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

June 18, 2019

An early morning sextile between Saturn and Neptune suggests there is timeless wisdom to be had in dreams. Some folks wake up feeling as though they have been schooled in ancient wisdom while sleeping. Others feel empowered to go after a cherished goal…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

June 2019

Sunday Reiki treatments with Reiki master and practitioner Linda Simons in Brookline, MA. Start your week off on a more balanced note with a Reiki treatment on a Sunday afternoon. Please join me...

Cost: Sliding Scale $25-45

Where:
233 Harvard Street
Suite 36
Brookline, MA  02446
View map »


Telephone: 617-304-2205
Contact Name: Linda Simons
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

In celebration of the summer freshness, vitality and joyfulness, this is a spring pamper yourself DIY strawberry body care flower project that you will go home with. Time permitting you may go...

Cost: Pre-reg $35, $40 at the door, materials included

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Sute #A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join us for an exclusive workshop and wine tasting. This event is free! Attorney Lisa Cukier, partner at Burns & Levinson, will lead an informative workshop on divorce impacted by...

Cost: Free

Where:
Total Wine & More
321 Speen Street
Apt 802
Natick, MA  01760
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Part 1 - Animal Communication Tue 6/18 (10-6pm) and Wed, 6/19 (10-1 pm)  Fri, 6/21 *Optional morning off-site visit w/live animals  Learn how to communicate with your...

Cost: $540

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


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

More information

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

Are you going through a divorce, contemplating divorce, or recovering from divorce? Come to our Divorce Boot Camp, and we’ll help you get into shape! Join us and learn about the finer...

Cost: Free

Where:
Leading Edge Real Estate
2 Mount Vernon Street
Winchester, MA  01890
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Are you separated, divorced, or in the process of divorce? Whatever stage you are in…just considering divorce or many years post divorce… our Divorce Resource Nights have...

Cost: Free

Where:
Skylark Law & Mediation, PC
9 Main Street
Southborough, MA  01772
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

June 20–23 For more info, please contact us at 336.574.1121 or aptaoffices@polaritytherapy.org www.polaritytherapy.org Keynote Speaker: Christina L. Ross, PhD, BCPP Wake Forest...

Where:
Hilton Long Island/Huntington
Melville, NY


Sponsor: American Polarity Therapy Association
Website »

More information

This development group is for students of mediumship looking to enhance, expand and practice their mediumship abilities. Traditional and progressive mediumship development techniques, topics and...

Cost: $25 per person

Where:
Moth and Moon Studio
173 South River Road
Suite #4
Bedford, NH  03110
View map »


Sponsor: Moth and Moon Studio
Telephone: 603-782-3674
Contact Name: Danielle Dionne
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

June 21–23 Medical Qi Gong for Health Care Practitioners and Tuina Treatment Strategies for Cervical Spine and Lumbar Spine with Bill Helm Join us Friday–Sunday, June...

Cost: See details

Where:
Roots and Wings Yoga and Healing Arts
317 North Main Street
Natick, MA  01760
View map »


Sponsor: Eastern Medicinal Therapies Education Center
Telephone: (617) 435-3586
Contact Name: Lauren Paap
Website »

More information

Networking / Supervision / Support  We are a varied group of holistic practitioners in metro-west Boston and we welcome new practitioner-members. We invite any local practitioner,...

Where:
Lincoln, MA


Telephone: 781-738-1920
Contact Name: Jai Kaur Annamaria

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Saturday and Sunday, June 22nd & 23rd plus Saturday, July 27th A path to reconnecting with your true self and expressing your full human potential. Summer 2019 Reiki...

Cost: $450

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road, Suite B2
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

At Elemental Energies with Chris Ann and Jeff Come see a wide collection of psychics, artists, healers, etc. from all over New England. Come buy tickets at the large raffle table. 100% of the...

Cost: ​Free admission

Where:
27 N. Berwick Road
Wells, ME
View map »


Telephone: (207) 641-5070
Website »

More information

Explore Your Psychic Awareness In This Fun And Informative Workshop Designed specifically for people who are awakening to their own psychic senses, this class will provide you with personalized,...

Cost: $125

Where:
The Mills at Salmon Falls
3 Front Street
Lower Mill
Rollinsford, NH  03869
View map »


Sponsor: Raylene Sousa Medium LLC
Telephone: 207-956-0220
Contact Name: Raylene Sousa
Website »

More information

Celebrate the longest day of daylight and the summer season with us! Come detox, relax and renew yourself for the summer celebration in our sanctuary! A great way to really dig in a get fully...

Cost: Special 3-15 min services $60 or 1-15 min service $25

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Sute #A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

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