By 11 a.m., eastbound traffic was backed up beyond Savannah as thousands of people jammed into the fairgrounds in Lower Valley to celebrate the 52nd annual Agriculture Show on Wednesday.
The early morning crowd was light, but officials were expecting a peak around noon.
“We’re looking for another record turnout,” Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said, shortly after arriving.
He said the show, which features fresh produce, food booths, works by local artisans and displays of prize crops and livestock, is more than just a celebration of the island’s farm industry.
“It also is a look back at Cayman,” he said. “Some of the things we have here, the heavy cake, some of the food, reminds you of what it was like in the ‘80s. We’ve come a long way.”
One of the more popular sites in the morning hours was the Agriculture Department’s plant sale area. A line of people waited to be allowed in to buy such plants as seasoning peppers – one of the first things to sell out – fruit trees, sweet potatoes and ground covers, such as peppermint.
Joseph Haylock, 30, of West Bay, said people get excited about the department’s sale because the prices are relatively cheap.
“We paid like $80 and we got 13 trees,” Mr. Haylock said, holding two mango trees in 5-gallon tubs. “We definitely came here to spend money. We’re doing some landscaping and there are things we wanted.”
He was surprised at some of the plants he had seen not only in the department’s area, but at stands operated by island nurseries.
“It’s the first time in two years,” that he’s been to the show, he said. “There’s a lot more. I saw blueberries. I didn’t even know you could grow them in Cayman.”
Beyond the plants, he said, the show is a fun event to attend.
“It seems like a nice islandwide event,” he said, “like it should be.”
Agriculture Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly used the occasion to announce a new memorandum of understanding between the government and the Cayman Agricultural Society. She said the government would be providing $270,000 to support a program to import and breed cattle from the United States.
The Zippy stall had plenty of peppers, mangoes, sugarcane and coconut water on sale.Ms. O’Connor-Connolly made the announcement as part of her welcoming remarks during the show’s opening ceremony. Sporting a baseball cap and a flowing blouse, the minister told the crowd that the show has long been an important part of local culture.
“It’s a day we all set aside and put on our calendars,” she said, “a day where we can say, ‘That’s Cayman.’”
Listening to the minister was Madre May Bodden, 88, who sat in a lawn chair with her feet up on a picnic table bench. Ms. Bodden said she has been coming to the show since its inception in 1963.
She likes being able to get cassava cake and fresh produce. But mostly, she said, it’s a chance to catch up with friends.
“Every year I come to this festival,” she said, “I tell people, ‘You know where to find me.’ I come prepared. I bring my chair so I can elevate my feet. I come here because I can relax and I see all kinds of people.”
Agricultural Society President George Smith said the show is “an opportunity for friends and family to congregate and reminisce about the old days.”
Addressing the crowd during the opening ceremonies, Mr. Smith said anyone who eats local produce becomes involved in agriculture. And local agriculture needs to be bolstered, he said.
In the last 20 years, farmland in Grand Cayman has been stagnant, at just over 22,000 acres. Global climate change will likely change that, he said. Estimates are that farming in the Caribbean will lose $22 billion due to climate change by 2050.
“We must incorporate climate change in every aspect of agricultural planning,” he said.
There were plenty of opportunities for people to learn more about agriculture. The Department of Agriculture had displays on such things as preventing invasive species, and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute’s Cayman Islands office showed off examples of the local tuber crops, and shared their efforts in seed purification, insecticide analysis and maintaining germplasm.
Annika Minott, a scientist with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute, said the organization provides free growing material for sweet potatoes and cassava. It also tries to figure out which varieties make the most popular chips.
Last year, the institute treated show attendees to free samples of sweet potato chips and surveyed people on which varieties they liked most. This year, they passed out samples of cassava chips.
Fair and food just go together and this year’s event was no exception. From whole coconuts to pizza to fresh juices to conch dishes, there was no shortage of choices.
Nicola Gothar, 41, of George Town, said she began coming to the show when it was held on what now are the cricket grounds. This year, she was with her husband, Andros, and their two children.
“It’s a tradition,” she said. “The kids enjoy it, especially the livestock and the horse show.”
She appreciates the various traditional foods, she said, listing off some of her favorites.
“And the little donuts,” Mr. Gothar reminded her. “Let’s not forget the little donuts. I think I need to go get some more.”