The mainstream media has decreased their coverage of Puerto Rico, and some have even ceased it altogether. But that does not equate to everything being back to normal in Puerto Rico. While it’s true that there is a lot of news to cover, Puerto Rico is just around the corner from us and we should all be aware of what is happening on the U.S. territory. What happens in Puerto Rico should be everyone’s concern because it has a direct impact on the U.S. mainland. Not just in how communities across the United States are able to cope with the influx of the Puerto Rican diaspora but how they will be able to cope to meet the needs of all American citizens, especially with a changing climate.
Tomorrow marks the sixth-month anniversary that Hurricane Maria pummeled the island, and some media outlets are already preparing to run a story on it first thing in the morning. For sure, they will talk about the disparity that is being experienced throughout the island in regards to electricity and running water. For sure, they will talk about the hotels that have re-opened in San Juan. For sure, they will talk about some communities that seem to be operating “normally.”
Here’s what they won’t talk about.
The lack of availability of local fruits and vegetables, where now they arrive from Ecuador and Costa Rica, such as bananas and avocados. And just a friendly reminder on what that means under the Jones Act. The bananas and avocados have to be shipped to the United States first. Then they have to travel the distance throughout the United States before boarding another ship that must be U.S.-built, U.S.-registered, with a U.S. crew, which equals very expensive bananas, with up to a 40 percent markup. The result is that folks like my parents cannot afford to purchase produce at those prices.
They also won’t talk about the millions of chickens that have drowned from the impact of the hurricane, which caused the only chicken livestock farmer to go out of business in Puerto Rico. The result is that the chickens available for purchase at the grocery stores must be shipped from the U.S. mainland. I think you know the chorus by now, on a U.S.-built ship, U.S.-registered, with a U.S. crew. I think you also know the rest. (Hint: $$$)
They also won’t talk about the cacao farmers who have not received any assistance to get their farms up and running again. A couple of weeks ago, I was back in Puerto Rico, this time visiting cacao farms in the town of Aguada. I met with Juan and Maria from Jeanmarie Chocolat, along with their daughter at their hacienda, it was remarkable to hear Juan discuss his vision for cacao agriculture in Puerto Rico, specifically in Aguada. He has been teaching small famers on how to plant cacao trees, and providing educational workshops on quality and consistency. His goal is for Aguada to be known as the premier destination for fine cacao and chocolate. He is passionate about the concept and believes it’s attainable. The only problem: Hurricane Maria decimated his farm to the point where there was no way for us to get there by vehicle as the bridge that leads to his farm had collapsed in the hurricane. From afar, we could see the damage, but it was not safe to make the journey on foot. Though he has made the journey on his own to survey the damage, it was not something he would recommend or risk others that are unfamiliar with the landscape.
Afterwards, I went to meet one of the small cacao farmers who had attended several of the workshops provided by Juan. His name is Nelson (he is the man in the headline image) and he has a large amount of land that is also hard to get through but he had cleared many of the fallen trees to create a path. Though the path was still a treacherous drive. It felt like we were in a scene of the film, “Romancing the Stone” riding in his old jeep, making our way through steep dirt roads in a jungle. I took this picture from inside his jeep, it’s diagonal because that’s the steepness of the road we were driving on through his cacao farm.
The photo shows the path we were driving through, while viewing Nelson’s cacao farm. It was an inspiring journey to see what Juan from Jeanmarie Chocolat is trying to achieve by building a coalition of farmers to produce cacao. But his hacienda suffered major damage, with the majority of his crop and equipment destroyed. Farmers are key for the revival of Puerto Rico’s economy and the sustainability of residents on the island. In order to revive Juan’s cacao farm, we have to rebuild the bridge that collapsed in order to be able to get to his farm to start the process of clearing trees. Shortly, I will include a donation button on my blog to help collect funds to get these cacao farmers back in business. I’m also working on other ways to raise money on behalf of the farmers and will let you know of those initiatives once they have been solidified.
To the folks who have reached out to me directly, thank you and stay tuned!