Day of the Dead Celebration

by Francisco G. Gómez

The Day of the Dead goes by many names, Día de los muertos, Day of the Ancestors, Day of the Egún, All souls Day and many other names, I imagine. For us who are from the Caribbean, or closely situated in that region by location, cultural traditions or simply by interest, we celebrate it as a day of ancestral remembrance.

On November 2nd we gathered at my home to share our cultural traditions, from Guyana, Puerto Rico and Cuba. We sang songs dedicated to the ancestors, prayed for them, told stories about them and then had a feast.

It was a small group of people from our herbal and ancestor circles. For us there are no special days to honor the ancestors because they are remembered everyday as our diverse traditions have taught us. El día de los muertos, in particular, is a time to come together and share our African, Indigenous and Judeo/Christian beliefs. It’s a potpourri of spiritual rituals, ceremonies and esoteric beliefs. Scriptures from the book of Ifá, collection of selected Kardecian prayers, the Torah, Bible or Popol Vu may be read or even discussed on this day. This year we began our celebration with music and song. We pulled out the Cuban tres and hand bass, passed out some sheets of lyrics from los nanis and sang them in Spanish. Then each of us took turns at the communal altar to pay homage to our dearly departed, each in our own special way. We then broke bread with a spread that consisted of marinated green bananas, Guyana gumbo, Codfish salad, Codfish rice/red beans, flan, wine and latkes. We also shared our food with the ancestors, in addition to placing things that they enjoyed while they were alive, such as cigarettes, cigars, their pictures, candles, rum, black coffee, and flowers on the communal altar; it was lots of fun and very entertaining!

Raíces gives many thanks to Mama Chinon, Bethsaida, Akosua, Angela and Nicole for their participation in this year’s celebration. We hope next year’s gathering will have more participants as we continue to learn from each other in peace, love and harmony for the ancestors! Aché

A Bountiful Summer at the Raíces MicroFarm

This year the Raíces EcoCulture MicroFarm project launched a pilot CSA program. It’s been an intense season, with fingers always crossed that the beneficial insects will outnumber the pests, that enough fruit will ripen for the weekly member harvest, that the greens and cilantro would hold off from bolting for just one more week.

It’s also been a very educational and rewarding season, with a beautiful bounty of diverse produce that we have been able to share with 6 families who have supported the development of the MicroFarm project this year. Every day has brought changes to the MicroFarm plot as we watched our plot of land transform from bare earth to a lush jungle of greens and vines- from new flower blossoms to new fruits, beautiful insects and pollinators and a bounty of overflowing harvest baskets.

We still have a few weeks of summer left, but in the garden it’s beginning to feel like fall, with salad mix, arugula, and all kinds of tender cooking greens coming back into season. Check out our photo collage to see some of the highlights of the 2019 summer.

Save the PR Bee: Raíces Awarded Bee Cause Foundation Grant Award on Behalf of TaínaSoy Apiario

by Nicole Wines

The youngest beekeeper at TaínaSoy Apiario giving a thumbs up to Save the PR Bee!

Raíces Cultural Center has teamed up with TaínaSoy Apiario Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Conservancy to provide fiscal sponsorship for the awarding of a Bee Cause Foundation grant. The Bee Cause Project empowers students, teachers, and community members to experience the wonder, ingenuity, beauty, and power of the honey bee and we are grateful to have their support in kickstarting the Save the PR Bee Program at TaínaSoy Apiario in Aguada, Puerto Rico.

TaínaSoy Apiario, an apiary with over 20 beehives, is located in Aguada, Puerto Rico. TaínaSoy is one of the organizations to which Raíces provided relief and recovery support after the destruction and devastation caused by Hurricane María on the island of Puerto Rico. As Raíces set out to support organizations, groups and individuals working to rebuild in a sustainable, renewable and resilient way, we were introduced to the Chaparro family, who run TaínaSoy Apiario and their new Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Conservancy (TSAISEC). After our initial direct relief phase, we built a support partnership with TaínaSoy as they work towards creating their own 501(c)3 organization. Keeping with the goals of our own Eco-Culture program branch, which has an Apiculture Initiative, this grant project was a perfect fit for the mission and goals of Raíces and provides support to a new and budding organization working hard to save, support and educate about the Puerto Rican bee.

