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.

Impressions from the Raíces Disaster Relief Support Trip – A Travel Log

by Francisco G. Gómez & Nicole Wines

During our recent disaster relief support trip to Puerto Rico from January 12-19, 2018, Raíces Crew members were able to post some impressions on social media. This helped us to keep a kind of log of immediate reflections and experiences from the week spent with our family, friends and network of ecological and cultural collaborators throughout the island. Here is the compilation of the postings made throughout the week, along with some of the photos we took while documenting the work of grassroots organizations dedicated to sustainability, resiliency, and a just recovery for the island of Puerto Rico.

Want to support these efforts? Visit, donate to and share our PR Relief Support Fund Link to help us continue to support the groups we are partnered with on the island. You can also read additional updates and report backs from our trip in the Sustainable Disaster Relief Category of the Raíces blog.

Day 1 – San Juan, Toa Alta

Descending from the clouds before landing in Muñoz Marín, I saw much of the landscape covered with blue tarps and crumbled structures – a deep sadness overtook me! But, always trying to visualize the cup half full; the road to Toa Alta revealed a tremendous sense of hope. Boricuas were, are and shall be in a frenzy to get the island anew. The spirits lifted and I saw/see the pheonix rising from the ashes! Now I only feel guasábara power and the resiliency of my people…to be continued.

Some Impressions:
Blue tarps
Garbage piles
Shuttered businesses
Torn roofs
Purifying water half a liter at a time
Smiling resilient people
Dangerous driving with only half the traffic lights functioning
Linemen everywhere
Welcoming hospitality
Bucket baths with filtered water
Cold beer
Home repairs
Debris-trees, crumbled walls, business signs down, electric poles, downed fences, garbage bags
Abandoned homes and businesses
While other neighborhoods flourish
Live music in the parking lot of the grocery store..neighbors gathering, dancing, singing, playing, smiling, seeking some relief, some downtime, some laughter with friends
Attempts at normalcy

Day 2 – Loíza, Carolina, El Yunque, San Juan

Work crews clearing tree debris along the coast
Raining indoors at COPI
Piñones kioskos open but nearly empty
Pike electric trucks everywhere…license plates from North Carolina, Indiana…reminds me of post Sandy NJ
Mudslides in the mountains
Collapsed houses
Zero electric in Loíza, zero electric in the mountains of Rio Grande
Samuel Lind’s art studio running on a generator but filled with artworks in progress
More island hospitality and smiling faces
Seems like the interior will have to wait until services on the coast are restored
Electric lines dangling in the mountains, metal poles snapped and bent in half
More blue tarps, more debris
The yunque is closed, but you can drive up to 200 ft before the coca falls for pics
Vegetation regenerating in the rainforest but still quite bare, brown and sparse
Tropical showers and rainbows
Old San Juan bustling, more street music than we have seen in years…so much beautiful music
Eating mofongo sitting next to Ron Perlman
The most stressful nighttime drive ever in PR due to lack of traffic lights
Word from one of our island partners that she still has no running water in her apt in Sabturce, even city centers have spots with no basic services

And today, westward and into the mountains, up to Casa Pueblo to support their work in restoring power with solar energy…sustainable and renewable #PRseLevanta

Day 3 – Utuado, Adjuntas, Lares, Camuy, San Sebastian, Isabela

No electric in most of the interior
No water in Utuado-tankers of potable water for residents to refill
Second floors caved in
Zinc roofs strewn through the mountainside
Driving over countless electric wires
Poles and wires dangling overhead
Solar power at Casa Pueblo
Butterfly house
Native monarchs
Invitations to return
Corn ice cream
Collapsed greenhouses
Pulling over to gift organic seeds to agronomists and growers
Closed roads and washouts
Guatajaca Dam draining-impending drought for thousands
Speakers blaring, floats and jeeps with lights and sirens, party time
A highway turned to a river of garbage-not by the storm but by the two leggeds’ festivals (just like fairs, fests and concerts in the states)…heartbreak
More driving over wires
More debris
More trees and poles down
More blue tarps
More smiling faces
More music…so much music everywhere

Day 4 – Camuy, Isabela

The last 3.5 days in PR have revealed that there is something seriously wrong other than the obvious visual signs of physical devastation after María.

