buying some locally grown produce puerto rico

locally grown produce in puerto rico

“Man, I’m am seriously craving some kale!”  I couldn’t believe the words I just heard spontaneously erupting from my mouth.  Two weeks of eating out before we received our appliances had finally pushed me to the breaking point.  I felt like an addict getting his fix after taking my first bite of the imported kale that Holly found at Edwards Food Mart in Rincón.  (It was Holly’s delicious creamed kale by the way)

Traditional Puerto Rican food is notable for it’s lack of green vegetables.  There are plenty of starchy vegetables, legumes and even fruit, but very little in the way of green leafies and other non-starchy vegetables.  Often the only non-starchy vegetable you’ll find on the menu is a side salad, generously called ensalada “verde, usually featuring wilted lettuce and pale, flavorless tomatoes.  When we do happen to find non-starchy vegetables available, often the quality and freshness is not what Holly and I were generally used to in the states.  For example, a popular and somewhat expensive restaurant near our condo serves frozen mixed vegetables(!) with an otherwise excellent main course.

Holly and I knew we wanted to eat locally grown produce as much as possible.  Not only is it usually cheaper because the food doesn’t have to travel as far, but it’s also generally more nutritious because it’s fresher.  However, doing this meant we would have to make changes to the foods we were used to eating and try to find suitable locally grown replacements.

With fruit this was easy.  There is a plentiful and delicious selection of tropical fruits that we now eat in place of the apples and fresh berries that were a mainstay for us back in the states.  With vegetables this has been a bit more challenging.  Below I go through how we’ve approached this, organized by the major vegetable types.  Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list.

Roots and Tubers

One of the first things I noticed upon entering a produce section here is a lot of unusual looking root vegetables I’d never seen before.   Yuca (cassava)tropical sweet potato (batata), taro (malanga or yautia), and yams (ñame) are popular here and it’s fairly easy to find some that are locally grown for sale at one of the many roadside stands.  Of these, our favorite new discovery is probably yuca.  It’s a delicious starchy side when boiled and topped with mojo sauce and if you see yuca fries on the menu, by all means get them; they are almost always amazing!

Although they are technically fruits, we also like to use green plantains and breadfruit as a locally available starch.  Of the other major root veggies, the only one we’ve seen grown locally is ginger.  We have not seen locally grown carrots, radishes, turnips or beets.

“Fruits”

The locally grown “florida” type avocados are the real star here.  They are awesome.  You can also find locally grown eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkin.  Instead of the imported bell peppers we are used to from the states, we generally use the locally grown fresh cubanelle peppers which work fine as a replacement even though they are smaller and thinner.  You can usually find fresh tomatoes at one of the many farmer’s markets or roadside stands.  We are also having better success growing them in pots on our balcony.  As I’ve written about before, the biggest disappointment for me with this type of vegetable, is the dearth of locally grown hot peppers.  Thankfully, our jalapeño and habanero pepper plants are doing better and better for us.  We even have a small serrano pepper plant that is fruiting!

our own locally grown produce puerto rico

this is only about half of what we have growing

Pods

You can find locally grown pigeon peas, okra and even green beans occasionally.   Unfortunately, the local green beans are often stringy so we still rely on the imported ones from Sam’s Club.  We don’t eat a lot of other legumes, so the canned or dried ones that are available are fine if we feel like having some delicious Puerto Rican style beans.

Bulbs and Stems

Other than onions we haven’t found much else of this type grown here.  We have had a little success replanting imported scallions to get a second or third batch out of them.   We rely on imported garlic and occasionally treat ourselves to imported asparagus, celery and/or leeks if they look decent.

“Flowers”

These are pretty much nonexistent overall but broccoli in particular is a big disappointment for us.  We used to eat quite a lot of it in the states.  Unfortunately, I doubt it can grow here so we have to rely on imported broccoli which often doesn’t look that fresh. (probably because it isn’t!)  We actually eat frozen broccoli now which I couldn’t imagine us doing with any regularity before!  In the states we also used to use cauliflower as a starch replacement, but have pretty much given up on that because the cauliflower available is here is imported, pricier and usually looks rather unappetizing.

Leafies

This is another area where what’s available locally really falls short and you are pretty much forced to rely on imports to fill the void.  The only locally grown vegetable in this category that is widely available is hydroponically grown lettuce.   We did see someone selling some bitter greens at the farmer’s market in Rincón and we’ve had some limited success growing a heat tolerant variety of lettuce in our garden.  Other than that, we have to buy imported spinach, kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts usually from Sam’s Club or Edwards Food Mart.

buying locally grown produce puerto rico

fresh locally grown greens are a precious commodity here

Conclusion

Overall, I feel that Puerto Rico is a healthy place to live with all the fresh tropical fruits, sunshine, and ample opportunity for activity.  The lack of locally grown green vegetables is the biggest deficiency that I see (and sometimes feel).  I am thankful that imports are available, but green veggies don’t stay fresh as long as other produce.  Over time I am hopeful that we will see more and more of these veggies start to be grown here on the island.  In the meantime, we are growing what we can.

