photo: Denicio Wyatte - Photo by Ralph Cantave

PHILIPSBURG – During the two months lockdown of the Sint Maarten, home gardening became widespread as people saw the need to grow their own food due to the uncertainty of food security. While this was a response to the supply disruption caused by Covid-19 the trend is here to stay.

In June 2013 Zahira Hilliman Marmar started the “Home-Growers of SXM” Facebook group. Today the group has over 3000 members. The inspiration to start this group came after she returned from Europe with her family with the goal of eating quality food and having her children grow to love local fruits.

Marmar and her husband developed a lifestyle where either bought fresh, local produce or grow them herself.  “I wanted to evangelize the Sint Maarten population about the many benefits of growing more of the food we consume and eating from garden to table.” 

History agriculture on Sint Maarten

Prior to the tourism boom in the late ’60s and ’70s, subsistence farming was part of the daily lifestyle of many Sint Martiners. The island imported a small amount of produce from abroad and even exported goods such as cotton, indigo and cows.

Iconic to Sint Maarten, was its abundance of fruit trees but as the infrastructure and economy of the island developed, agricultural developments were virtually abandoned. A major challenge for today’s growers are invasive species like iguanas and monkeys which have found their way in many districts on the island. 

For several individuals, this ongoing change has created the opportunity to gain a new source of income. Persons knowledgeable and skilled in growing have taken to selling plants and for many carpenters, the demand for planter boxes has also increased. Some stores have sold out of planting pots and constant restocking of soil is taking place. Additionally, the availability of seeds is widespread as well. Other than plants even animals are part of the local supply chain.

From taxi driver to farmer
For Perla Rombley, and her husband, the coronavirus has affected their income 100 percent. The two are taxi drivers and tour operators whose income like many depend on the ships docking and air arrivals. However, they decided to go back to a means of living that they are familiar with since childhood. Upon the motivation of their son, Rombley and her family began selling eggs to people during the lockdown.

Perla Rombley – Photo by Ralph Cantave

Request began to come from shop owners and regular consumers as well. Their production has since increased and roughly 100 eggs are produced a day. They also sell whole chickens as well. Rombley, believes the virus has reminded her of the importance of producing goods locally and hopes that others adapt to the new conditions created by Covid-19. She says it’s a part of our culture that needs to become dominant again.

Creating the space for trade
In addition to the Home Growers group on Facebook there’s also the Kitchen Garden club that as over 1000 members. Since the staggered reopening of the island, there has been one organized ‘swap meet’ where gardeners can share and get seeds, plants and produce.

There are also two market events that will take place at the end of the month. Member of Parliament Claudius Buncamper, of the United St. Maarten Party, has asked that government make a portion of land obtained by Rain Forest Adventures available for agriculture.

Report by Ralph Cantave

The adventure park is a historical area known for plantations during slavery and also by its former owner (now deceased) Emilio Wilson. Wilson was known for selling produce and encouraging locals to grow their own food.

While he was alive he provided space for local farmers to grow on his land. It was also against his wish that the monumental park be used for commercial profit. Nevertheless, Buncamper is also speaking to members of his family to make parcels of land available to farmers on Sint Maarten and recommends cooperatives among local agriculturists.