1st completed Earthship PR dome, which will be the home of the Save the PR Bee program.

TaínaSoy Apiario is home to the first Earthship on the island of Puerto Rico, which is currently under construction. When complete, the 5 sustainably built structures will serve as an ecological and community education center. The first building of this school is already complete and will be dedicated entirely to apiculture and pollinator education. This will be the site of the Save the PR Bee project, where TaínaSoy will be offering an on-site youth and family educational program about beekeeping and the importance of the bees. The grant awarded by the Bee Cause Foundation will be used to purchase gear and equipment for use by participants of the program, including safety suits, hats, veils, gloves, hive tools, brushes and other supplies.

TaínaSoy school visit and educational program pre-Hurricane María.

Participants will attend this full family program, on-site at TaínaSoy Apiario twice a month. Educational lessons and hands-on activities will be led by TSAISEC co-founder and director, and the Save the PR Bee program bee advocate Noemi Chaparro, and supplemented by guest instructors, other local bee keepers and related field trips. In addition to basic beekeeping and honeybee life cycle education, participants will have hands on interactions with the hive and will also create projects to educate the surrounding community about the importance of bees and other pollinators. This will be an ongoing program that will expand to serve as a model for bee and pollinator programs to be offered in local schools starting in the 2019-2020 school year.

Outdoor hives are located throughout the apiary’s 3 acres and participating children will take part in hands-on interaction with the hives, including placement of new hives as additional swarms are rescued by the apiary’s bee mentor, resident beekeeper, and co-founder of TSAISEC, Carlos Chaparro, throughout the course of the program. Interactive activities and lessons will include topics such as:

Educational display on the honeybees to share on school visits and with Save the PR Bee program participants.

  • Life cycle of the honeybees
  • Bee safety
  • The importance of pollinators in the natural ecosystem and agricultural systems
  • Bee box construction (Langstroth)
  • Care of bee boxes and hives and hive checkups
  • Planting for pollinators
  • Creation of educational materials like posters and pamphlets by participants on importance of bees to share in the community
  • The specific importance of the Puerto Rican honeybee to the recovery of the island of Puerto Rico
  • Pollinator protection

TaínaSoy and Raíces Co-founders together at TaínaSoy Apiario in Aguada, Puerto Rico

Congratulations are in order for TaínaSoy Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Conservancy for being awarded the first grant that they ever applied for! We are happy to have worked with them on this grant and hope that this process will help fan the flames for a successful program and future for TSAISEC and for the Puerto Rican Honeybee!

Puerto Rico Sustainable Disaster Support Initiative Phase 1 – GOAL REACHED!!!

by Nicole Wines

Raíces at Tainasoy Apiario in Aguada, Puerto Rico. June 2018.

Thanks to the generous contributions of friends, family, community members, and supporters from near and far, Raíces Cultural Center has met it’s goal in Phase 1 of our Disaster Relief Support Initiative. In 9 months we were able to raise over $10,000 to help support grassroots recovery efforts on the island of Puerto Rico.

Any additional funds donated to this fundraiser will be applied to Phase 2 of our Disaster Relief Support Initiative in Puerto Rico for which details will be announced soon!

Here is a little more information on what your generous donations have helped to support.

Some more details about what we have accomplished so far thanks to the contributions of our supporters and partner organizations:

    • Distributed relief supplies including medicines, herbal remedies, solar lights, tools, water filters, organic teas and other requested items.
    • Ory, who will be building and maintaining the butterfly house at Tainasoy Apiario, holding his first live monarch on a visit to Casa Pueblo. June 2018.

      Began documenting the work being done by grassroots, on-the-ground organizations, like Tainasoy Apiario, Casa Pueblo, Plenitud PR, Chakra Verde, and PR Resiliency Fund/Departamento de la Comida.

