Vegetable Garden in the Marshall Islands

My husband and I moved to Majuro, the capital city of the Marshall Islands on August 30. We will be in this little island (only 30,000 people and 30 miles long) for the next two years. It is paradise in terms of natural beauty, but it is a nightmare in terms of healthy eating. The Marshall Islands is infamous for having one of the highest rates of diabedes in the world: The ratio of type 2 diabetes in the Marshall Islands is about 50% for adults older than 35 years old and nearly 75% of women and 50% of men are overweight. In the old days, Marshallese diet consisted of local fresh fruits, vegetables and fish and they were much healthier. Now all kinds of imports are available like white rice, canned meats, sweet drinks, and so on. Local vegetables are still available, however Marchallese tend to choose a can of spam with white rice and a sweet drink instead of fruit and fish. The difficulty of growing (and hence the cost) of fresh produce is also part of the problem. Even local vegetables are more expansive than those cheap, canned products.

Before I got here, I was told it was almost impossible to get good quality, fresh vegetables and fruits here in the Marshall Islands so I was surprised to see a modest variety of fresh produce was available when I went grocery shopping for the first time. Almost all the vegetables are imported, and I was perhaps lucky to see the shelves full, because after only a short time, all those vegetables started wilting and quickly became unappetizing. And you never know when the next shipment will arrive. Fortunately, I have found several locally grown vegetables and fruits, too. So far, I found Chinese long beans, tomatoes, limes, pumpkin, taro root, cassava roots, pandanas and coconuts. Not a particularly good variety for many of the things I like to make, very expensive for the quality you get, and you are always at the mercy of the next airplane. But at least it's something.

Faced with these challenges, I started researching about growing my own vegetables and herbs in the Marshall Islands. Unfortunately, this is no easy task. The Marshall Islands are a set of coral atolls with very little natural soil. When I learned this, I considered trying a hydroponic garden. However, this is quite complicated, especially given the kind of materials that are available locally. Supposedly there is a Taiwanese project in the Marshall Islands that is working with locals to produce local vegetables with basic, sustainable, local techniques. I hope to visit their farm soon. Another issue is that all the land is right next to the water (the outer side is ocean and the inner side is lagoon). We get so much salt water spray and sun, not to mention torrential rains during the rainy season.

Considering all these issues, I've decided to start with a modest-sized project to grow veggies in my house in a container garden. I have done a container garden in Liberia and it worked extremely well so I am confident that I can manage to grow many things. The only difference here is the lack of soil. The good news is that there is a mini-Home Depot here that sells soil and even some compost. So I'll start with that and see if I can't make some compost of my own. Waste disposal here is a huge problem, so I think composting is a great idea for many reasons.

There is likely to be a lot of trial and error as I experiment with different plants, the sun, the water and all the other variables. But I am looking forward to an interesting two years.



pea shoots

pea shoots

rotten sweet potato

sweet potato slips

green chiles

mystery plant