After an amazing experience at Casa Pueblo in Adjuntas last Sunday, and sensing a new reality of survival, even at a micro level of sustainable and renewable energy practices on the island – once again my spirits and resolve were replenished.

I understand that the true damage results from that something underneath in the psyche of many of my sisters and brothers on the island- It’s called collective trauma.

Each of the organizations we’ve visited have shown this trauma in a variety of ways. It’s been heart breaking to say the least and a futile need to empathize at best! The ether is filled with a desperation that is quelling at a snail’s pace.

My people are not new to this, however, this is a catastrophe of such epic proportions and not easily shaken off. My Boricuas have a new found solidarity in unity and their own brand of resolve…they are resilient and determined.

We are on our way to Casa Pueblo, as I write, to witness and be a part of PR history making. This incredible organization will broadcast from their own radio station today, totally powered by the sun – Solar renewable/ sustainable power in/on the airwaves…what an exciting moment…to be continued!

Had an beautiful and fun evening with Nicole WinesFrancisco G. Gómez and Cristina.
They arrived to the Island to give support and donations to different farms and agroecology projects, and also document the real situation we are confronting after hurricane María.

Got to give thanks to Raíces Cultural Center and their organizers from New Jersey.
For all the organic seeds, lamps and handcrafted soaps, and also the great time shared.
¡Blessings your way! 🌺💖
~Jariksa Valle Feliciano – Aguada, PR

Days 4, 5, 6 – Camuy, Isabela, Adjuntas, Utuado, Las Marías, Aguada

Some impressions from days 4, 5 & 6, when we were so busy working, documenting, dialoguing and processing that I couldn’t get my thoughts out in writing…an incredible three days with Don Luis Soto, Casa Pueblo, Plenitud PR and my beautiful friend Kari:

Talk of a full month of day to day crisis for all with 20 hour gas lines, bank lines, no food, restrictions on cash withdrawals, no water, no communications…but miracles every day, community, neighbors and friends.
Finding friends thinner than when we left them last due to limited food supply and hard work clearing roads and debris, digging out of landslides by hand for weeks at a time.
Root vegetables survived the storm and provided our friends with nourishment in the weeks following until the greens began to grow again.
Talk of trauma, especially in children, who feared another storm would come each and every day.
Reconnecting to nature, tentatively, a little bit at a time.
Dead mangrove stands, overinundated by 20 foot waves, now skeleton forests along the coast.
Distributing seeds.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds are cherished on this island, the growers who see their seed packets brighten up and burst into smiles.
Loving hugs, heart to heart.
Turning earth with handmade tools, planting seeds.
Energy independence.
History made with the first solar powered radio transmitter at Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas.
Press conferences, interviews, reporters traipsing up mud packed hillsides, cleared for planting and solar installations.
Walks on the coast with old friends, dialogues giving true insight to the inner trauma still being processed by the people of the island.
Relief in the form of friendship-sharing cold Coronas and delicious meals.
Café, everywhere we stop, café.
Learning and working with groups of college students traveling from Minnesota, preparing for a future of sustainability, resiliency, community.
Hands in the earth, arms scraped by patches of fresh cut patchouli.
Camping on a mountainside in veritable paradise, waking up to a tropical sunrise and smiling faces working towards a sustainable future.
Breaks by the river, climbing on the rocks, splashing and laughing.
Talking agroforestry.
Sharing fruits off of trees with new friends who were strangers just hours before.
Learning how to prevent landslides with terraforming.
Our first drink of water that tasted pure…filtered tropical rainwaters at Plenitud.
Seeing old friends and making new ones.
Nuevo jíbaros.
Eco projects.
Earthship construction sites.
Earthbag and super adobe buildings, with ZERO hurricane damage.
Winding mountain roads with crumbled edges from the tropical rains, barricade everywhere warning not to get too close.
Skin healing from the pure mountain air and water.
The power of pachamama.

Day 6 – Las Marías

Arrived at Plenitud Finca yesterday, late afternoon and spent the most wonderful time with brother Owen, his crew and the warmest and fun loving students from St. Thomas College in the states. We broke bread and there was much dialog about sustainability/renewal, things of the spirit and Pachamama.