    • Pledged support for two projects on the Tainasoy Apiario farm, a goat cage and a butterfly house which will be designed as part of the first Earthship project built in Puerto Rico. These projects will also serve as a basis for educational programs about sustainable living and ecology.

In addition, through our combined efforts with the Juntos Together Disaster Relief Coalition in Central NJ, led by José Montes, Director of the Puerto Rican Action Board, we have facilitated an additional $11,000+ in funds as grants to the following organizations and projects:

    • The greenhouse under construction, but already functional and productive when we visited Plenitud PR in January 2018.

      Plenitud PR (Las Marías): Repair of greenhouse/high tunnel, tents

    • Casa Pueblo (Adjuntas): First full solar home conversion in their #50conSol renewable energy initiative

Check out more from our journeys, projects and partners on these resources:

FOLLOW OUR DETAILED UPDATES (save the link below and check back often for updates on the projects we are supporting and groups we are working in cooperation with on this initiative)

Blog article updates on our Sustainable Disaster Relief Initiative for PR

Seed donations for Don Luis Soto, a master seed saver and expert agronomist and organic farmer on the island of Puerto Rico. January 2018.

Thank you to all who have contributed for every bit of help you have given, from your donations to sharing our fundraisers and fundraising events to your words of encouragement and your time, every bit helps. Remember, we are continuing to raise funds for this initiative, and all contributions made past the initial goal of $10,000 on this page will be applied to Phase 2 of this project, in which we will be collaborating directly with the Taina Mia Relief Corporation started by Tainasoy Apiario founders Noemi and Carlos Chaparro to support their mission and sustainable relief projects, as well as launching our Land Preservation Fund for PR. We will keep you updated on the progress of these two main components of Phase 2 of our Puerto Rico Sustainable Disaster Relief Support Initaitive.

*If you would like to make a recurring donation, or you do not already have a Paypal account to process your donation through this form, please make your contribution directly on our Network for Good or Paypal donation pages, designate your donation to “PR Relief Fund” and we will manually add the amount you donate to our goal.

First Scarlet Runner Beans at Rancho Raíces

Rancho Raíces Scarlet Runner Beans

by Francisco G. Gómez

Our first Scarlet Runner Bean buds just appeared. Totally amazed and in awe of how beautiful and strong they are. These beans have a history that is millennial many times over in Central and South America. They spread to many other parts of the Americas in time and eventually arrived in Europe as an ornamental plant because of their magnificent and varied colored flowers. Europeans developed a taste for them and began to use them in their cuisine. They can be consumed raw in their early phase of growth, but at maturity they must be diced and cooked, as they become though.

This perennial, in places where the ground doesn’t freeze, is peculiar to the bean family that usually has to be replanted annually. As it grows it spirals clockwise up a pole, fence or anything else it can grab onto.

Rancho Raíces

Here are some nutritional facts – The calories in Scarlet Runner Bean per 150g(1cup) are 498 calories.Scarlet Runner Bean is calculated to be 332 Cals per 100 grams making 80 Cals equivalent to 24.1g with 91.8g of mostly carbohydrates, 25.8g of protein, 2.55g of fat in150g while being rich in vitamins and minerals such as Molybdenum and Copper.

As we here at Raíces look forward to this particular bean harvest, we encourage our readers to give this legume a shot.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised!

High Tunnel at Finca Mi Casa up and Running Again

Don Luis and Doña Carmen

by Francisco G. Gómez

Finca Mi Casa’s High Tunnel is back in action thanks to you!

It was January 2018 when we first visited Don Luis and Doña Carmen, at Finca Mi Casa in Camuy, Puerto Rico after hurricane María hit. Read this article in our blog to learn more about these amazing organic farmers and keepers of the seed.

Mi Casa’s high tunnel had been blown away by the storm, and all that was left was the fractured tunnel frame that was put back together piece meal and the remnants of what was once growing there. It was very sad to see what María had done to the structure and the sensitive plants that were now dead.

