By Mark Yokoyama

How would you describe St. Martin in a sentence? Anyone who lives here knows it is a special and unique place. It is sunny, vibrant and very Caribbean, yet the island is usually defined by a border.

It is the island that is half French and half Dutch. This is often the first fact that people turn to when describing St. Martin. From there, it is easy to continue in this direction, emphasizing the French-ness of the French side and the Dutch-ness of the Dutch side. This notion is appealing to tourists and it does start to imply the multicultural richness of the island.

But often the essence of St. Martin is ignored. In most ways, it is not much like France or the Netherlands. St. Martin has its own history, its own culture, its own plants and animals. It is not Paris with snorkelling or Amsterdam on a white sand beach. We love it because it is St. Martin; but somehow it is not as easy to describe this island’s magic without leaning on two-nation trivia.

Ironically, the French themselves are better than anyone at promoting the unique essence of a place. The word terroir is used to describe the local environment where a product is produced.

The word comes from the word for land, and it’s why there are so many kinds of French wine. Many kinds can only be made in tiny areas that are tightly controlled. It is a pure expression of the belief that each place is unique.

Terroir is specific to agriculture, but the broader idea can be seen all over France. Each region has its own cheeses, pastries or sausages. A town of 2,000 people is world famous for the Espelette pepper that originally came from the Caribbean. And all of these products with their unique names and stories bring more tourists to France each year than any other country in the world.

Raising the profile of truly local products and culture on St. Martin would enrich the island in many ways. It would foster a sense of identity and self-worth and connect St. Martiners with their heritage. It is the essence of sustainable tourism. St. Martin is a unique terroir and it should be developed.

What are the products of St. Martin? Sadly, artisanal salt production probably can’t happen without major environmental clean-up. But we do have guavaberry rum, Beauperthuy punch and plenty of local foods. There are local fishing, farming and livestock raising traditions.

There are heritage buildings still standing featuring local designs. Local artwork and writing showcase St. Martin landscapes and language. It is not hard to imagine a St. Martin defined by what is great about St. Martin, rather than its relationship to European countries.    

What fantastic things are unique to St. Martin? Tell us about them by writing in to The Daily Herald or [email protected]