A Local Food Revolution In Puerto Rico


Published:

A year has passed since Hurricane Maria first made landfall in Puerto Rico, destroying homes, roads, and vehicles in its path—and taking thousands of lives. The island languished for months as an insufficient emergency response campaign attempted to restore basic services like water and power. After a recent independent study, the official death toll was raised from the initial 64 to 2,975; analysis done by The New York Times, citing malnutrition and other food-based ailments as possible culprits for surging mortality in the storm’s aftermath, estimated that number could be over 4,000.

How could this happen? By taking out the island’s infrastructure like highways, trucks, gas stations, and more, the storm also wiped out its agricultural supply lines. Puerto Rico imports about 85 percent of all its food, producing just 15 percent of what’s consumed on the island.

In the wake of the storm, people stood in lines for hours and walked barely-stocked aisles looking for canned, non-perishable foods. Many relied on emergency responders and Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) meals, made of packaged and processed foods that require little to no preparation, like the beef jerky and crackers you’d expect to find in a vending machine. In harder-to-service rural areas on the island, the threat of starvation loomed large.

“They say that during Maria, Puerto Rico only had enough food for one week,” says Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, who became an international figurehead after calling out President Trump for his inadequate response to the crisis. “I hate to say anything positive about Maria. But what the hurricane did was force us to look at the realities of life here and how our dependency on the outside weakens our ability to ensure our people are taken care of. Maria made it evident that we need agricultural sovereignty.”

The story of Puerto Rico’s food production is also the story of the island’s own colonial history. Large-scale plantations replaced native farming during Puerto Rico’s days as a Spanish colony, resulting in the consolidation of agricultural land and landholding, as well as the number of crops being grown on it. When the United States took over the island in the wake of the Spanish-American War in 1898, economic restructuring meant that the remaining agricultural activity focused only on cash crops like sugarcane and coffee.

Then, in the 1940s, Congress launched Operation Bootstrap, a campaign to overhaul the Puerto Rican economy that focused on manufacturing and tourism—moving even further away from agriculture. Subsequent tax breaks and economic initiatives to encourage investment in these sectors solidified these moves. Deliberately, over the course of years, an import-driven food system was put in place in Puerto Rico, and all other farming fell by the wayside.

“Puerto Rico’s economy has always been categorized by being an import economy: we produce things we do not consume but then we have to import things we do consume, especially in agriculture,” notes Gladys González-Martínez, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Puerto Rico.

Still, Puerto Rican local farming had been experiencing the beginning stages of a renaissance even before the storm hit, spurred by the economic crisis of 2006. According to statistics provided by the governor’s office, farm income grew 25 percent from 2012 to 2014, while the number of acres under cultivation rose by 50 percent between 2012 and 2016, generating at least 7,000 jobs.

That progress was short-lived: 80 percent of the island’s crops were destroyed in the storm. But, despite those losses, the seeds of a local agricultural had taken root. Some took the storm as inspiration.

At farms like Cosechas Tierra Viva in Las Piedras, run by Eduardo Burgos and Franco Marcano, where they grow kale, arugula, green beans, and eggplant for local farmers’ markets, the storm kicked them into high gear. Just a month after Maria’s landfall, they converted the farm to run exclusively on solar energy and shifted their irrigation system’s source to rainwater. “Maria was the push we needed to execute the ideas we had to expand our production,” Burgos told NBC News in July.

They’re not alone. Agroecology—defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as both a movement and practice of socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable development—is an approach to farming that promotes diversity through crop rotation, polycultures, or livestock integration, and uses natural systems and local knowledge like planting flowers to attract insects that keep pest levels under control. Using agroecology has allowed Puerto Rican farmers to envisage an agriculture system not reliant on external inputs from chemical companies and fossil fuels. And the idea is rapidly taking hold in farms, schools, and community groups across the island. Already, organizations like the Puerto Rico Resilience Fund are supporting the movement by establishing sites like the student-run farm at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus, while networks like the Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico are helping small farms like the Pachamama Bosque Jardín find their feet.

These projects are crucial for the island’s food security, but also for its protection from storms that are likely to grow in intensity and frequency due to climate change. Surveys after hurricanes in the late 1990s in countries like Nicaragua and Cuba have shown that diversified, small-scale farms suffer less damage than bigger farms practicing conventional agriculture.

Already, the movement is making a noticeable difference. The Puerto Rican Department of Agriculture is aiming to have food imports down to 65 to 75 percent by the end of the year,  which could represent as much as a 20-percent decrease on pre-Maria levels and a 30-percent drop from the island’s post-Maria peak.

