Rodale Institute Intern Urges Help for Puerto Rico Farms
Rodale Institute Intern and Puerto Rico native, Isabel Buenaga, encourages all to help rebuild the now destroyed Puerto Rican agriculture industry
A damaged banana plantation is seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama | Reuters
Weeks after Hurricane Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico is still recovering from the devastation that has turned the U.S. Territory into an ‘apocalyptic’ scene. Isabel Buenaga, a Puerto Rican native and Rodale Institute Agriculture Supported Community (ASC) intern, still has family living there. Since the hurricanes, she has been supporting relief efforts that help Puerto Rico, especially those aimed at helping farmers.
“My beautiful, once lush island has been completely destroyed,” said ASC intern Isabel. Prior to her time with the Institute, Isabel also interned at an organic farm in Puerto Rico. “I read that the hurricane has set Puerto Rico back nearly 30 years. They need all the help they can get.”
There are parts of Puerto Rico still without power, water, and basic first aid. Schools, hospitals, and stores are not capable of functioning, and may not be up-and-running for months. Their natural resources have been completely devastated as well. America’s only tropical rain forest in the U.S. Forest Service system, El Yunque National Rainforest, was once lush with biodiversity, but now has been decimated.
A damaged farm is seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Salinas | Reuters
A plantain field stands under water after the passing of Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa | Reuters
Hurricane Maria is one of the costliest storms to hit Puerto Rico's agriculture industry, estimating to have lost $780 million in agriculture yields. The storms brought heavy rains that submerged farmland, causing landslides and wiping out livestock. The 150-160 mph winds shredded farm homes and flattened crops. Hurricane Maria is estimated to have wiped out approximately 80% of agriculture, ultimately affecting Puerto Rico’s food supply for its citizens and the rest of the U.S.
“This is a humanitarian crisis. Not only do some parts of the island still not have the necessary means to survive, but also they now must rebuild their agriculture industry. This is not something that happens over night, and will certainly need help."
Farmer examines the ruined nursery where he works as a foreman in Yabucoa | Victor J. Blue/The New York Times
Brothers look over their destroyed plantain crops in Yabucoa. For as far as they could see, every one of the 14,000 trees was down. | Victor J. Blue/The New York Times
Farmers need help cleaning up and assistance in re-sowing crops for them to be able to start to rebuild the industry. Isabel has been working with organizations to help support relief efforts on the island. For those wishing to help fellow farmers, Isabel recommends the following organizations for donating items such as seeds, tools, hands, or money to:
1. Puerto Rico Resilience Fund
The Puerto Rico Resilience Fund partnered with a local grassroots organization, El Departamento de la Comida. El Departameno de la Comida supports local, sustainable, agro-ecological farms and has mobilized to receive support from the Americas for Conservation + the Arts organization. Seeds, supplies, and monetary support can be donated to El Departamento de la Comida. For a list of needed seeds and supplies, visit fondoderesilienciapuertorico.tumblr.com/materiales. To donate to local, organic farmers, visit www.americasforconservation.org/mx-pr-resilience-fund.
2. Unidos Por Puerto Rico
Unidos Por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico) is an initiative brought forth by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, with the purpose of providing aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by the hurricanes.
"The reason why I farm is because of Puerto Rico. My is dream is to return home to revitalize the small scale agricultural community. Seeing Puerto Rico go through so much devastation makes it hard to focus on anything else."
Isabel Buenaga Levis was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has a degree in Political Science and Global Studies with a minor in Entrepreneurship from Lehigh University. Isabel has worked on organic vegetable farms in Vermont, Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania. Now Isabel is an intern for the ASC program at the Rodale Institute. After her time at Rodale she aims to continue learning about different organic practices in hopes of having a farm in Puerto Rico.