Homeland Security

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Fruits

St Croix Source: Community Supported Agriculture Taking Root in the V.I.

This is the time of year that we all start thinking a bit more about the most common natural disaster in the Virgin Islands:  Hurricanes.

I’m already seeing online reports about the current tropical storm to the Southeast of St. Croix – Chantal – and today it’s making me think about one of the aspects of buying and eating locally that people don’t think of as often.  And that aspect is – food security.

Less than 1% of the food eaten in the Virgin Islands is grown locally, according to an independent study performed for the St. Croix Farmers’ Cooperative.  And what that means is that we are tremendously dependent upon the continued supply chain of boatloads of food arriving weekly on our island – food that travels thousands of miles to make it to our plates !  We are always one natural disaster away from that supply chain coming to a halt.  What would happen if there was a large enough disaster that the boats simply couldn’t come for a while?  I can tell you what would happen, we would all be eating out of the bush, and we would rapidly deplete the fish in our ocean.  Iguana and mongoose might just become new ingredients on our tables.  Hermit crabs might become a new delicacy.  Tan tan seed pods are edible, and we might just be eating a lot of tan tan salads.  Personally, I would rather not get to that point!

By buying locally, and eating locally, every dollar you spend goes towards supporting our local farmers, and maintaining (and hopefully increasing) our local food supply.  This is TRUE homeland security folks, as we are building up our local food safety net for the possibility of a natural disaster.  By supporting our local food economy, we are supporting our local community, and each other.

So next time you’re buying meat or produce in the grocery store that wasn’t grown or raised locally, please consider what that dollar you are about to spend is supporting – is it supporting our local food economy and security at home?  Or is it supporting a corporation somewhere across the ocean?  Every dollar spent is a vote for the future – and I hope we all continue to vote for OUR future, here on St. Croix and in the VI – keep our food money, and our food security – Local!

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The Wacky and Wonderful Jackfruit

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So on Saturday, my husband went alone to do the produce shopping (I was sleeping in after two weeks of family visits).  I figured he’d buy the usual – cucumbers, okra, papaya, mangoes, eggs, greens etc. etc.  I did NOT, however, expect him to come home with this:

Jackfruit

And what is this, you may ask?  This, my friends, is a jackfruit.  One of nature’s largest edible fruits, if not THE largest (let me do some research and get back to you).  This particular jackfruit was about 15″ long from stem to tip, give or take an inch.  You may remember the photo of them growing on the tree in Aberra Bulbulla’s orchard – and I believe that Doug bought this one from him.

Jackfruit are prized in the Far East, and there are many recipes created to cook with them.  You can also just eat them straight, as we chose to do with this one as a first experiment.  Jackfruit also grows throughout the Caribbean and is considered a delicacy (and a full meal) by those who enjoy its delicate fruity flavor.  It can be cooked and prepared in recipes green, or wait until it’s ripe for out of hand eating and sweeter delicious flavor.

I will warn you though, that it is not a fruit for those with a queasy stomach.  A ripe jackfruit such as this one gives off an odor reminiscent of sweet sweaty feet.  It isn’t particularly terrible, but it isn’t particularly pleasant either.  This is due to the amount of latex in the skin, which is the next hurdle to get past.  The sap is very sticky, and doesn’t wash off of your skin with soap – rubbing your skin with oil is the way to remove it.

Gloves

To cut open our jackfruit, we grabbed an old pizza box (local pizza, of course) to serve as the cutting surface and to catch the sap and juice and so on.  My husband – whose hands are modeling for me in this demo – wore gloves to keep them from getting too sticky, and we got out a large serrated knife and a bottle of grapeseed oil to grease it with (again to stop the sticky sap).

Cutting the jackfruit

Cutting the jackfruit wasn’t hard.  A thin layer of oil on the knife, and it cut right through the skin easily into the soft fruit interior.  We cut it more of less straight down from stem to tip to make it easier to remove the fruit “pods” inside, and then my husband pulled the two halves apart.  But this is where it gets really insane.

photo 2

AAAAAAGGGGHHHHHH!!!!  *hyperventilates*

*catching breath*  Okay, okay, it’s not that bad.  The interior of the jackfruit may – ah – look like some sort of terrible alien dissection experiment gone wrong, but remember – IT’S A FRUIT.  Those aren’t really organs and spines and tentacles inside.  Trust me.  And the sweet scent is actually amazing!  This was the point when I started to think I might be okay actually eating some of this behemoth.

Fruit "pod"

This is what you’re going for.  Nestled all inside the strands of flesh are the fruit “pods.”  Each pod contains a seed which is also edible when it is boiled.