High Tunnel Broken Frames

Five months after the storm and still many farmers were without power and the basic necessities of life. As we walked the farm with Don Luis, he told us many stories about the day of the storm and how the aftermath had taken its horrific toll on the citizens of Camuy, especially those without land, and those individuals that hadn’t prepared adequately in advance of the hurricane. 

As we approached the high tunnel, I remembered all the incredible eggplant and sugar cane stalks growing next to the structure on both sides; they were the largest eggplant bushes I had ever seen, but they were no more. As we entered what was left of the high tunnel, we noticed that the agrabond cover was completely gone, and the metal frames, in many places, were ripped out from the force of the wind. Nicole and I looked at each other in dismay and knew that Raíces could help in the reconstruction of Don Luis’s prized agricultural possession. At that moment we decided that Raíces would cover the cost of the agrabond replacement. Don Luis was elated because he was strapped for funds, given all the other things he had on his plate to take care of.

Agrabon High Tunnel Cover being Installed

Thanks to all the wonderful people who had already donated to Raíces’ Relief Fund. The quick action by so many caring and generous people was immediate, and we simply could not have done it without the monetary contributions that were made by our loyal supporters and many individuals that we didn’t even know!

Whether it’s been providing organic seeds to all the farms we’ve visited; replacing agrabond covers at organic compounds, like Plenitude Eco Initiatives in Las Marías and Finca Mi Casa; funding solar panels and mini refrigerators for poor people in Adjuntas through Casa Pueblo, or replacing plywood/tin roofs and organizing the materials for a goat cage and butterfly sanctuary at Tainasoy Apiario in Aguada; again, all of this could not have been accomplished without your heartfelt and generous help.

New Agrabon Cover

As Raíces moves forward with its relief work in Puerto Rico, we hope that you will continue your generosity and donate whenever you can. All of us here at Raíces thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all you have done for the Eco Warriors in Puerto Rico!

Spotlight on Brunswick Tire and Auto

© Brunswick Tire and Auto

by Francisco G. Gómez

As mom and pop businesses continue to disappear at an alarming rate, there are those like, Brunswick Tire and Auto, that remain strong and thriving. There are a number of reasons for this. A work ethic that encompasses professional excellence, customer courtesy, superior automotive problem diagnosis, the use of top notch auto parts/tires, reasonable prices and seasoned leadership experience.

© Raíces Cultural Center


At the helm of B.T.A. is master mechanic, Jaíme Hernández, a cuban immigrant who left the island in 1968 for Spain, and shortly thereafter arrived in the U.S.. From that time on he learned his craft under the tutelage of his father Andre; ten years passed until Jaíme’s father put enough money together to buy their first repair shop in Elizabeth, N.J.

At present Jaíme and his wife Yana run B.T.A.. Yana graduated from Rutgers University in 1979 with a degree in nursing, and when she’s not working at her full time job in Woodrow Wilson Public School in New Brunswick, she’s in the shop office handling business along side her husband.

© Raíces Cultural Center

Jaíme and Yana have had many successes in running B.T.A, but what sets them apart from other mom and pop businesses is their community commitment and sense of cooperative exchange. One of Raíces’ main interests is in developing and spreading the benefits of cooperative enterprise. B.T.A. has embraced the cooperative model in a limited way, in that they not only fix Raíces’ Truck and give us instruction in basic automotive education, in exchange for lessons in music, specifically, Caribbean drumming, but Jaíme also plays in the Raíces Cultural Center Ensemble. All in all, this has worked out magnificently economically for both B.T.A. and Raíces, but also in a friendship of many years now. 

© Brunswick Tire and Auto


If you’re into community, the local movement and need automotive help, or even new tires, then please stop in and meet Jaíme, Yana and the crew at Brunswick Tire and Auto -You’ll be happy you did!