Plenitud is simply an amazing place on the island of boriquen. Paula, Owen and their community have done incredible work and created a true ecological model for all two legged talkers to follow. A super guasábara to our sisters and brothers, true eco-warriors and an inspiration that continues to augment the beauty of Pachamama in Puerto Rico 🇵🇷 To be cont…..

Day 7 – Puerto de Tierra, San Juan

Seeds, seeds, seeds!!!

Day 8 – New Jersey Bound

Leaving Boriquen in about 10 minutes. The heart is heavy and the mind is filled with some wonderful memories of this extraordinary week! What incredible people we have met and befriended. All of them eco-warriors to the enth degree; they do Pachamama’s work through her….stay tuned for many great stories and a crap load of pics and vids. Adios mi isla and stay tuned… be cont.

On the tarmac headed back to Jersey, back to the cold. This has been a truly enlightening experience-providing relief, documenting, lending a helping hand and sharing with various groups, orgs and farmers in the agroecology and sustainability movement here in Puerto Rico. We are leaving behind a beautiful network of friends and family who are fighting for and working towards a greener, cleaner and more just future, but we won’t be leaving for long. Look out soon for the countless photos and video clips and a forthcoming documentary about the eco-warriors we are working with in the resiliency movement here on the island. This is just the beginning…together we will work for a change, for a better future! 🇵🇷✊🏽🌎💚


Raíces Welcomes Archive Intern Natalie Saldarriaga to the Crew

Raíces Cultural Center is pleased to welcome Raíces Digital Archive intern Natalie Saldarriaga to our crew. Natalie is spending the spring semester of 2018 working on our collaborative exhibit to document the history of the Domboshava Project in  Zimbabwe. She will also create her own mini exhibit or collection on the archive, which will be connected to her own family history. Natalie was referred to us through the Raíces Digital Archive Advisory Board Member Dr. Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan. We are happy to have Natalie as part of our team, and hope that she will continue to collaborate with us after her internship to grow her own body of digital archive work in Public History.

Natalie is a fourth-year student at Rutgers University New Brunswick. She is working towards a BA in History and International and Global Studies. She is also part of Rutger’s chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, a national history honor society. As a student she has focused her research on minority groups in United States History. At the moment she is conducting research on the Puerto Rican immigrant journey to the US during the 1940’s. In the future she hopes to have a career in Public History, as her interests lie in reaching audiences who may not always see themselves reflected in the Western-centric recounting of History.

Welcome to the crew, Natalie!

Taínasoy Apiario an Eco-Project in the Works – Part 2

Property of Earthship Biotexture

by  Francisco G. Gómez

As I said in part 1 of this piece, when I arrived at Taínasoy Apiario, there was lots of land preparation going on and construction of several projects were to begin in February of 2018. Noemi told me that there was a crew of 29 volunteers led by Mike Reynolds, founder of Earthship Biotecture, coming from Taos, New Mexico to build the first Earthship on the island. Once again history in the making in Boriken. This crew was to be joined by another crew of local islanders to assist in the construction. You can read about Taínasoy and Earthship Biotecture’s island project here, see some cool schematics and see the ship’s progress on their website. For further study on Earthships, please see this in depth article by Environment & Ecology .

I asked Noemi what the inspiration for the earth ship was and she explained that the natural disasters that had devastated Haití in recent years and the trauma of hurricane María were the motivators to construct a dwelling that could withstand these natural phenomena – Of course global climate change has augmented and amplified the magnitude of these storms and quakes in recent years!

Mario Antones

On the day I visited Taínasoy I had the good fortune of meeting Mario Antones, one of the key people working on the earthship. He gave a short, but succinct, explanation of the project in Spanish. The interview with Mario will be part of a documentary Raíces is editing and will be out in the next couple of months. Stay tuned for the trailer!

All in all, Noemi and the crew at Taínasoy are to be commended on the exceptional work they are doing to rebuild a New Puerto Rico. Sustainable living, renewable tech, agro-ecology and a tremendous love for the bees are the ingredients in their Pachamama asopáo! These new jíbaros are well educated, knowledgeable and determined to make the Phoenix rise from the ashes, but in a new way. More on Taínasoy Apiario soon…

If you want to help in that process please visit Taínasoy’s Facebook page and Gofundme site.

