Last years’ hurricanes took their toll on the Virgin Islands. Island businesses saw that first hand. Many had to shut their doors for repairs or close them for good. With tourism being one of the islands main economic drivers, having fewer stores, restaurants and hotels open, kept the tourists dollars away. But some found ways to open their doors again.
“Miss Lucy’s” St. John —
With minimal staff…
“Only the dishwasher, myself and my daughter,” Sonia Charles, Head Chef, Miss Lucy’s said.
Charles is keeping her restaurant in St. John going despite being hit by two Category Five storms. And even if she’s the only one cooking.
“Some of the staff left because of work and their home and what not and it’s only me right now,” Charles added.
Miss Lucy’s in Coral Bay is in one of the most picturesque spots in the Caribbean. But also one of the most vulnerable.
After the restaurant was hit by the storms, Miss Lucy’s got help from an unexpected source. Popular St. John resident Kenny Chesney wanted to make sure Miss Lucy’s doors’ were back open as soon as possible. So Chesney and his Love for Love City Foundation came in and helped Charlers get her restaurant up and running.
“They were awesome, god bless them,” Charles said.
Charles was able to open Miss Lucy’s again by December that same year with a limited menu. But that doesn’t mean she stopped cooking in the mean-time. She used her skills to whip up delicious food for the FEMA workers and line men helping get St. John back online.
“I’m from St. Lucia, so I know how to preserve meats, so I sawed beef and what not, I had a block party, Calabash Boon that’s where we lived and for a week or so cookin and feedin the people.”
A year-later, Charles is still doing what she loves still with that same spirit.
“I’m in the back cookin’, washing dishes, helping us run food it’s kind of hard but it is my passion I love to cook food so people could enjoy you know meet new people. Miss Lucy’s is cleaner bigger better.”
And she is grateful for the support she had from the St. John Community..
“I always say, never say you don’t need somebody or you don’t need people, we need each other, we need each other.”
“Reality of a Farmer” St. Croix —
Nate Olive runs the only certified organic farm in the Virgin Islands.
“There’s a number of careers that we could do but this about an activity that pays for itself, pays for the land, really helps issues on Earth.”
And he believes deeply in its message.
“Our purpose is to model sustainable farming and to feed our community with locally grown fruits vegetables and meats and also to inspire people to,” Olive added.
Olive doesn’t just practice it, he eats, sleeps, and breaths organic farming. As he lives on the same land he tends in a beautiful open air wooden farm house. Here they host monthly sun down dinners inviting everyone in the community. They enjoy the slow calm of the nature around them, as they’re nestled away in their slice of the St. Croix rainforest.
“Why we’re called Ridge to Reef Farm is because it is recognition of how we treat the ground and earth up here in the hills it effects everybody downstream and the ocean and the oceans connect us with the rest of the world,” Olive added.
But when Hurricanes Irma and Maria came through it uprooted some of those plans. Not only did Olive lose much of his produce in the storms his farm was torn up. Debris and down trees everywhere. And it’s still a process one year later.
“Now I’m realizing there is far more casualties in terms of fruit trees, and just damage than I had initially for months and months and months realized. So right now, we’re still uncovering places we still haven’t gotten to yet.”
Olive said the biggest challenge is getting people to realize just because things look green and growing, it is still going to take several years before things to return to the way they were.
“We’ve had an incredible amount of support, there is just an incredible amount of work. That’s just the reality.”
“With all the challenges that Ridge to Reef Farm faces after the storm come stories of hope, like a tree that got knocked down but is still alive today.”
Olive said the St. Croix community really stepped up helping then to buy a new tractor that is helping tremendously in the ongoing clean up. And receiving donations of breadfruit trees, they’ll then give out to people all over the island to begin the process of growing local foods again.
“What people don’t realize in a recovery situation like this, particularly with farming, in a recovery situation like this, there’s a lot of business owners who would understand that they wouldn’t have an income until however long after the storm. But the difference with farming is once you operate your business, then you plant and then you wait, months, but that’s the reality of a farmer.”
A reality all too real for Ridge to Reef Farm. But one Olive is going to continue to deal with, until all the debris is wiped away.
“Keeping the garden growing,” St. Thomas —
It’s a St. Thomas staple that’s been around for decades.
“He wanted to make sure that it could survive storms and what not, because in ’59, that was a dirt road out there, there was no houses, there was nothing here,” Eric Tillett, Owner of Tillett Gardens said.
Jim Tillett was and still is an island icon. He was famous for his silk screen printing, works you’ll see throughout the VI. He bought this land near Tutu Park in 1959 and developed it into the artist sanctuary it is today, known as Tillett Gardens.
“There was one building over there that was here, and they turned that into a dress shop, put up these buildings over here and made a big silk screen table,” he added.
And it’s the way Tillett designed the gardens that gave them armour in the storms that moved through 60 years later.
“That’s one of the things that makes this place unique and it’s one of the things that makes it more survival able in a hurricane each building is different and each building has a different roof, each building they’re not all connected together, all different construction types, each building protects the other buildings,” he added.
Tillett’s son Eric was here as Irma and Maria blew through his fathers beloved art project. Which despite the protection from the way it was built, still sustained some damage. Plus it is home to not only Eric and his wife, but several other tenants as well.
“I had twenty five people living here at the time. So like all of a sudden it’s not just me and my wife trying to find food and keep the electricity on and find water and diesel and try to protect the property,” Tillett added.
And not all the tenants stayed, many suffered too much damage to continue with their businesses.
“There was a radio station over there that got flooded out they left they just done and gone. The hairdresser space got completely demolished she never came back,” he said.
“A year later are blooming again after over 60 years of weathering storms Tillett said there is just one secret that keeps the garden growing.”
“Basically we just have to adapt to whatever new environment there is.”
And Tillett says he learned that lesson from his father.
“When my father stopped doing silk screening and stopped producing stuff and then my mother stopped with the dress shop and we had to change the focus.”
So whatever hurricanes may come through, or changes may come its way, Tillett Gardens will always remain that creative getaway for young and old, for many generations to come.