetables told the story of some successes in agriculture. Lloyd Ramoon (right) was presented with the ‘Champion Poultry, Female’ trophy by Dr Alfred Benjamin, Chief Agricultural and Veterinary Officer, at the Agricultural Society’s Awards Ceremony. Photo: Christopher Tobutt

Paul Bodden received several trophies during the evening, including the Grand Champion Cow trophy, the Champion Livestock Farmer on Show, and the Equestrian Federation Participation trophy

Zelmalee Ebanks, with Dr Alfred Benjamin, and the many trophies won by her and her husband, William Ebanks

The Agricultural Society’s third annual Awards and Appreciation Ceremony took place at the Stacy Watler Agricultural Pavilion in Lower Valley. Minister of Agriculture, Hon Kurt Tibbetts, spoke about the progress that agriculture had made over the past year, as evidenced by the impressive display of animals, fruits and vegetables at the Agricultural Show on Ash Wednesday.

Mr Tibbetts went on to praise farmers for their efforts in livestock and crop improvement: “I am totally certain farming is alive and well, and I am confident about next year’s show,” he said. Mr Tibbetts also commended the Agriculture Department in their commitment to offering assistance to farmers.

He also spoke of a new Agro-Tourism scheme, and encouraged farmers to attend a special meeting to discuss it on 10 April. “We are going to see the project through…and end up with a project we can all be proud of,” he commented.

As he ended his speech, Mr Tibbetts confirmed his ministry’s commitment to encouraging and supporting farmers. After everyone enjoyed eating the locally produced and prepared food, a practical reminder of what the Cayman Islands can produce, the trophies were awarded.

Errol Watler, President of the Cayman Islands Agricultural Society began by presenting an award to Prison Director, Dwight Scott, for the participation of the prisons. There followed awards of appreciation for the continued support of the K9 dog-handlers demonstration team.

The Cayman Islands Boy Scouts Association, the Seventh Day Adventist Pathfinders, and Savannah, North Side, and Red Bay Primary Schools also gained appreciation awards. The Award of Long Service and Dedication went to Mr and Mrs Neals Godfrey, for their 20 years of dedicated service to the management of the gate on the day of the Agricultural Show.

The Awards for the Most Consistent Schools’ Agricultural Programme were won by Cayman Brac High School for their Hydroponics and Aquaculture Programmes, and the Lighthouse School for their ‘Grow Box’ project. Shirley Ann Tibbetts presented the awards for the best District stalls. The first place went to East End, second place to North Side, and the third place went to George Town.

North Side farmers William and Zelmalee Ebanks gained several trophies during the evening, including Champion Exhibitor of Fruits and Champion Exhibitor of Vegetables. Zelmalee Ebanks also gained another award, along with Adelaide Ebanks: ‘Champion Exhibitor of Home Products.’

Dr Alfred Benjamin, Chief Agricultural and Veterinary Officer, then awarded trophies for livestock. John McLean Senior won trophies for both the Grand Champion Rabbit and Grand Champion Bull. The trophy for Champion Poultry, Male, went to Lascelles Johnson and the trophy for Champion Poultry, Female was presented to Lloyd Ramoon. T

he trophy for Grand Champion Goat went to Iverston Ebanks, and Paul Bodden won the trophy for Grand Champion Cow, one of several other trophies that he gained during the evening. Livestock Farmer of the Year trophy for Grand Cayman went to Kent Rankin, and Dwayne McFarlane won the Cayman Brac trophy.

Grand Cayman Crop Farmer of the Year trophy went to Kenneth Billings, while Merchirito Chantilope took the trophy for Cayman Brac. Finally, and most fittingly the largest, most spectacular trophy of all, went to William Ebanks, for being the Most Outstanding Farmer of the Year. The organizers of the Agricultural Show have also announced the raffle winners.