Island Abundance at the St. Croix Farmers Market



Stroll through a market–or wedge your way through the crowd–and meet the buyers, sellers, producers and processors. Smell the guavas or the aged cheese or the shellfish, hear the crack of a machete against green coconut, the cackle of doomed chickens or the sizzle of thinly sliced tubers plunging into boiling oil, and you begin to taste a place. Anywhere–Java, France, Martinique or Santa Monica, it’s a colorful window into what matters locally.

St. Croix has a small and lively market in mid-island every Saturday. There are no large-scale producers–most of the vendors (mostly women) easily fit their wares onto the designated space, a table with short walls about the size of a large coffee table. A few bunches of collards or mixed herbs, a small pile of tomatoes, and a dozen avocados–that sort of thing. There are a few green thumbs in business, selling vigorous little plants in 6-inch pots: oregano, mint, orchids and ornamentals. Some women sell home-made seasoning and fruit preserves. And there are a few monoculturalists: one man has nothing but enormous stalks of green bananas and another, a pick-up truck bed of green coconuts.

Adjacent is the fish market–a picture of bureaucratic irony. There’s a series of concrete stalls with concrete tables shaded from the sun, expressly for selling fish, but for some reason that’s not allowed, so all the fish vendors sell out of coolers under improvised shade. Gutting and scaling take place on decaying wooden tables, decorated lavishly with glittering scales. A couple of 5-gallon buckets of bloody water serve for rinsing knives, hands and fish. There’s even a fish-cleaning set-up in the back of a van. I suspect it diminishes the re-sale value of the vehicle considerably….

St. Croix: an Island of History

IMG_1867In Jeopardy parlance, the answer is: A place in the United States where we drive on the left.

Or try this: A place in the U.S. that has flown the flags of 6 other nations before flying the stars and stripes.

Question: What is St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands?

I’m on my eighth visit to St. Croix, the largest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas is for shoppers, St. John is for nature buffs, and St. Croix is for real. There’s a whiff of history everywhere you turn. Ruined sugar mills– tall pale cones crafted of coral block and white mortar–dot the landscape, from the days when sugar and rum went to Europe and the Americas by the boatload.

Christiansted, hosting a harbor on the North coast, echoes old Denmark, with stately plastered buildings in egg-yolk yellow, narrow streets and arcaded sidewalks. Frederiksted, anchored with a 1760 fort, is all peeling gingerbread trim, having been entirely rebuilt following the violent slave rebellion in 1878. Gracious great houses preside over the landscape. A few old houses are open for tourists, but more of them are still just home to somebody. And some are just home to geckos and tangled vines as they crumble into time.

We often walk a long dirt road to swim at a remote beach. Sometimes I find a worn fragment of china, relic of the plantation that once governed the property. The history here is like that–right under your feet–just keep your eyes open and there it is.