Taínasoy Apiario an Eco-Project in the Works – Part 1

Noemi Chaparro

by Francisco G. Gómez

Heading south on highway #2, you just pass the border of Aguadilla and you’ re in Aguada. You best be looking at the kilometer markers to your right as you quickly go along or you’ll miss marker km137, the entrance that takes you to Taínasoy Apiario. As you make the right turn off #2, you immediately go up a hill and you’re instantly in the mountains of Barrio Naranjo in Aguada; not even 5 mins in, to your left you’ll arrive at Taínasoy.

Taínasoy Apiario Bee Box

As I pulled into the driveway, I was met by Noemi Chaparro, bee keeper and owner of the Apiary, along with her husband Carlos and their two children, daughter Pheonix and son Ory. I must say, it was not what I expected; the landscape was totally under construction, I’ll get into that in my follow up to this article, and I saw only 3 bee boxes that were devoid of bees. Asking about the bees, I learned that initially there were 53 bee boxes, that was before hurricane María hit the island on September 20th, 2017.  After the storm there were only 15 left. Approximately 2/3 of Noemi’s hives were destroyed, she sadly told me, but a smile quickly replaced the sadness, as she informed me that the remaining hives were up and running slowly, but for sure. She said that before the storm she had wanted to have 100 bee boxes; a determined look on her face and an assurance in her voice made me believe she’ll succeed in reaching that number soon.

Continuing our conversation, I also learned that the bees she keeps are a hybrid of the imported Italian bee (Apis mellifera ligustica) and African killer bee (sub species of Apis Mellifera). The mixture of these two types of bees has produced a more docile killer bee, and interesting to say the least, is the fact that they don’t suffer from Verroa Destructor Mite infestation, something that is still a great threat to the Apis Melifera (Honey Bee) on the mainland. I asked Noemi what she attributed the ability of the island bee to fight off the affects of the Verroa and she believes that it has something to do with the genetics of the hybrid. She also feels that the abundance of the island’s natural flora increases the bee’s immune system, helping the little critters fight off infestation. However, island bees have to deal with the dreaded Wax Worm, but according to Noemi, the way to do that is by keeping the hives elevated and never on the ground.

Tainasoy Apiario Farm

Production of honey last year for Taínasoy was somewhere between 5 to 10 gallons. Noemi bottles and sells her honey at various places and in the process teaches the public about the importance of the honey bee. She says that there’s still a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding about bees on the island. She says she will start a school on her land to teach the rudiments of bee keeping, and thereby help to dispel the misinformation and fear of bees that so many people have.

It’s interesting to note that there are no regulations imposed on beekeepers in Puerto Rico. This  is probably a good thing given the neurotic over regulation and control that we beekeepers experience here in New Jersey. Well before two legged talkers walked the earth, bees had been  around for 100 million years. I dare say that this over regulation and environmental interference on Mother Earth by humans has created climate change that’s out of control, not just for the bees, but for all living things in Pachamama. Noemi says that the bees are free and belong to all of us, that’s why she doesn’t mess too much with her hives, like most bee keepers. She let’s them do their thing without much intervention, especially opening up the bee boxes too often.

I was curious as to where and how she acquired her bee boxes and hives. Noemi told me that some of the boxes were made by her and her crew, some were bought and some were given to Taínasoy by the Department of Agriculture of Puerto Rico. Interestingly enough the DAPR has a program for bee keepers who do bee removal. Once the bees are removed, the municipality verifies and signs off on the removal. The DAPR then donates bee boxes made by prison inmates on the island. Pretty good program, wouldn’t you say?

Noemi says she sees the bees coming back after four months since hurricane María. She does, however, have concerns about what the future will bring as weather patterns have drastically changed across the globe, and more so for Puerto Rico. She says that the struggle to help the bees must continue at any cost, because without the bees, there will be no humans to care for them. Truly a contradiction in terms…

If you’re interested in helping Taínasoy Apiario continue their bee and environmental work, please visit their Gofundme page and Facebook page, it’s filled with lots of info, cool pics and vids.