Marie McGrory (National Geographic, 7 November 2017) examines the situation of Puerto Rico’s farms after Hurricane Maria on September 20, just days after Hurricane Irma destroyed $45 million in crop value. [Many thanks to Teo Freytes for bringing this item to our attention.]
“You could hear chainsaws everywhere,” says Owen Ingley, director of Plenitud Teaching Center, an educational farm in Las Marias Puerto Rico. It was the second day following the most devastating hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 80 years. The municipality of Las Marias was out to work clearing roads and checking in on neighbors. [. . .]
Eighty percent of the U.S. territory’s crop value was decimated by the storm, says Carlos Flores Ortega, the Secretary for the Department of Agriculture for Puerto Rico. Estimates of the damages to the agriculture industry alone run up to $2 billion. This is a massive hit to an industry that, NPR reports, was experiencing a renaissance before the storm.
[. . .] Maria is the worst storm in memory for most Puerto Ricans, but tropical storms cause damage, on a smaller scale, each year. Yet Flores Ortega is confident that Puerto Rico’s agriculture sector will come back stronger than before, based on his government’s ambitious goals to decrease the amount of food imported to the island from 85 percent to 70 percent.
But with a long road to recovery ahead, some farms are bringing hope to their communities. Plenitud, and other farms that are part of The Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, already use sustainable farming methods such as storm water management, digging swales, and using permaculture practices to make their farms more efficient and resilient.
[. . .] Supporters hope this grassroots approach has the potential for significant impact on the future of farming in Puerto Rico. Following the storm, a Whatsapp thread including about a hundred of these farmers and allied organizations coordinated relief efforts between their communities.
Others have been developing their resilience strategies for years. Plenitud, for example, has spent the past five years hosting university students, engineers, and other visitors who volunteer on the farm while learning about sustainable design and permaculture principles. I was one of those visitors in 2012, just after they established their farm in Las Marias, about two hours west of San Juan.
[. . .] Flores Ortega says the government is taking it a step further by studying the way the winds of Hurricane Maria destroyed many structures.
[. . .] While Plenitud and Flores Ortega have similar long-term goals, they may be taking different paths to get there. The Department of Agriculture is focusing on making sure the island is getting access to the right funds and programs, such as the Emergency Watershed Program, which “may bear up to 75 percent of construction costs for emergency measures,” according to its website. Flores Ortega says that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has promised Puerto Rico will be participating in the same programs that U.S. states have access to. Plenitud is focused on a more long-term grassroots approach, helping small groups at a time through their hands-on workshops. Somewhere along the line, maybe their programs will intersect.