Food producers are facing one of the most challenging crises of the decade. However, farmers, fishermen and food processors have been quick to emerge with initiatives to meet consumer demand for local produce in their homes during the pandemic. As part of our Facebook series Lives Stay Open, Stay Safe, we talked with Crystal Díaz, program manager for World Central Kitchen (WCK), about initiatives to support small and medium producers.
After WCK distributed hot meals around the island after Hurricane María, “the organization identified that in order for Puerto Rico to be resilient to other disasters it had to strengthen local food production,” said Díaz. Exploring ideas to strengthen local production, the organization launched Plow-to-Plate, an initiative to support, encourage, and educate small and medium producers, and promote food security on the island.
Currently, the agricultural industry faces several challenges, including the importation of products, a lack of public policy to support small and medium producers, and the economic crisis. Puerto Rico imports 85% of its food, which creates a dependency at critical times, as it did for Hurricane Maria and now during the pandemic.
Even so, in the face of COVID-19, local producers have adapted quickly to meet the increased demand for their products. Also, collaborations between non-profit organizations, food producers and entrepreneurs emerged to support agricultural harvesting and consumer compliance during the quarantine.
Many farmers collaborated with each other to sell their products and feed their communities. Díaz, who is also co-founder of the local produce delivery service PRoduce, sees a growing awareness of the importance of investing in local products and how that purchase helps the island’s economic development. She also urges that the myth that local products are more expensive be debunked.
Many farmers collaborated with each other to sell their products and feed their communities. Díaz, who is also co-founder of the local produce delivery service PRoduce, sees a growing awareness of the importance of investing in local products and how that purchase helps the island’s economic development. She also urges that the myth that local products are more expensive be debunked. “We have to start thinking about how much that penny is costing us, how much that dollar that is not reaching Puerto Rico is costing us later on,” Díaz questioned.
However, Díaz assures that there is a demand for the local product. After Tropical Storm Isaías, where some farmers lost 40% or more of their crop, collaborations emerged to prevent food loss and preserve local produce. Through local micro-enterprises such as Doña Lola and Pinta Gelato, the plantain that was assumed as a loss to the storm became opportunities to avoid a produce shortage in the future and to innovate with it. Similarly, restaurants and individuals adapted their menus to include plantains in their dishes.
Through these initiatives, Díaz hopes that more people will opt for local produce and that collaborations in the agricultural sector will increasingly take place outside of the emergency.