One of my biggest life motivators… is food.
I love food. Having lived on the California central coast for almost ten years, I was exposed to beautiful food, organic produce and natural products. With access to fresh food through local farmers markets, I was able to connect my love of food all the way back to the farmers who grew the ingredients, and that just fascinated me. I loved the feeling of supporting my local farmer rather than some box store or corporate retailer. I loved the feeling of eating an unwashed organic strawberry without it leaving a weird taste in my mouth. And most of all, I loved the feeling of the community that it brought together. The collective power of small farms was empowering.
So, I took the leap. Just over one-year ago, I quit my full-time job to pursue my love of food. I decided I wanted to learn to farm and, more importantly, I wanted to explore the small farm community outside the Bay Area. In preparation, I saved money, got rid of most my belongings and peeled myself away from the comforts of my home, a well-paying job and the community of friends I had built over the decade I spent living in Santa Cruz.
LEARNING TO FARM
I don’t think one ever “learns to farm”. It is more of a practice that, well, takes practice. So, in my efforts to get a good practicing, I enrolled in a Beginning Farmer Training program in Oregon. The program was an 8-month educational internship with a 200 acre diversified full-diet farm in the high desert of Central Oregon. While on this farm, I learned all I could about what it takes to run a farm… and I’ll tell you one thing… it takes a lot! Farming isn’t just about growing food, farming is a whole slew of roles, tasks and titles. Entrepreneur, marketing professional, mechanic, vet, engineer, plumber, researcher, customer service provider, delivery driver, and so, so much more. And after eight months, I felt like I had only gotten my toes wet.
ANOTHER CHAPTER FOR THE BOOKS
After my 8-month program, I was sad to say goodbye. The experience was one I will never forget. I started the program with what I thought farming was going to be and by the end, I was over joyed at just how much I learned and experienced in that short amount of time. It made me want more. I loved the demanding nature of farm life, the fact I was able to get dirty every day and all the amazing food, of course!
The farm, being a “full-diet” farm, meant that I worked with not only growing a variety of vegetables, flowers and herbs but also storage crops, grains, chickens (layers and broilers), pigs and cows (beef and dairy), pack and wash, markets, events, wholesale, organic certification, resilience planning and a million other things. It also meant I was able to connect with the caring community that supported the farm. This community was beautiful, ever-changing and passionate. When the time came for me to leave, it made me think of my community.
MY PEOPLE, MY COMMUNITY
It made me think of my community because I too can resonate with beautiful, ever-changing and
passionate. I didn’t grow up farming, my parents didn’t grow up farming. And while I do descend from hard working grandparents that at one point or another worked in the fields, they never identified as farmers either. So, after leaving this 200-acre 3rd generation organic farm with a deep
community presence, I too wanted that sense of connection to land and people and place. Like a cowboy without a horse, I felt like a farmer without roots.
While my journey to becoming a farmer has evolved from college years as a farm volunteer, to working to support organic farmers from behind a desk, to now, pursuing a career in farming, I felt as though I still needed to rid myself of the displaced feeling I had. I needed to find my sense of land, people and place by re-connecting with my roots. And no, not my Southern California suburban childhood roots, but my real familial history. Who am I?
My mom was born in Brooklyn, New York, her parents both Puerto Rican had left the island to find better jobs. My Mexican-American dad was born in Sacramento. Given I had spent several years of my mid-twenties travelling Mexico hitchhiking, riding buses and selling artisan jewelry, I decided it was my Puerto Rican side that needed some nurturing. So, in my overwhelming sense of displacement, and feeling like a newbie cowboy without a steed, I displaced myself further, from my family in Southern California, from my friends in Santa Cruz, and from the farm community in Oregon.
When I arrived in Puerto Rico, my goals were ambitious. I worked on my mom’s childhood home that was damaged in Hurricane Maria, restoring water and power so I could have comfortable place to live, I bought a car (which can be a nightmare being on an island) and I visited farms. I have now been here exactly three months and have been working to building my community.
Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is a different place than before. Since Hurricane Maria in September, 2017, many [more] families have left the island, countless buildings are in need of repairs, farms are still working to recover and people are talking. Now, more than ever, there is an awareness to the effects of severe and extreme weather conditions on the island and people are talking about resilience.
With fresh food shortages and inflated pricing after the hurricane (and in general), building a resilient Puerto Rico is imperative. What can we do differently to prepare for future disasters?
CONNECTING FOOD AND ROOTS
In the face of climate change, our food system is at risk. We can no longer ignore the patterns we are beginning, and will continue to see. As I search for my purpose, practice farming and connect with my community, I hope to learn more about what people are doing to reinforce their communities and feed people. Clean water and food are imperative to our survival just as finding our roots and eating our ancestral foods nurtures our souls and honors our ancestors. So, here I am! In Puerto Rico, La Isla del Encanto!
Stay tuned for more updates from the island.