Community Gardens Are A Must for Food Sovereignty

As the COVID-19 pandemic health and economic toll rises worldwide, people are awakening to the harsh reality that, at a certain point, any given country could suffer from a food shortage. It is thus necessary to explore healthy agricultural methods. 

Special Report by Cristina Ramirez Doval 

Through social media, citizens from different nations have begun to share and debate upon just how delicate politicized food systems are. It is because of this that many citizens have invested in gardens, residential and community alike. 

In densely populated cities, some have found creative locations that allow agriculture to thrive despite all the buildings, concrete, and lack of space. In contrast, smaller countries with non urbanized rural areas may have it easier terrain wise; but, some adaptations and new practices are always necessary to implement. 

Puerto Rico is a perfect example of a Caribbean island filled with different types of land due to its diverse topography. Like most countries with tropical weather, there is a balance between the amount of rain and sunlight it receives, and no winter season that could kill crops. However, hurricane season lasts from August through October. This type of natural phenomenons, tropical storms and heavy precipitation usually ruin farmlands. The damage can affect crops for months or even years.

While it is an obstacle that many farmers find difficult to overcome, the latest generation of agricultural workers has found their way around these and other systemic issues in the Island, which approximately imports 85% of the produce its residents consume.

In 2017, Frutos del Guacabo, located in Manatí -a town on the northern coast of Puerto Rico-, stood out amongst many initiatives. This social enterprise, founded by a husband and wife who had both lost their jobs back in 2010, became a safe haven for the threat of a food shortage in the Island. 

Efrén Robles and Angeline Martínez showed television crews just how secure their produce was even after all the havoc caused by María, a category 5 hurricane.  

After losing their jobs, Martínez attended a conference on hydroponics systems, which caught her interest. She and Robles started working on their own hydroponic tanks. The couple realized their knowledge in science was actually an advantage, so they decided to expand as a farm. 

Since 2010, Frutos del Guacabo has sold many types of crops not produced before in Puerto Rico, according to Robles. Their products are sold to local restaurants in a farm to table model; however, they’ve also been in charge of educating and training agricultural workers.

 Having participated in World Central Kitchen’s program to help out Puerto Rico after María, Robles said they’ve trained around a hundred people who want to grow their own crops. They also work in co-ops with other farmers in a community that has approximately 50 members. 

Frutos del Guacabo is a blank canvas and depending on who comes to visit, we adapt the training we give based on their needs, even if it is a school group”, Robles said. 

Living on an island is not the only reason people are considering or starting their own gardens. 

Compared to Puerto Rico, New York City has a population of approximately 19 million people. It is also part of a state that is incorporated to the mainland; however, there are more than 17 urban farms and gardens throughout Manhattan and other boroughs. 

According to Iyeshima Harris, Project Director of East New York Farms!, East New York has the biggest concentration of community gardens in the City. “There are 60 community gardens, and we have an urban farm that educates and supports our local gardeners”, Harris explained.

East New York Farms! accepts over a hundred local volunteers each year, and these in turn, receive hands on agricultural training. There is also a paid internship program that selects between 30 to 40 youths –all based in East New York-, for a nine month period of learning. 

“They give back what they learned to their community, we teach them about other basic life skills, like for example, our preparation course for college”, Harris mentioned. 

The stipend paid to these interns also helps them support their families. Since some training sessions are provided outside of the City, it gives them a chance to see other places. “It motivates youth because it gives them something to do; our program prepares them for a variety of situations”, Harris said. 

From how to grow your own seeds, make compost and getting to know the different types of soil, their courses also teach them how to prepare for the following season and how to handle their finances. Some are even awarded grants to help them start and maintain their own gardens.

Regardless of the location and weather conditions in your area, food sovereignty is essential and it is not a thing of the past. 

Even though some regions currently rely on imports, a small shift in the system could threaten a nation’s food security. Luckily, many citizens have become aware of this possibility and have started growing food in their own homes or communities. This practice not only works for an emergency, it also helps you become self sufficient, keeps people productive and communities bound together.

Photo Credit: Frutos del Guacabo – Facebook

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