Brunswick Tire and Auto
199 Powers St.
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Phone number (732) 246-7077 


Of Taíno Queens and the Legend of Yuiza

by Francisco G. Gómez

Yuiza – © Raíces Cultural Center

Interested in boricua history, especially legends? Here’s a story that’s rather interesting. It’s the legend of Yuiza and her possible connection to the Afro/Taíno people of Loíza. On our first relief  assistance trip to Puerto Rico, four months after hurricane María reeked havoc on the island, we had the good fortune to visit the town of Loíza on the northeast coast of the island. We stopped in to say hello to our friends the Ayalas and see how they had managed the storm. The Ayala family is one of the premier exponents of the musical art form known as Bomba.

Marco Ayala, a good friend and supporter of Raíces, quickly arrived after he was contacted by his aunt Rachel and  warmly greeted us. Our friends recounted the horrific details of María and her aftermath. We sorrowfully looked upon what was left of the bohio that once housed their Afro Puerto Rican Bomba drums, Vejigante masks and a number of other cultural pieces. We took some pictures together before getting ready to leave for the interior of the island.

Marco Ayala – © Raíces Cultural Center

Snapping our last pic, Marco asked if we might want to meet Samuel Lind, one of the most famous artists in Puerto Rico, who lives across the road from the Ayalas. Of course we couldn’t pass that up, so we headed for Lind’s house, and by chance he happened to be home and welcomed us in. His entire home is an art studio, each and every room, and there are lots of them! Of the many extraordinary art pieces we had the good fortune to admire, there stood out a painting, that to me, was hauntingly beautiful. The canvas was an image of Yuiza, an interpretation rendered by Lind. You see, there aren’t any written accounts or artifacts to suggest that she ever existed.

Samuel Lind – © Raíces Cultural Center

I asked Lind to tell us Yuiza’s story, something we knew nothing about. We had no idea that the town of Loiza is named after her, according to Lind. Yuiza/Loíza, sounds similar, doesn’t it? Lind’s account speaks of the Taína cacique, Yuiza, a woman who ruled her tribe of aboriginal people during the Spanish Conquest of Borikén in the 16th century, in and around what was then the Cayrabon River in the Jaymanio region and what is now the Rio Grande de Loíza.

Further research revealed that Yuiza supposedly married a mulatto conquistador, Pedro Mejías and was condemned to death by the other caciques in the area for having conjugal  relations with the spaniard. This information would lend credence to the mixture of Taíno and African blood that would account for the largest numbers of Afro-Puertoricans on the island, but again, this is unverifiable.

But , interestingly enough, there are historical records of a 17th century Spanish Crown decree stating that runaway slaves from the British colonies, who were mostly from Nigeria in West Africa, were to be relocated to what is today Loíza Aldea. That could also explain the large numbers of Afro-Puertoricans there.

The image of Yuiza still leaves me in a quandary, and I can’t reconcile whether she is African or Taína, maybe something in between – does it even matter?  Perhaps the truth of Yuiza may never be known; however, the words of Tite Curet Alonso ring true when he wrote the famous song “Las caras linda de mi gente negra,” The Beautiful Faces of my Black People! And, this is just one account of several, revolving around the legend of Yuiza…

Raíces Cultural Center Awarded 2018 Park Partners Grant

by Nicole Wines

On Sunday, February 25, Raíces Cultural Center participated in the 5th annual Park Partners Grant Competition. We had submitted a proposal for the Culture & Diversity category to expand our Raíces Roots Music Concert Series which will launch in 2018. Having already secured a Program Grant from the Middlesex County Office of Culture and Heritage to launch the concert series, the Park Partners grant will help us add to the series for a total of six planned concerts in 2018.

With this series, we hope to bridge cultures through music and provide opportunities for performers from the rich diversity of cultures that live in our community to share their art, music and traditions. Thanks to the support of our neighbors and community members and those who shared our vision for celebrating, sharing and preserving culture and diversity in our community, Raíces Cultural Center will be able to make this  concert series grow.

