Local Food Harvesting, à la Gambier

By Sabrina

When you go for a walk in Gambier, always bring an empty, big backpack, said Birgit, an Austrian woman from the sailboat Pitufa. There is no food at the store but youll find lots of food on the ground! she laughed.

Birgit and her boyfriend Christian have spent three seasons sailing in Gambier (www.pitufa.at) – so they know a thing or two about the unusual, and rather delightful, quest for food in eastern Polynesia: go harvest your own.

None of the little markets in Rikitea sell fruit. It is growing abundantly everywhere, why would anyone pay money for it?

Anywhere you go, banana trees overhang with large stalks ready to be cut down; pamplemousse trees are ornamented with large yellow globes beckoning you. Papaya trees and lime trees usually grow in peoples yards; but if you ask the owners, they are happy to give you several.

What about the vegetables? The supply ship comes every 2-3 weeks. However, it only carries expensive, minimal produce selections carrots, onions, potatoes, apples, oranges and grapes (all around $3-5/lb). And even this will be sold quickly.

Come at 7am tomorrow, because it will sell out, explained Sandrine, from the market at Jojos. Deena and I woke up and took the skiff to shore. We bought two small bags of carrots and apples for $12. Each pack of dozen eggs was $6.

To make up for these costs, Gambiers fertile land has hidden treasures at little to no charge. One day we walked along the road, recognizing large green leaves with distinctive white markings. I paused and asked, could this be squash? We then spent the next hour wadding through the knee-high bushes looking for the hidden globes of squash. This is just like Easter Egg hunting! We returned to the boat with 7 large squash, which keep for a long time and make wonderful soup!

In comparison with neighboring Pitcairn, 300 miles away, the Mangarevans produce a lot less food themselves. Their pearl export brings them plenty of money to buy treats from the ship. Yet, the land has an equal amount of tropical abundance. It lets us experience something weve never felt before: provisioning directly from the land.

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