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Mango Melee Festival Draws Potential Record Crowds

July 4, 2005 – "This is such a fine place to meet people and talk," said Rodney Koopmans of Estate Carleton, as he stood in the midst of the Monday afternoon crowd milling between the vendor booths at the St. George Village Botanical Gardens' Mango Melee Festival.
And that appeared to be what everyone was doing. From the dark-skinned high school girls flashing smiles at their male counterparts to the white-skinned tourists with cameras, who appeared to have flown in directly from Maine.
Brinsley Burbridge, executive director of the botanical gardens, said, "This is one of the biggest things on St. Croix, and this might be the best ever."
The scene substantiated his claim. The gate had to be closed often as all the parking spaces inside the garden were filled. Also, cars were parked the length of road leading from Centerline Road to the gardens' gates and beyond all the way to the housing development north. The event attracted 2,500 visitors last year and raised about $13,000 for the gardens.
Burbridge was unprepared to hazard a guess on what the numbers would be this year.
The St. George Village Botanical Gardens include 16 acres and were once home to an Arawak Indian village from 100 to 900 A.D. From 1733 to 1917, the land housed a Danish sugar plantation, and after 1930, a cattle ranch. In 1972 it became the botanical gardens.
Last year the event experimented with a food preparation contest. It matured this year into "Mango 'Dis, Mango 'Dat." According to organizer Connie Lemca, the contest went very well with 13 entries.
Lemca said she "absolutely loved" the contest and was able to sample all entries. The winner of each of the four categories earned $50, a bottle of rum and an apron. Second-place finishers received $25, a bottle of rum and an apron.
Burbridge said, "The whole purpose of the event is to acquaint people with tropical fruits they can grow right in their back yard. You don't need an acre for this stuff."
Guided tours of the gardens were offered three times during the afternoon. Although most of the event was under sunny skies, the rain made a couple visits, only serving to make rainbows part of the Fourth of July attraction.
The weather did not detract from business. Aasma Safqat, who sells Indian and Pakistani foods, said the event always generates good business. She said, "This clientele likes our food."
A mango-eating contest and a silent action were also scheduled later in the afternoon, as was a tropical fruit identification contest.
The winners in the "Mango 'Dis Mango 'Dat" contest were:
Condiments – Mary Edwards with a mango barbecue sauce; and Zandria Peterson and Angela Lake with their mango sauce.
Desserts and Baked Goods – Patrick Gribbin with a white chocolate mango mousse; and Zandria Peterson and Angela Lake with a mango upside-down cake.
Appetizer and non-alcoholic drinks – Josephine Williams with a mango punch; and Martha Jean Piers with a mango wine.
Rum Flavored drink – Ethel Ritch with a pomegranate mango rum punch.
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