Earlier this week, the Borough made its official announcement of all the Park Partners grants awarded for 2018 which you can view here:

Raíces Cultural Center would like to thank the Borough of Highland Park for providing this opportunity to us and all of the community groups who participated. We also wish to thank the residents who came out to vote in support of this and other wonderful community projects. An extra special thank you goes out to all of the Raíces Cultural Center supporters and crew members who helped share and spread the word about the grant competition and voting details. We are grateful for the opportunity to provide this cultural program to our community, and look forward to seeing you all at the concerts. Thank you to everyone who helped make this dream a reality!

A concert schedule will be announced by the beginning of April. Please subscribe to the Raíces email list in the sidebar to have the information delivered directly to your inbox or continue to check back on our Raíces Program Calendar for details. We are looking forward to strengthening our relationship with the Highland Park community and the Borough of Highland Park to create and provide additional programs, projects and services with our cultural, historic and ecological initiatives.

Seed Relief for Puerto Rico – Sharing Seeds for a Sustainable Future

by Nicole Wines


It wasn’t long after Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico that our own community in Central NJ sprang into action to be a part of the relief effort. Concerts, fundraisers, supply drives, info booths at the local farmer’s market. As happens after many moments of devastation, people scrambled to do what they could to help, in any way they could, as quick ly as possible. But at the first benefit concert Raíces took part in, my heart started to sink as I watched well meaning community members walk in with cases of bottled water, boxes of plastic utensils, stacks of paper plates and countless products made from or wrapped in plastic and sometimes both. The intent was good, and the concert was wonderful, showcasing diverse musicians and cultural traditions, and raising over $3,500 in donations for grassroots organizations in Puerto Rico, Dominica and Mexico. And even if the idea of all that plastic didn’t sit right with me, many of these items had useful applications. Even with a lack of widespread understanding and awareness about sustainable and ecological alternatives, some of these supplies were in fact necessary and life saving at times.

We decided that moving forward Raíces would begin to work within our community to change the way we respond to natural disasters. We would promote and support sustainable solutions, guided by the experiences and knowledge of those grassroots organizations on the island working to rebuild in a sustainable, renewable, regenerative and just way. When we asked what they needed, they requested a different type of aid. They were distributing water filters and purification systems instead of water bottles, solar lamps instead of flashlights and batteries, solar chargers for phones, cisterns for rainwater catchment on farms, solar energy equipment and SEEDS! They needed these supplies, as well as help fundraising for agroecology and solar energy projects.

We made plans to go to the island, visit and document these projects, and do what we could to lend a helping hand while we were there. We started to ask what was needed, what was small enough for us to carry that would be a help to their efforts. Everyone had at least one special request – organic teas because most people drink coffee on the island and teas were hard to come by after the storm, natural soaps and dried herbs for cooking and home remedies, and mango pickle – but the common item that almost every friend and group we spoke with asked for was so simple…SEEDS! Puerto Rico needed good, clean, open pollinated, non-GMO seeds.

We set to work sending out requests to companies listed as signers of the Safe Seed Pledge, and the response was overwhelming. Almost every day we would hear from another company that let us know that seeds were on their way. Even the rejection responses brought hope, as they usually stated that they had already donated all or most of their overstock for the year to grassroots organizations in Puerto Rico – often to the very organizations that we were going to be visiting, supporting and collaborating with.

Why seed? Well, seed is life. Seed represents the future. When each seed sprouts on a farm or at a school or home or community garden, it adds to the regeneration of life on the island. With seeds comes food freedom. And by requesting and sharing only Safe Seed Pledge produced, open-pollinated seeds, we were able to ensure that the seeds grown could be saved and grown in the future. Saved seed adapts to the growing conditions of the climate and the land, ensuring food stability and added biodiversity as new varieties adapt and evolve on the island. With locally produced seed, growers won’t have to bring in a new shipment every year, helping to build seed sovereignty and support for local economies and food systems.


