After experiencing a tragedy (such as the devastating hurricane Maria), comes an opportunity to get closer together and be reminded of what’s important in life. The Farmer-to-Farmer Brigada de Apoyo, organized and hosted by Organización Boricua did just that. Their slogan- Agro-ecology: for the people, for life, for always found its way into my heart. And despite coming together as a family under terrible circumstances, I left the island richer than when I arrived, mainly because of the amazing people I met along the journey.
The best photos so far are being uploaded onto the Boricua Facebook page. You can scroll through and see the rapid transformation of the people and places. Thank you Jesús! Be sure to also check out the OurPowerPR solidarity page from the Climate Justice Alliance.
On Monday night I flew back from Puerto Rico with two other members of the Black Dirt Farm Collective. Almost a dozen of our members spent one or two weeks in Puerto Rico as part of a solidarity brigade to help with rebuilding efforts. Several members head to St. Croix on February 4th. I was honored to be invited to join the delegation, to help our compañeros in Organización Boriqua, a 28-year old grassroots organization made up of mostly farmers and folks connected to the agro-ecology movement.
I woke up on Tuesday morning in time for breakfast at Cinco Elementos Farm in Naranjito, the last place in Puerto Rico I visited during the brigade. I opened my eyes to discover that it was still pitch dark in Washington, DC and about 40 degrees colder so I went back to sleep- willing myself to dream of the love and hope that is germinated through solidarity and people power.
The experience was life changing for all of us. One thing for sure is that I now read the news with a different lens. This morning when I opened the paper, there was a lead article about Humacao, a place I went to last weekend. The story tells the truth about the unbelievably harsh realities that still exist on the island: many places are without power and running water; emigration on a mass scale is still a major problem; schools are not functioning and the nation’s children are getting left behind; access to food continues to be a problem.
But what I realize now that the media here is missing, are all of the stories of incredible resistance and resilience of the people of Puerto Rico. In Humacao, we visited a community run space that had a soup kitchen that started serving 500 meals a day after the hurricane. We met families and educators involved in a rich home school tradition. We witnessed an incredibly organized movement of agroecologists that somehow managed to organize housing and camping places for a roving band of 15 tents – and every meal was better than the last.
The underlying theme of climate change was everywhere: people are thinking not just about the last hurricane but the next one. And for an island that used to produce the majority of its own food but now relies on imports, Maria was certainly a wake up call for people to start paying attention to those in Boricua and others who have been paving a way towards food sovereignty long before the hurricane. Barriers for farmers to access land echoed our own experiences here in the United States: the old story of government subsidies for huge corporations (in Puerto Rico’s case, Monsanto) coupled with the disenfranchisement of agrarians farming in harmony with the land was an all too familiar theme. Now more than ever it’s clear that as a movement we really need to focus on that, or suffer the consequences.
I know that I haven’t experienced anything like what happened during and now in the aftermath of Maria. So I can’t say that I know what the people are feeling. But the stories of resilience and perseverance certainly affirms for me that we are on the right path when we self organize the resistance. Katja, one of the leaders in the movement recounted a story for us that she heard from a farmer who, when asked by his son what they have left after Maria took so much told the child, “Tenemos Nosotros” (we have each other.)
The people of Puerto Rico indeed have each other, but you also have us. And fam- when you call us we will be there.
in solidarity- gail and the 3PH team