Being Part of Restoring Puerto Rico’s Food Resilience as a Student Attorney

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I just returned this weekend from our #UBLawResponds service-learning trip as a student attorney in the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic. In a previous blog post, I discussed how the single solution of rooftop solar power could solve two of Puerto Rico’s roadblocks to resiliency and self-sufficiency. Additionally, it would allow citizens around Puerto Rico to have more land for local agriculture. Therefore, I was extremely excited to meet the leaders of our long-standing #UBLawResponds client, El Departamento de la Comida to discuss sustainable agriculture and food justice in Puerto Rico.

On the last full day of our January 2020 trip, #UBLawResponds began the day doing service at Huerto Feliz near the Plaza de Recreo Santiago R. Palmer in Caguas, Puerto Rico. We worked with local farmers that our client connected us with. Since Puerto Rico imports over 90% of their food supply, it is difficult to find local fruits and vegetables. One would expect local fruits and veggies to be abundant in such a tropical location. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the town square was hosting a farmers market.

When we first arrived at the town square, we were expecting to get back in our car and follow our contacts to their farm. We did follow them to their “farm,” however, it was just a short walk to their green space in the middle of the town of Caguas. This space was surrounded by abandoned buildings. It was extremely fulfilling to see that Puerto Ricans are making use out of every space possible to reclaim control over their food supply. It was also very rewarding to get my hands dirty and contribute by planting broccoli, lettuce and turnips.

A moment that stood out to me was when a local individual came up to the Huerto, and our contact immediately provided the individual with a banana and fresh water. The importance of community and food resilience were abundantly clear from this moment. The mission was to provide healthy food for Puerto Ricans. While on a small scale, they were succeeding in their mission.

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Later in the day we met up with Kieran and Tara from El Departamento de la Comida. It was always a pleasure speaking with them on the phone and via email throughout the spring semester. However, I did not fully comprehend their aspirations and the importance of their work until I went to their facilities in San Salvador. They are currently developing a farm, a tool library, a kitchen, and most importantly restoring a sense of community.

The government of Puerto Rico shut down multiple schools when it was strapped for funding. The shadow of the shut-down school lurks over the community. However, El Departamento de la Comida is restoring hope to that area. They are providing local and regional farmers with seeds, necessary tools and cooking classes to reduce food waste. They are creating a replicable model for future farms and communities to follow. The are taking their message around all of Puerto Rico. One farm and one community at a time, they will hopefully be able to take back Puerto Rican agriculture. The green space in Caguas shows how El Departamento’s influence can inspire others to farm wherever there is available space.

Going back to my previous post, if Puerto Rico is able to switch to rooftop solar power, they will have an abundance of fertile land to farm. Therefore, the need for energy resilience through rooftop solar is the perfect ally for El Departamento de la Comida to fulfill their goal of restoring Puerto Rico’s food resilience.

To support the continuing work of #UBLawResponds student attorneys, you can find a link here.

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