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HOMEGROWN Life: Farms in Foreign Lands

 

 

 

 

 

I recently traveled to the island of St. Martin to be in my friend’s wedding, and I wanted to learn about the island’s agriculture while I was there.  Browsing Flickr photos tagged with “St. Martin,” I saw snapshots of cows, goats, and chickens.  I read about Loterie Farm, an eco-tourism park of sorts with a zip line and cafe.  I also found out about St. Martin’s popular butterfly farm, but a bug-farm wasn’t quite I had in mind for this trip.

Several attempts at rephrasing my Google searches finally led me to information about Solidarity, a Rastafarian farm on the island. I exchanged e-mails with a woman from the organization who said I was welcome to come tour their place.

November came and I finally landed in St. Martin.  Without an address for the farm or a reliable GPS, a vendor at the Marigot spice market pointed me in the right direction and I found Solidarity’s farm very easily.

Located off the main road in Bellevue, I parked the car and walked towards a small house.  Inside, I was greeted by an older woman.  She told me a brief history of their farm, explained that most of their seeds are ordered from Johnny’s, and had me taste a fruit that looked like miniature brains (or some sort of strange cheese), but tasted like a walnut, and, surprise, it’s also highly toxic at certain stages but right then it was safe to eat.

After that, I was told I could wander the grounds on my own.

I walked along a path and snapped photos of ripening starfruit, plum trees, and pomegranates.  Eventually, I was joined by a young woman named Makeda.  She had been working at Solidarity for only about six months, and it was her job to give guided tours whenever curious visitors appeared.

Roughly 5 minutes into our tour, Makeda was showing me a fruit called pomme surette, when suddenly I experienced a sudden, sharp, intense pain in my butt-cheek.  I took it pretty well, but I’m almost certain I uttered a restrained “holy sh*t” in pain, and I reached up my skirt and pulled out a dangerous-looking wasp.

“Let me go get some bush for you to rub on that,” Makeda said.  “It’ll prevent swelling.”

Bush to rub?

I was stung by a menacing creature Makeda kept calling a “jaspanier,” but Google hasn’t been able to help me figure out the exact spelling.  Not more than ten feet away must have been a handy bush, because Makeda came right back with a fist full of leaves.  It was some sort of medicinal plant, the name of which escapes me now.  She tore them up and I rubbed them on my butt, as modestly as I could, and it did help with the pain.  I was as good as new and we reconvened the tour.

Pomme surette is delicious.  They taste like miniature apples, sweet and not tart like crabapples.  I was introduced to a beady crop they called guinea corn, used for grain and a type of sorghum. They grow a lot of arugula and “spinach,” I found out, but it didn’t look at all like the spinach I’m used to seeing.  I saw papayas actually growing on a tree instead of already picked in the supermarket produce aisle.  Solidarity staff set up canopies to keep tender young greens from frying in the Caribbean sunshine, and they monitored their tomato seedlings similar to the way Justin and I do, weeding out the weak from the strong.

I tasted weird things, was told not to smell certain other stinky things, and saw varieties of plants that were completely new to me.  Granted, Solidarity’s growing climate is significantly different than ours here in Missouri, but that doesn’t mean our farms don’t share similar struggles and triumphs:  water is just as much an issue for Solidarity as it is for us; we both grow some of the same crops like green beans, squashes, basil, and arugula; and what we don’t eat, we both sell to area restaurants.

It was a tremendously positive agricultural experience, wasp sting included.  Visiting farms in foreign lands is definitely an activity I’m going to always keep on my itinerary, and if any of you ever travel to St. Martin, I highly recommend stopping by Solidarity and saying hello.

 

“I’m half of YellowTree Farm, an urban homestead that I founded with my husband in late 2008.  Together, we grow vegetables and raise animals on less than 1/10 of an acre in St. Louis, Missouri.  I don’t have children.  I have animals, which is kind of the same thing as being a parent, except I eat my babies.”

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6 Responses to “HOMEGROWN Life: Farms in Foreign Lands”

  1. Sounds like you had a wonderful experience. A little extra effort makes all the difference in seeing the parts that many visitors miss.

    The wasp was probably a Jack Spaniel : )) Sadly (?) they seem all but wiped out on our island of St Lucia after Hurricane Debbie.

    Your photos are of pawpaws (papaya), Custard or Sugar Apple, Jamaican Ackee and Noni. Noni especially is an amazing, super fruit, but smells rather unpleasant. Ackees are dangerous and poisonous if picked under-ripe or over-ripe and have been the cause of many cases of poisioning in Jamaica over the years.

    I am just starting out with my tropical garden and learning new things every day. Do look in on me from time to time at http://vonniethehappyhippy.blogspot.com/

  2. Beautiful photos! It sounds like an awesome visit to the farm (and to St. Maarten). What is the scale of Solidarity – does it feed a small community, a region, or does it export any goods?

  3. Great post! Volunteering on farms is also a terrific experience that’s educaitonal and has a positive benefit. I recommend ACDI/VOCA (all expenses covered) http://www.acdivoca.org/site/ID/joinus_volunteerresources and WWOOF (typically get room/board in exchange for volunteering) http://www.wwoof.org/.

  4. I was in St. Martin Nov. 2011 and wanted to tour the Solidarity garden. I didnt get a chance to but I did get to go to Loterie Farm. That place was a blast!
    My question for you is did you get to eat at the Freedom Fighters Ital shack? The food was the best I had on the island and it is know for it’s French cuisine.

    Ital is vital mon!

  5. Hi, Eric. I really wanted to eat at the Freedom Fighters Ital shack, but I didn’t know exactly where it is and I couldn’t find it! Where is it? I thought it was a by Phillipsburg for some reason, and we never really explored Phillipsburg much the entire time I was on the island.

  6. Caroline, Solidarity does not export its goods. It does, however, sell to a few restaurants on the island, as well as a couple supermarkets. They aslo sell directly at their farm. One of the more popular items they sell is Arugula.

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