When we were living on Statia from 2014 to 2015, a good friend of mine visited us on the Dutch Caribbean island. Even though she loved St. Eustatius and the whole experience, she brought up a good question: „Why are there no fruits in paradise?“ Like her, we travelled to different tropical and sub-tropical locations and, from Bali to Ecuador, fresh fruits have frequently added a special flavour to each of these stays. Coming back to Statia in 2021 revealed that fresh fruits and juices still haven‘t made it onto the menus (Go Statia: Why visit the Dutch Caribbean island). Almost all fruits and veggies in the supermarket are imported – and often extremely expensive. However, some local alternatives have popped up since our last stay and more are in the making. For fruits in our paradise, we need water to green St. Eustatius.
No fruits in paradise!
To be honest, I hardly eat fruits at the moment. When we arrived, we were lucky enough to stay at a house with a tree hanging full of star fruits. However, Yoeri only ate them after I added sugar, lemon juice and some spices to turn them into jam. Bananas, imported from surrounding islands or America are tastier than in Europe, but easily cost more than 50 Cents a piece! Apples reach a dollar apiece easily. Just to give you an idea, those are the cheapest fruits one can get. At the moment, we wait for mangoes to be ripe and enjoy a coconut here and there to add some of the tropical feelings to our taste buds.
Unlike last time, when my diet basically turned back to my student days, rotating back and forth from artificially flavoured noodle soups via pancakes to pasta with tomato sauce, I am cooking with fresh vegetables every day now. Yes, it does cost a lot, but our bodies and souls deserve nurturing food and fresh flavours. It is worth keeping an eye out for special offers which a lot of the smaller supermarkets advertise on the Facebook Group „Statia Rent borrow and sell“ (a super useful platform when living on the island). The bigger supermarket „Duggins“ hangs up signs with special offers in the shop. However, they don‘t take them down when the offer has finished …
Fruit or vegetable?
One fruit totally worth spending three to five dollars on is avocado. Not only are all of the avocados bigger than the ones I buy back in Germany or the Netherlands, but they are also much tastier. Add some (local or homegrown) tomatoes and ready is your guacamole. Interestingly tomatoes are considered to be fruit and vegetable at the same time. Here is why:
„Tomatoes are fruits that are considered vegetables by nutritionists. Botanically, a fruit is a ripened flower ovary and contains seeds. Tomatoes, plums, zucchinis, and melons are all edible fruits […]. Now, nutritionally, the term “fruit” is used to describe sweet and fleshy botanical fruits, and “vegetable” is used to indicate a wide variety of plant parts that are not so high in fructose. In many cultures, vegetables tend to be served as part of the main dish or side, whereas sweet fruits are typically snacks or desserts. Thus, roots, tubers, stems, flower buds, leaves, and certain botanical fruits, including green beans, pumpkins, and of course tomatoes, are all considered vegetables by nutritionists.“Britannica
According to Wikipedia, there was even a legal dispute regarding this question in the USA in 1887, As, at that time, there were no tariffs on fruits, but on vegetables. In 1893 the Supreme Court declared tomatoes vegetables based on the use of the plant. But back to the present Statia and the original question:
Why are there no fruits in paradise?
After all, St. Eustatius is a volcanic island. Bali is a great example of how productive the ground on volcanic islands can be. Even though with four million people on 5.780 km² pretty densely populated, most of the fruits and veggies sold on the markets are locally grown. On top of that, the island produces its own rice.
Also on Statia, the ground is pretty fertile. The problem is not the soil, but the water. With 21 km² much smaller than Bali, but most importantly drier than many other tropical locations. Heavy rainfalls can lead to major runoffs, but there is no natural freshwater spring on the whole island.
For a long time, this was the main reason why archaeologists, for example working at and with SECAR, thought Statia was never inhabited for longer periods in pre-Columbian times. New excavations shed a different light on the past, but there are no conclusive results published yet.
