St. Croix: A Culinary Surprise
For most travelers there is a set of criteria that a destination must meet before booking that trip. Some may need a ton of adventure; a place to explore and discover. Others need a place to roll out their beach towel and just exhale. Then there are those who simply need a place to dig in; a place they can explore with their taste buds.
Typically an island destination meets at least two of the requirements. There are plenty of beaches on which to relax and an unending stretch of land to explore, but more often than not, mealsare excessive buffets and beach bars may be extremely satisfying but not very complex. A quick trip to the Virgin Island of St. Croix may quickly change your mind. Not only does the island have a steep and active agricultural history, there are an amazing amount of options the nightlife and dining scene has to offer. Whether you are looking to swim up to a beach bar (yes, they have those too) or enjoy an evening of authentic Crucian cuisine, there is plenty for you and your taste buds to experience on a trip to St. Croix.
Agriculture: A Tumultuous History
Since its establishment, St. Croix’s agricultural scene has weathered many storms. When Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Virgin Islands during his second voyage to the New World in 1493, he had no idea he would be landing on an island that would soon be wrought with political controversy. In the following centuries, many settlers such as the Spanish, Dutch, French, and English would battle over the possession of St. Croix, due mostly to its most profitable crop: sugar. In fact, because of their sugar plantations, rum production and enslaved population, St. Croix was one of the wealthiest areas in the Virgin Islands.
“St. Croix was once considered the breadbasket of the Caribbean and widely planted agriculturally,” explains Katherine Pugliese, sommelier, restaurant–owner and co-founder of The St. Croix Food & Wine Experience. “Sugar cane and cotton were the biggest industry at one time.”
By the 1800s, St. Croix had grown to a population of 30,000 strong (with 26,500 of them being slaves) that powered the economy through trade. When Denmark’s slave trade closed, the agricultural economy came to a close and left St. Croix in a desperate period of economic unrest. Despite the U.S. acquisition of the island in the early 1900s, the agricultural economy did not grow until the 1950s when tourism became the island's main economic industry.
Despite the economic turmoil, the island prospered. When sugar crops were officially taken off the land in 1966, the people of St. Croix turned to raising the red Senepol cattle that still serve as their primary source of agriculture.
Today, the Crucians agricultural scene is stronger than it has been since those darker early years.
“Primarily now it [agricultural priducts] is tropical fruits like mango, papayas, and avocados; vegetables like pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, varied herbs; and livestock lamb, chicken, and goats,” says Pugliese. “I could go on and on. Farming has had a huge resurgence in the past five years.”
Now they annually host “Agrifest,” the largest agricultural exposition in the territory. Agrifest is an opportunity to experience not only the livestock and locally grown produce, but a chance to try native cuisines and sample foods such as kallaloo, tarts, candies; and local drinks like ginger beer, sorrel, passion fruit and maubi. While visiting St. Croix, travelers can peruse the local farmers’ markets and can even stay in some of the historic plantations that powered the island so many years ago.