Christian Valley Station
The Pearl of the South
Hidden away in the forested folds of the Shekerly Mountain Range of southern Antigua, Christian Valley Station is the country’s premiere collection of mature fruit tree varieties. Here, the average rainfall of more than 50 inches (cm see PROMIS) per annum is twenty percent higher than the national average, lies a 40 acre (? hectare) orchard of mango, citrus fruits, avocado, guava, Malay apple, cashew, breadfruit, soursop, and many curious tropical fruits. The soil which flows down from the peaks is an excellent, slightly acidic, sandy loam that is more suitable for fruit trees than is the limestone of the north-east of the island.
Christian Valley has had a checkered history. Along the road into Christian Valley, one encounters the ruin of the colonial, sugar estate house of Blubber Valley, now surrounded by a chicken farm. The Christian Valley estate house lies at the end of the road, ithin the station. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the surrounding hills served as a refuge for a society of escaped African slaves, known to history as maroons. Maroon trails are still used today by foresters and farmers.
In the beginning
Starting in the early 1970s a local farmer (the late Sir Robert Hall) served as the Minister of Agriculture, and championed a programme of agricultural diversification away from dependence on sugar cane. At this time, the land in Christian Valley and the adjacent estates of Blubber Valley and Dunnings were under sugar cane, with tenant farmers also cultivating some ground provisions. The decision to remove the tenants in order to create a 140 acre (? hectare) station in Christian Valley produced a political storm, and the most persistent of the farmers remained on the land until the 1990s, when he passed away.
In 1971, ten years before Independence, the state government secured development assistance from the British Development Fund along with the services of the energetic Ms Betty Metcalf as team leader. Her team set about creating well designed, stone terraces along the contours of the lower slopes, some of which can be seen east of the offices. They also erected the farm buildings. The original structures included a station manager’s residence, which has never been used for this purpose and now lies derelict near the century palm.
Some 25 mango varieties were introduced as grafts using material taken from Florida collections. Pumpkins which were planted among the young mango trees yielded a bountiful harvest. An orchard of soursop flourished beneath coconut trees. Managers planned to introduce sheep to graze below the fruit trees.
Visitors to the station during its heydey would have interacted with a large staff of up to thirty persons including agricultural cadets drawn from the local villages of Jennings and Bolans. The station boasted tractors and a fully equipped tree nursery with a soil sterilizer and a shredding machine for producing the coconut coir planting material from dried coconut husks.
The official opening was celebrated in 1975. At this time, Christian Valley Station was envisioned as the agricultural hub of the South and there were plans to administer Cades Bay Pineapple Station and other government operations, such as the Forestry Division, from this centre. It was intended to support national food security. At the same time, the station provided planting material to fruit farmers and promoted good plant husbandry. In 1976, there was a change of government and with the rise of tourism and the service sector, Christian Valley and agriculture were considered to be less important to the country’s development.
The Central Baptist Church Project introduces new technology
As you enter the gate, you will encounter a large planting of mango. On the right hand side, across the stream bed, there is also the front line of 4 acre of mango trees. Beyond and up the slopes there are Brazil cashews which produce large nuts. These trees were established on a 20 acre (?hectare) orchard during the mid-1970s under a project of the Southern Baptist Convention (USA) through the Central Baptist Church located in Ottos, St John’s. This fruitful collaboration increased the mechanization of the station. For instance, it brought the “sit down” lawnmower to Christian Valley and showcased drip irrigation, which has since transformed agriculture in the country. Despite considerable interest from private farmers, the project was handed over to the government in order to ensure access of planting material to all.
In the early 1980s, experimental food processing labs were introduced throughout the Eastern Caribbean, with British assistance. The Food Processing Unit at Dunbars has collaborated with Christian Valley and Cades Bay pineapple Stations to develop a range of fruit preserves, including jams, jellies, fruit cheeses, fruit leathers and solar dried fruit.
From 1995 to 2001, five powerful hurricanes have ravaged Christian Valley. The first storm demolished the soursop orchard and felled many of the coconut trees. The citrus plantings were also damaged. Up in the forest the hurricanes destroyed terraces and trails. Despite such setbacks, the work of supporting farmers continued. From 1988 to 2003, the station contributed to the distribution of over 22,000 citrus plants and some 10,000 of grafted mango plants by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Christian Valley today
More than 180 metric tonne of tropical fruit was imported in 1999, and so Christian Valley’s job of improving local production to meet demand is far from complete.
Date Started-1973 Name- Plant Propagation Station
Prior Owned by a Number of Owners
Purchased by the Government in 1940s – 50s.
Extension Division – Rent to Farmers from 50s-70s
Project was started in 1973 as was named Christian Valley Plant Propagation Station under the policy of the then elected Government (PLM) and was spear headed by the Minister of Agriculture, Honorable Robert Hall, Director of Agriculture – Burty Lake and Manager of the Project – Mr. Cedric Henry. It was funded by the British Government (British Government rep was Miss Betty Metcalf) and Baptist Organization (represented by Mr. Gary Hartcock.
At Christian Valley the main focus was the development of Orchards – Major Fruits such as
(1) Mangoes Various – Varieties (gene pool for propagation)
Varieties – Juice, Edward, Eldon, Pinero, Irwin, Francise, Imperial, Kent, Kitt, Ruby, Early Gold, Tommy, Attcins, Palmers, Sensation, Haden, Kidney- John Peter and Dominica, Num-doc-mai
(2) Avocado – Pollock, Simons, Lula, Bottle Neck, Grippina, Simmic 34
(3) Citrus – Valancia, Washington Navel, Ortanique, Parson Brown, Mandarin, Tangerine, Tangello, Grape Fruit (Marsh, Ruby Red, Pink), Shaddock. Seedless Lime, West Indies Limes.
(4) Minor Fruits – Guavas, Malay apples, Soursop, Sugar Apples, Golden Apple.
(5) Ornamentals – Flowers and Forestry Trees