All we need is water
In order to grow fruits and vegetables throughout the whole year, Statians need to water in the dry, hot summer months. Almost all houses come with their own cistern. Depending on size and consumption, one can make it through the year. As soon as one starts to water the garden more extensively, additional water is needed. Statia Utility Company N.V. (STUCO) is the local provider of electricity and water. At the moment there are three desalination plants, using reverse Osmosis to produce drinking water out of the ocean, running next to the harbour. Buying water is another costly affair, adding to the high production costs on the island.
As Statia is a special municipality of the Netherlands, we are hoping for some technological spill-over. After all, the Netherlands, only the size of Northern Westphalia in Germany or 237 times smaller than the USA, are the fourth biggest exporter of vegetables worldwide. In fruits, the small country holds position number 10. According to my second source, it is mainly pears and apples. So I guess tomatoes are counted towards vegetables in this overview. In order to achieve these positions on the global market the art of growing in greenhouses is steadily brought to the next level. Engineers and pioneers are coming up with ever more efficient and effective ways to use space and water.
Unfortunately, so far we don‘t have the same developments on the island. Even worse though, we hardly get any of the exports of fruits and veggies produced in the Netherlands.
New technology is on the way
But there is hope on the horizon, potentially even for hobby gardeners like us. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) announced at the end of April that soon fresh water is just a push of a button away. Over the period of 10 years, their researchers built a portable desalination unit weighing less than 10 kilograms. Such a unit can produce drinking water from seawater without filters or energy-intensive high-pressure pumps as they are currently used.
„The suitcase-sized device, which requires less power to operate than a cell phone charger, can also be driven by a small, portable solar panel, which can be purchased online for around $50. It automatically generates drinking water that exceeds World Health Organization quality standards. The technology is packaged into a user-friendly device that runs with the push of one button.“Massachusetts Institute of Technology
What happens on St. Eustatius?
On Statia, retention ponds shall store water for agriculture and prevent shortages in times of droughts. The first one was finished in April 2021. Water is collected at the solar panels and flows towards the pond. From there it can be pumped to farmers using energy from the solar park itself.
„The Made in Statia Foundation and the Reforestation Project have direct connections to the water source. Under the hurricane reconstruction project of the central government, the ministry of Internal Affairs and Kingdom Relations (BZK) allocated funds to the local government to construct two (2) water catchments north of the Solar Park. One of the catchments is now completed with a liner to prevent water from leaking in the ground. Tilapia fishes in the catchment are for vector control and prevent mosquitos from spreading. It has an approximate holding capacity of 10,000m³.“Statia government
After travel restrictions have been lifted, the work on the second retention pond is ongoing.
Fruits in paradise!
Seven years ago, there was one local producer selling directly to the public: Hazel on Andrea Heiliger Road. He is still in business, offering also products from other islands. But now there are more options. Whenever possible, we visit the Fresh Market Statia as we can buy fruits and veggies without plastic wrapping there (Keep your plastic and clean up the rest). It takes place on Fridays from 10 am to 4 pm at the local slaughterhouse. Locally produced meat is always available. However, not all other products are from Statia. There is another market in town on Thursdays, but I have to admit we haven‘t visited that one yet.
Last, but not least there is „Made in Statia“. The agricultural foundation is linked to the water reservoir constructed by the government and STUCO. Come early on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to stock up with fruits and veggies made in Statia. Depending on the season, the choices vary. Slowly, but surely there are more fruits in paradise.
Water to green St. Eustatius
All in all, the situation has improved since 2015. However, there is much more potential to grow as long as there is enough water to green St. Eustatius. After all, fruit trees need time to grow. We learned from our last visit and do it like the locals. Home-grown is the way forward also in the Caribbean. How gardening has grown on me, is a whole new story.
Finally, not so much food-related, but definitely made to green the island we‘d like to point out ReforeStatia as reforestation is another path to be followed worldwide. In this project managed by STENAPA (St. Eustatius National Park), local seedlings are nursed in two shade houses with additional outside terrain. As soon as the plants are big enough to start a life on their own, they are replanted to grow into their full potential. In a couple of years, they will give shade and keep the soil from eroding with heavy winds and rains. Some of them, like the sea grapes, even bring fruits to paradise.