In the end, we collected almost 50 pounds of seed thanks to the generous donations of these seed companies:

We cannot thank these companies enough for their generosity in sharing their clean, safe seed with our family, friends and collaborators in Puerto Rico. You, along with countless other seed companies which have given to Puerto Rico, have had a huge impact for farmers, seed savers, growers and students across the island. What we were able to carry and distribute was only a drop in the bucket, but the seed has now been spread far and wide, and under the care of some very special and knowledgeable seed savers, it will continue to have an impact on the local food systems on the island of Puerto Rico for generations to come.


Over the course of the week we made quite a few stops, both planned and impromptu, and were able to share seeds and exchange stories and information with people met along the way.

January 13, 2018
Loíza Aldea

On our first full day in Puerto Rico, after making a few small repairs on the home where we were staying in Toa Alta, we decided to head back past San Juan and through Loíza, on our way to Carolina and El Yunque. As we drove through Loíza, we decided to stop at the house of the Hermanos Ayala, a family working to preserve culture, music and traditions in their community. Their artisan shop had been destroyed in the storm (and is currently almost finished being rebuilt!); and the house had a blue tarp for a roof, like so many others throughout the island. We made a quick phone call to our friend Marco Ayala Lind, and he arrived at the house within five minutes, ready to talk and share his experiences during and after the storm. It was a quick meeting, but it ended with us learning that Marcos did have a garden and could use some of the seed we had brought with us to share. We were happy to learn that we had something else in common with Marco, besides our love for music, dance and cultural traditions of Puerto Rico.

January 14, 2018

The next day we were on our way down from Adjuntas after an initial visit to Casa Pueblo and as we were driving we saw a grouping of collapsed greenhouses, just a few among many we had seen in our two days on the island. The damage to the structure itself showed the power of the winds that had swept through with the storm. We stopped to take a quick photo and as we did a car came up the driveway. It was lucky timing that we got to meet Olga Perez, the wife of the agronomist whose greenhouse we had just snapped a photo of, who informed us that her husband was a seed saver.

Olga was happy to take some heirloom seeds for her husband to start in a greenhouse he had already rebuilt on another part of their property. She was enthusiastic about the seed that had been given to us to share, because she knew her husband was looking for open pollinated and heirloom seed to grow out for seed saving. She said he would multiply the stock of the seed varieties as well as adapt them to local growing conditions, and would share the seeds he saved with other growers in their community.

January 15, 2018
Camuy & Isabela

On our third day on the island, we set out to spend the morning with Don Luis Soto of Finca Mi Casa. We had visited him to learn about and document his work in 2016, and were eager to see him and his farm, and ask what we could do to lend a helping hand while we were there. Don Luis is a seed saving and organic farming legend on the island. In fact, we at Raíces call him Puerto Rico’s Seed Guru. After a quick tour of his farm to show us what had changed since the last time we had been with him and what effects the storm had on the farm, we took some time to have him choose which seed varieties he wanted.

Photo courtesy Sefra Alexandra

We were so happy to see his face light up as he recognized the names of good seed companies. We learned from sorting through the box with him that his favorite seed company is Baker Creek and his favorite plant is any kind of cosmos flower. After he chose his seeds, we got to work planting some of the beans he had chosen. Within days of returning home, we were already receiving photos from our new friend, Sefra Alexandra, The Seed Huntress, who was on a visit with Don Luis, of the beans already sprouting and growing.

Photo courtesy Jariksa Valle Feliciano

After we left Don Luis, we headed to Jobos Beach in Isabela to meet our friend Kari, who we had first met in 2013 when she was working at Plenitud Eco-Iniciativas. We spent hours talking about life on the island, before and after María, and new possibilities for sustainable, regenerative and just recovery. Kari has a home garden in Aguada, on the west coast of the island, and is friends with many other gardeners and growers who run agroecology projects in the area. Before we left, with an agreement to meet again soon, Kari chose some seeds for her garden as well as some seed packets to share with friends, family and neighbors.

***Read some of Kari’s words and reflections post-María in the first report back from our PR trip posted by Raíces Director Francisco G. Gómez.