Ricardo Fernandez, CEO of Puerto Rico Farm Credit, sees signs of the transformation. People are flocking to farmers’ markets; university students are signing up for agricultural classes. “There’s a resurgence now, because we have to re-invent ourselves,” he says in a recent interview with NPR. For an island facing serious questions about its own colonial legacy and territorial status, local food may well be the first step towards a more independent Puerto Rico.

Alexander Sammon is a New York-based writer. He writes about politics, inequality, and environmental issues. His work has appeared in the New Republic, Mother Jones, and the New York Times.

This article was republished from Food Tank.

See also:
Disaster Collectivism: How Communities Rise Together To Respond To Crises
We Can Reimagine And Reinvent Our Society In 2018

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

March 19, 2019

This final day of the astrological year features no exact planetary aspects. The Sun is at the last degree of Pisces, the Sign of the Two Fishes. One looks to the past while the other contemplates the future. It’s a good time to pause and consider your…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

March 2019

Sunday afternoon: 3–4:30pm at Hillside Herbals Spring Tonics II: the spring tonic herbs—it's about circulation, assimilation and elimination—tincturing. Rachel has...

Cost: Drop in Fee $10 includes all materials and handouts.

Where:
Hillside Herbals
Jefferson, MA


Sponsor: Hillside Herbals
Telephone: 508-847-8615
Contact Name: Rachel Ross
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Show More...
Show Less...

March 20–23 9am-3pm each day Experience transformation guided by Mother Mary. Through Divine vibration, you will be aligned for quicker healing and evolving with mind body spirit and...

Cost: $500

Where:
, MA


Sponsor: The LoveLight Center
Telephone: (207) 216-9584
Contact Name: Cheryl Banfield

More information

The American Center for Bioregulatory Medicine and Dentistry (The BioMed Center) is the most comprehensive center in North America for bioregulatory medicine and dentistry. Come see what...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
111 Chestnut Street
Providence, RI
View map »


Website »

More information

Discover how you can release tight muscles and improve range of motion in locked joints in a weekly ESSENTRICS stretch classes led by Raindrop Fisher, certified Essentrics instructor. Raindrop is a...

Cost: $10 drop-in / $100 for 12 classes

Where:
Village at Waterman Lake
Function Room - Chalet Bldg
715 Putnam Pike
Greenville, RI  02828
View map »


Sponsor: Healthier Fit Lifestyle
Telephone: 401-678-0950
Contact Name: Raindrop Fisher
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This 8 week series in Tai Chi will provide you with everything you need to get started in a personal Tai Chi practice. Just for Beginners—there is no expectation, and no pressure in...

Cost: $137 for 8 weeks

Where:
Spiral Path Connections
218 Boston Street
Unit 104
Topsfield, MA  01983
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiral Path
Telephone: 978-314-4264
Contact Name: Johanna Hattendorf
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“All we need is love” the Beatles claimed in 1960’s. In fact, we have been looking for love from the beginning of time. We are conditioned that it is love which brings us...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, Suite 1-A
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.” —Krishnamacharya Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using the...

Cost: $30 (some hardship rates available)

Where:
Spontaneous Celebrations
45 Danforth Street
Jamaica Plain, MA  02130
View map »


Telephone: 617-233-6410
Contact Name: Allen Howell, M.Ed.LMHC
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Only $225 if you register for both days! Save $25! Please click here to register for both workshops. This is a 2 day course being held Saturday and Sunday, March 23...

Cost: $125

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, Suite 1-A
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Former Buddhist monk and world renowned healer, Seth Monk, will be giving a Siddha Healing to our community. Seth will be accompanied by Shannon Fitzgerald, an AromaReiki Master for a beautiful...

Cost: $35

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough Shopping Center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

In her art and spirit workshops, Melissa combines her gift as an intuitive with her extensive background in painting to help you to work through creative blocks and learn or refine technique. Come...

Cost: $150

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Journey back into the experience of peace, harmony and inner power through this unique meditation practice. Explore the power of your thoughts and how they can bring you inner harmony and help you...

Cost: Free

Where:
Inner Space Meditation Center & Gallery
1110 Massachussetts Ave
Cambridge, MA
View map »


Telephone: 617-547-1110
Website »

More information

Psychics, mediums, angel readers, spirit art. Reiki, chair massage, IET, Gaiadon Heart, crystal healings, etc. Sign yourself up for a few appointments and bring your friends! Appointments...

Where:
Women Of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Telephone: (508) 230-3680
Website »

More information

6 Saturdays 10am–11:30am February 23–March 30, 2019 Taijiquan (Tai Chi ) is a healing martial art, using breath and movement together to strengthen the body and quiet...

Cost: $120

Where:
Metta Wellness
679 Pleasant Street
Paxton, MA  01612
View map »


Sponsor: Metta Wellness
Telephone: 774-245-5487
Contact Name: Rick Rocha
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags