The Caribbean can appear like a Garden of Eden, with tropical fruits, vegetables, and fresh herbs in abundant bloom. In reality, major supermarkets sell mostly fresh produce either shipped south or flown in from Miami, or in the case of islands like St. Maarten with daily flights from Paris, from Europe. Farming isn’t easy on steep mountain slopes, with limited arable land and water in sometimes short supply or at the whim of Mother Nature. Yet, farmers do cultivate incredible crops. To find these, you must head to local farmer’s markets. Many islands have a traditional agricultural market located in their major city. Some are open daily, and all have the biggest number of vendors and selection on Saturdays. Beyond this, there are farmer cooperatives and family farmers that sell their fresh-picked wares too. Heightened interest in locally grown fruits and vegetables in the U.S. and Europe has prompted island governments to foster their farmer’s efforts to more plentifully supply local markets and roadside stands as well as restaurants.
If you’d like to provision with fresh Caribbean produce, below is a sampling of 6 places to get you started. Do realize that you won’t necessarily find the same fruits and vegetables week in and week out. Even in the Caribbean, there are seasons when it comes to fresh produce:
1. Cooperativa Organica Madre Tierra Farmers Market, Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. Think of Whole Foods as an outdoor market of tents and tables selling organically grown fresh fruits and vegetables, plus baked goods, coffee, flowers, herbs, honey, plants, and prepared vegetarian foods. Depending on the season, produce can include bananas, soursop, plantains, yuccas, peppers, tomatoes, breadfruit, and tomatoes. There are also natural products such as oils, creams, and mosquito repellants. It’s located at Placita Roosevelt, a 5- to 10-minute taxi ride from Club Nautico de San Juan or San Juan Bay Marina. www.facebook.com/CoopOrganicaMadreTierra/
2. Bordeaux Farmer’s Market, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Set on the barely populated agriculturally lush west side of St. Thomas, some 20 minutes drive from Charlotte Amalie and 45 minutes from Red Hook, this market is worth the trip. There are over 20 booths set up under a covered open-air bungalow, with many of them selling fresh fruits and vegetables. The produce is as fresh as it gets, as the market is located steps away from many of the Rastafarian farmers hand terraced, cultivated plots. Local honey, tropical fruit drinks, and vegan prepared foods, as well as oils, jewelry, and crafts, are here too. The market takes place every second and fourth Sunday of the month, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Each January, the farmer’s cooperative of We Grow Food, Inc, holds its Annual Bordeaux Farmers Rastafari Agriculture and Cultural Vegan Food Fair. There’re double the booths, plus educational sessions like trips to farms and a beekeeping demonstration as well as daily live entertainment. This year’s fair is on January 15 and 16. www.facebook.com/WEGROWFOODINC
3. Colesome Farmers Market, Antigua. Located mid-island in All Saints, six miles north of English Harbour, the Cole family’s 3-acre farm supplies their farmer’s market with an amazing variety of produce. Mesclun, fresh soybeans, and white carrots are a few of the extraordinary finds, while papaya, Callaloo spinach, and finger bananas are among the Caribbean staples. The market is also a good place to find the Antigua Black Pineapple, a sweet, low acid special variety that’s signature to the island. The market’s small kitchen serves up salads, smoothies, and juices. The Cole’s have recently added several organic dry products as well. www.colesomefarmersmarket.com
4. The New Market, Roseau, Dominica. The reason Dominica is nicknamed ‘The ‘Nature Island’ is certainly reflected in its market. On a weekday, the city block size market located where the Roseau River meets the Caribbean Sea is pretty amazing. On Saturdays, it’s unbelievable for its volume and variety of fresh produce. Don’t expect souvenirs but do anticipate finding agricultural products like spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, mace), cocoa sticks (roasted cocoa beans that are shelled, crushed, and fashioned into an unsweetened stick), and packets of dried sea moss. Sea moss is a type of red algae that grows along the shore. Soaked well, then mixed with condensed or evaporated milk (or both) and spices, Sea Moss is said to be an aphrodisiac. www.facebook.com/RoseauMarketDominica/
5. Castries Market, St. Lucia. You can’t miss this market; it’s the largest open-air shopping area of its kind in the island’s capital city. It’s also world-famous. National Geographic ranked the Castries Market No. 3 in its ‘Ten Top Food Markets in the World’ listing in 2011. The market started a refurbishment in 2019, and last year the New Provisions Market opened with 100 sky blue stalls for organic produce vendors. Nearby there are also herbs, spices, meat, fish, and dry goods for sale as well as food vendors. Last year, the St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association launched its ‘Eat What We Grow’ campaign to buoy local agriculture.
6. Grande Anse Farmers’ Market, Grenada. The Sports Center Car Park transforms into an open-air produce market by 6 a.m. each Wednesday. Island-grown cauliflower, cucumber, cabbage, tomatoes, pineapple, papayas, hot peppers, and more are usually abundant. There’s local eggs, honey, and coconut oil, as well as locally produced hot sauce and corn flour, plus spices like cinnamon and turmeric. Located less than a 5-minute taxi ride away from Camper & Nicholsons Port Louis Marina. www.facebook.com/Grand-Anse-Farmers-Market-1566873493577366
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