January 16 & 17, 2018
Las Marías

After witnessing history at Casa Pueblo in the morning, we headed to Las Marías to spend some time with our friends at Plenitud PR and take them their seed order from Baker Creek. The donation we received from Baker Creek was unique, in that they granted us a $100 order from their catalogue, allowing us to pick out specific varieties of seeds that our friends were looking for. Paula, a co-founder of Plenitud, had sent us a list of the types of greens, herbs and pollinator flowers they were looking to grow in their greenhouse and around their permaculture farm and ecological learning center. Thanks to the support of the Juntos Together Coalition, which Raíces is a member of and works with to advocate for support of sustainability oriented organizations and relief work, the greenhouse had been reconstructed and repaired before we arrived. All of the greens we ate while we were there came from that greenhouse, and we were happy to learn that the next round of greens that would be planted there would include some of the varieties we brought from Baker Creek.

January 18, 2018
Puerta de Tierra, San Juan

Our seed experience from the day spent on the PR Resiliency Fund‘s Seed Brigade really requires a whole separate posting. Throughout the day more than two dozen volunteers from the local community and around the world came together to work on sorting donations of seed that had been coming into the PR Resiliency Fund from a variety of donations. This was our last seed stop of the week and it was where we left hundreds of varieties of seed packets from every seed company and individual seed saver that had donated seed for us to distribute. The day was non-stop seed. Thousands of packets were organized, sorted, catalogued, created from bulk donations split into coin envelopes by volunteers. These seeds would go to hundreds of growers throughout the island, from community gardeners to sustainable farmers and agroecology practitioners, from school gardens to home gardens, always with the intent to educate on seed saving and keep the Semiteca concept alive. Three main seed banks will be stored in three different locations on the island, with over 50 schools receiving the donation of a mini-semiteca and working with team members from the PR Resiliency Fund to learn about seed saving, gardening, food production and ecology.

One of the most memorable things that happened at the PR Resiliency Fund’s Seed Brigade was the creation of the mini-semitecas for the schools. Public schools on the island have been facing a crisis for years, and the aftermath of Hurricane María has only made it worse. A recent development, not long before we went to the island, was the removal of all arts and music education from the schools due to lack of resources. Thanks to the generous donation of the Hudson Valley Seed Company of hundreds of art packs, the semitecas headed to the schools would contain art lessons infused in their seed box. The educational programs that the Resiliency Fund will offer at the participating schools and the support materials will include the arts in relation to seeds and farming, building bridges across different aspects of culture and helping to fill multiple gaps for a more sustainable and just future.

Our work with seed on the island of Puerto Rico is far from over. We continue to collect seeds and accept donation of seeds and of funds to purchase seeds to bring to our seed saving friends and collaborators to increase the biodiversity of the seed stock available. And as we begin to formulate more solid plans to head to the island in hopes of preserving and conserving some land and working in network with our friends and collaborators in the sustainability and agroecology movements, the seed will continue to be given a huge importance in our work. Seed is life, and it is up to us to protect and share it, to preserve it, in order to ensure a sustainable and just future.

Seed is the first link on the food chain. Saving seeds is our duty, sharing seeds is our culture.” ~Vandana Shiva

NOTE: I have to give a shout out to two additional seed companies we contacted. Johnny’s Seeds wrote us back and let us know that they had already sent 300 pounds of seed in one bulk donation directly to the PR Resiliency Fund, which is one of the organizations we are working in network with. Ed Hume Seeds almost immediately put a pallet together of seed and is working to get a half a ton of seeds to the island, and hopefully to our friends at the PR Resiliency Fund. These have been, and will be spread throughout the island on sustainable farms, agroecology projects, school gardens, community gardens and homestead projects.

***Read more about the impact of seed donations with PR Resiliency Fund Founder Tara Rodriguez Besosa.

Want to help us continue these relief support efforts? Make a donation to our PR Sustainable Relief Fund and SHARE the fundraiser page to help us spread the word.