Vaneisa: Green till you blue; T&T must choose sustainable development

It has been about 30 years since Vicki-Ann Assevero put down her bucket in the land of her father’s birth. She didn’t come back because of some ancestral pull to Victor’s homeland—it was because she had met and fallen in love with another Trinidadian, the then-minister of finance, Wendell Mottley, whom she married in 1994.

I interviewed her in April 1995, as she was trying to figure out a role for herself, given her background as a lawyer who had worked outside of Washington, DC, (where she was born and raised) in Africa, Europe and other parts of the USA.

Vicki-Ann Assevero.

Coming from a career background that required mobility, adaptability, and a high degree of diplomacy in environments that generated considerable fluidity on many fronts, Trinidad and Tobago presented some challenges.

Infrastructure, telecommunications, the general lag with technology, service industries, the complacency of the place—although she was tactful, it was clear these aspects of Trini life presented something of a culture shock.

But Vicki was determined to find a niche.

Tourists and locals relax at Maracas Bay in Trinidad on 19 March 2008.
(Copyright AFP Photo/ Yuri Cortez)

She was checking out charitable and social welfare organisations to see where she could get involved—she was already a member of the board of Population Action International, an organisation founded in 1965 to use research and advocacy to increase access to family planning and reproductive health care.

Gradually, she found her way, and in 2012, she was one of the founders of the Green Market in Santa Cruz. A novel idea then, it quickly became a Saturday staple, developing a following that remained fairly constant over the years.

The space has now sadly been closed.

“It’s like a novel, it’s come to an end,” she said, in an interview with the Express last Wednesday as she described the opening chapter.

“We—people of Santa Cruz, Pat Ganase (another founding fixture), mall around the corner, and people at the horse farm—were talking about the landscape that’s there and how to think about making that landscape real for people, and having people understand what healthy eating was and relationships between healthy eating and the ecology.

Vicki-Ann Assevero at the Green Market in Santa Cruz.

“It was all those things that were going into the thinking process that started the Green Market.”

She explained that because the idea had taken root, other markets emerged—such as the one at the Queen’s Park Savannah—which doesn’t carry costs for the farmers and artisans, and that was a drain for her, because she could not afford that kind of state support.

Her goal had been sustainable development, and one of the things that made the Green Market stand out was that continuous focus. She formed partnerships with a wide array of groups, introducing ideas such as Edible Talks that demonstrated connections with health, the environment, nutrition and ecology.

The Green Market in Santa Cruz.

There was a community garden. Artists were invited to show their work, musicians were welcomed. She arranged public education programmes.

The tranquil space provided a therapeutic ambience, so that a visit was much more than a shopping trip. Local produce and handicraft items, plants, food and drink, were part of the experience, but the overall ethos was one of community.

You could always be sure that you would bounce up someone you know; that you could dawdle and chat without feeling hurried.

A trip to the Green Market in Santa Cruz.

It was truly a respite from the routines; and a feast for the senses.

Although other entities have emerged, they are not so invested in the concept of sustainable development. What evolved for Vicki from her interest in environmental and developmental law from a policy perspective into putting it to practical use, became the guiding principle for the activities on Santa Cruz weekends.

Four years after the Green Market came to be, in a newspaper interview with the Guardian, Vicki shared some thoughts on the society’s directions.

A flagman walks on the running track at the Hasely Crawford Stadium before kickoff of a Concacaf Nations League A fixture between Trinidad and Tobago and Curacao on 7 September 2023.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

Given the current discussions about parking and towing in Port of Spain, it was interesting to see her take. She thought there should be a Ministry of Mobility, because a major stress factor is the persistently crawling traffic and the lack of parking spaces.

“We need a comprehensive national urban plan for our cities so that there is parking (small fee) which removes traffic from city centres. Efficient public transport does not have to be rapid rail in a first instance.

“For example, there is a lot of space across from Westmall to create municipal parking lots and then buses could run every 15 minutes to Chaguaramas and back until we can finance the much-needed causeway.”

Would Trinidad benefit from a rapid rail project?

Other hubs can be set up.

And decades since she’d arrived, she was still concerned about solving basic infrastructural problems.

“Telecommunications should be flawless: reliable stable internet and telephone connections allow people to learn skills online, small businesses to thrive, and to reduce traffic congestion by teleconferencing.”

Kill me now…

As she mentioned in the recent interview, developmental projects become impractical and unsustainable without public and private contributions.

It is a shame that there was not enough support from corporate citizens to keep the Green Market going. But it lasted for 12 years, and that is something to celebrate.

I wanted to use my space to publicly let Vicki know that despite the poignant nature of its closure, it has left a mark. Perhaps, in time to come, the society will evolve enough to understand the connections you have striven to make.

A vendor at the Green Market in Santa Cruz.

Sustainable development has to be the core of everything we do from here on.

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