Seed

Splitting open the pod with a finger reveals the seed, which you pull out and set aside.  The fruit “pods” are then put in their own dish, and they are ready to eat!

pods

But of course the question is – Julie, what do they taste like?  They actually taste wonderful!  They are sweet and citrus-y and fruity all at the same time.  One of my friends says that they taste like Froot Loops, which I definitely can taste, and another friend has told me that jackfruit is the inspirational flavor for Juicy Fruit gum!  And that is really what they smell and taste like – outside of their latex skin, the scent is definitely reminiscent of Juicy Fruit.

We ate this jackfruit simply as you see it here, as fruits.  After a day in the refrigerator, they actually set up and had the consistency of peaches.  I could see using them in various recipes and smoothies that call for peaches, and they would be quite delicious!  There are also many recipes available on the internet that I have yet to try.

The seeds we boiled with salt for about 1/2 hour, and then peeled off their membranes and ate them.  They have a starchy consistency and taste, a bit like a fruity sweet potato or chestnut.  My husband enjoyed them more than me, but they weren’t bad.

Young jackfruit is also available canned, and is catching on in the states as a meat substitute for vegans in BBQ.  I may get brave enough to try it!  But for now, we’ve enjoyed this first foray into the wacky jackfruit.  If you get the chance to buy and try one, you should!  They are well worth the bit of creepy factor for the delicious fruit.  Happy hunting!

Meet “A Taste of St. Croix” Farmer: Grantley Samuel

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I’ve been looking forward to writing this post about my good friend and amazing farmer Grantley Samuel for a few days now.

Grantley is officially the first farmer I met on St. Croix when I moved here two years ago.  I was new, confused, and had NO idea where to shop for the local fresh produce I’d grown accustomed to buying in Austin, Texas.  Grantley was kind, welcoming, and offered me help and ideas – he even told me how to cook a breadfruit the first time!  And he has a warm heart and a constant smile on his face.

Grantley in his corn field

Meet Grantley Samuel of G.L.G Plants & Produce – standing in his favorite place, his corn field.

Grantley is very proud of his corn, as he is his all his other plants.  My husband and I have discussed Grantley’s method of success, and it all comes down to the facts that he is professional, he is organized, and he is friendly.  And – most importantly – he sees farming as a career, and an important industry that holds a significant role in a successful community.  Grantley was Agriculture’s “Farmer of the Year” in 2012, and he frequently works with local schools and the University of the Virgin Islands for Agricultural outreach programs with children and adults.

Grantley's fields

Grantley’s fields are neat and organized.  He focuses on growing five primary crops – corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, and watermelon.  He uses a minimum of pesticides, and focuses 99% of the time when he does have to use pesticides, he uses organic pesticides.  He never sprays food crop items.  His philosophy is that if he is growing food that he wants to feed his family, then he should grow food that everyone else wants to feed their families as well.  And he is able to get tremendous yields simply by applying time-proven agricultural principles of crop rotation, adequate spacing, proper watering, and fertilization.

GLG Cucumber

Here’s a cucumber that’s close to ready to harvest.  And yes, you see a few weeds and spots – which illustrates what I mentioned above, that Grantley is able to produce some wonderful produce in his fields without excessive chemicals.  Local produce typically is not “perfect” produce – because it is grown for quality and taste instead of shelf life and appearance (traits of conventionally grown produce).  And I can personally testify that Grantley’s produce has a wonderful flavor!

A field ready for corn

This is a new 2.5 acre plot that Grantley is about to plant exclusively with corn.  In the future, G.L.G Plants & Produce will have roasted corn available at its roadside stand on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays every week.

Plants in pots

And, don’t forget the herb and vegetable plants that Grantley grows for sale!  Some of the best on St. Croix, in my opinion.

G.L.G. Stand

You can find G.L.G Plants & Produce on my map of Farmers Markets and Farm Stands.

Talking about the bees

Grantley is also beginning to raise his own bees, and soon will have chickens for eggs as well.  Here he is talking with me about the bees and future chickens to be housed in a coop made with the reclaimed shipping container directly above his hands in the photo – and you can see the banana plants he’s raising also.

And that takes me to my closing thoughts about Grantley.  When we were discussing his bees, he told me something really profound.  He said, “As I learn more about bees, those bees, I wish we all could get along like those bees.  When I open that hive box, I think about how every bee in that box has a job to do, and they all know that they are dependent upon each other, and each bee’s job is important.  No bee is more important than the others, from the bee in the bottom of that box to the bee at the top.  I wish we all knew that we are equally as important.”

Well said, my friend.  I’m proud to know you, and I am thrilled with the hard work you put in for agriculture on St. Croix.  Thank you for it.