It sounds bananas, but fruit has been the catalyst to bring two countries together. For Mount Jackson apple grower Sonny Bowman, an unprecedented agricultural contract with Cuba has exciting possibilities.
Sonny Bowman, owner of Turkey Knob Growers, says, "It's a new market for us and a new market for the U.S. It's a market we haven't enjoyed since 1959 when the embargo started."
That embargo was lifted by Congress in 2000 and now Cuba can buy food and medicine from the United States. Bowman's $75,000 apple deal is leading the way.
Tom Sleight, from the Virginia Department of Agriculture, says, "We need innovative and progressive growers like Turkey Knob to take advantage of these openings because they're tough."
A Cuban delegation visited Bowman's packaging plant in Timberville to close the deal they started at a food fair in Havana.
A Cuban delegation visited Bowman's packaging plant in Timberville to close the deal they started at a food fair in Havana. Last fall, hundreds of American exhibitors from 33 states were there, fighting to exchange products for pesos. Virginia was the first to snag a deal.
Tatiana Gonzalez, delegate from Cuba says, "So far we are really pleased with what we have seen."
Elaine Lidholm from the state's Department of Agriculture says this is just the beginning for Virginia growers.
"We're hoping to branch out to wood products, some grains. There's a possibility in the future for some dairy cattle," says Lidholm.
To Bowman, that partnership with Cuba means progress for the Valley.
“Anything shipped out of the Valley of course helps the local economy. As long as we can continue to do that we will be able to grow and the Valley will be able to grow," says Bowman.
Cuban officials were visiting Turkey Knob to learn how to meet pest-free standards for selling and shipping goods. The Virginia Department of Agriculture says all health issues should be hammered out this week with the USDA. And apples from the Valley are expected to be in Cuba within 20 days.