Holly and I heard a rumor that someone in Rincón is having success growing kale which I think is surprising, because I thought kale required a cold climate.  Nevertheless, Holly went ahead and got a seedling going in a pot.  Who knows, maybe we can grow enough to at least keep my rare but powerful kale withdrawals at bay. 😉

Update (3/3/2018)

Unfortunately, our kale seedlings didn’t make it, but a few months after I wrote this post, we started to see hydroponically grown kale more frequently at Selectos.  That said, what REALLY prompted me to update this post was a visit to the Farmer’s Market in Rincón last Sunday.  SANA had locally grown green beans, mixed greens, spinach, bok choy and BROCCOLI that looked amazing!  I literally stopped in my tracks to do a double-take when I walked by!  They even had gorgeous heirloom tomatoes.  It’s great to see and well worth a visit to get top quality local produce.  If you can’t make it to the farmer’s market, they have a stand setup next to the post office in Rincón… check it out!

locally grown produce puerto rico - sana at farmers market in rincon

Broccoli (and other green veggies) grown in Puerto Rico?  I love it!

8 comments

  • I feel your pain! This is a big concern of mine too. While vacationing at my home in Arecibo, usually for a month and a half, I most certainly miss all the wide variety of veggies and spices that I eat back in California. My diet consists of kale, swiss chard, snap peas, jalapeños, bell peppers, green onions, pea sprouts, and lots of FRESH tempeh. I also use a lot of Indian spices which are hard to come by too. I feel pretty sluggish by the end of my visit. After the first week in PR I’ve had about enough yucca, mofongo, pernil, tostones, arroz con habichuelas. My husband being Cuban doesn’t seem to mind since Cubans and Puerto Ricans have similar diets. We have resorted to eating a lot of grilled chillo, black beans, and a salad of avocado, tomato and onion with a little bit of lemon or red wine vinegar and olive oil drizzled lightly over it. I wish there was a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods out there. We also have some plans of growing a few things once we’re there permanently. Oh yeah, Mexican food, wow, we definitely are going to miss good Mexican food!!!

  • Greens can be grown here. It’s just much more time intensive, less profitable with not as much demand culturally! So, if it’s really important to you, grow your own! Kale grows fairly easily. We have a friend we grows it and it’s delicious. Mustard greens. Romaine. Lechuga del pais. arugula, basil, tropical spinach. You may have to reseed often though as lettuce bolts quickly in heat. Tomatoes can be grown here as well. But mostly just the little ones like cherries because the big ones are susceptible to rot or bursting with too much water. Peppers, eggplant, okra, watermelon. A cinch. I’m with most Puerto Ricans though…far easier to grow a tree and forget about it until it bears then it is to tend a delicate garden and weed it all the time, replant it constantly and keep the iguanas out. Definitely not slim pickings if you are willing to change your diet to what is available and seasonal.

  • I’ll tweak the diet! Living in PR is well worth it. Actually it’s not that hard, as long as I have garlic, turmeric, cayenne pepper I’m cool! Well I’m outta here… time for the morning jog. I’ll be
    visualization the malecon 😀

    Paz,
    Gatica

  • Barbara Schutt

    I’d definitely try growing greens, David. The rest of your plants look great. Here in Illinois we grow many sorts of greens and just about everything you could think of. Have you tried the batata or the squash (casava, I think it is) that has a rich orange hue? We discovered them this last visit in Rincon and they both are delicious!

    • Hi Barbara, David and I have tried both batata and the orange calabaza squash, and like them. We used to eat the orange sweet potatoes often in Texas, but have switched over to the local batatas. They have a denser, drier texture and don’t make sweet potato fries quite the same, but have a delicious flavor when fried into thin chips (batatas fritas) or roasted whole! We use calabaza in our Puerto Rican beans and rice and for homemade pumpkin pie during the holidays. We are able to grow leaf lettuce, but are still working on kale and other cool weather greens. I think it’s just a matter of finding the right combination of water and sunlight, both of which can be tricky given our limited growing space here at the condo, but I am determined! 😉

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  • Johnny Laconte

    I see you found Fred selling his famous tomatoes in Rincón. This is an excellent market, now open all season so you should find plenty of greens there for your family.

  • What about Malabar ( Asian) spinach? Malabar love tropical climate, its get crazy on humid and hot weather . Excellent meaty leafs.

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