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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

An Agroecology Collective In Puerto Rico And A Kimchi Startup In North Carolina

Stephanie Monserrate Torres and Marissa Reyes Diaz gave a talk about Güakiá at The Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University (Kayte Young/WFIU)

This week we talk with Marissa Reyes Diaz and Stephanie Monserrate Torres of Güakiá, a Farming Collective in Puerto Rico based in the principles of agroecology

Josephine McRobbie brings us a story about a kimchi business in Durham, North Carolina called The Spicy Hermit.

And look up! See those lacey white flowers in the tall trees with the dark bark? It’s locust blossom season in Southern Indiana. Chef D has a recipe.

Güakiá–Puerto Rican Farming Collective
Transcript from the Güakiá segment

Marissa Reyes Diaz: We start to meet to figure out how to do farming together in 2015.
In 2017, in May [we made] the agreements and everything, so we are just getting there.
And then in September the Hurricanes just came and we received Erma, and then 2 weeks later we received Maria.

Kayte (narrating): Marissa Reyez Diaz is one of the founding members of Güakiá.

Marissa: Güakiá Agroecológico or agroecology collective. Güakiá means “ours” or “us” in Taíno, the language that is from our Native Indians of The Island

Kayte (narrating): Güakiá is a farming collective in Puerto Rico, based around the principles of agroecology. Marissa Reyez Diaz and Stephanie Monserrate Torres recently visited the Indiana University Food Institute to talk about their project.

Stephanie Monserrate Torres: We are an agroecology collective so we are farming trying to imitate nature and how it works. Agriculture is already a really invasive way to do how we eat. But in agroecology, we try just imitating the earth, but as well, it has to have a social connection– social integrated with the agroecology project. So we knew we had to have some sort of social component to our project. So, we’re going to farm, and eventually, the community will see we’re growing stuff and they come to us, cuz it looks pretty, so they’ll come. But after the hurricane, people didn’t need that much food as help, for first response. So, our project kind of went towards building community. A lot of people just needed to tell their experiences after the hurricane, so we just sort of went towards what felt right, basically, which it was helping the community, and other communities, and other farmers, helping in their farms. Because we didn’t have, we barely had 3 months in the farm. So now, last December is [when] we really started to grow food, finally.

Kayte (narrating): That was Stephanie. Marissa and Stephanie took an agroecology course together, which ended up being the spark for their collective

Stephanie: In the workshops we took, the agroecology course, we were 30 people going together to some small plot, and building it into a food garden, into a food forest and it just seemed kinda nuts to do it alone after the workshop was done, and for us, agroecology is not just farming or the community as well, there’s a lot of social injustice that the agroecology movement stands up for or is the first response, as well

Kayte (narrating): Marissa noted that much of the food that is being produced in Puerto Rico using sustainable agriculture is going to restaurants because that’s where the money is. At Guakia, they plan to produce food for restaurants and for CSAs but also to make the food accessible for the people living in the community close to the farm.

Marissa: So the idea is not just to produce food [but] to produce for everybody.

Stephanie: And for us as well, we need to eat.

Kayte: So the main industry in that area is tourism, so there’s more restaurants and hotels, things like that?

Stephanie: Yeah, more hotels, more restaurants, that are not accessible for Puerto Ricans, or, obviously, low-income Puerto Ricans, that is the majority of what we have near our farm. We’re in the North part of The Island, it’s about ten minutes from the beach, but it’s a low-income community. But it’s not a low-income municipality. We have a lot of resources, a lot of tourism, but it is not such a paradise for Puerto Ricans who live there. So we have low-income communities, after the Hurricane, they were one of the last ones to get their lights, the last ones to get their streets clean, the last ones to get water.

Kayte (narrating): After the Hurricane, and after helping with the immediate needs of the community, Güakiá got the word out about their collective using social media. There were organizations in the US, looking to offer direct assistance to everyday Puerto Ricans. Some of those organizations sent brigades of volunteers to the island, and one of the brigades working with Güakiá was Science for the People.

Stephanie: And they just went to the farm. We stayed in the farm for 10 days, and we don’t have electricity or water, so we were camping, a lot of people, we were fifteen people camping on the farm, so it was A LOT. But we did a lot.[laughs] By the end of the week, we were like, “Oh my god, this looks totally different from when it started.” And we were able to do a festival, raise some funds, raise the awareness that we are there in the community. So the Brigades have been awesome.

Kayte: So did you need to clear a lot of things from the land?

Stephanie: We had to clean a lot. We had refrigerators, beds, cars you name it! We had cleaned before the hurricane, but then after the hurricane it got again out of hand because everyone was just trying to throw everything away.

Kayte: I was just imagining a lot of brush and vegetation that you’d have to clear–

Marissa: Also, also we have that because the grass is–

Stephanie: six feet high, and it’s like a bambooish grass so it’s really, when you try to cut it, the machete comes back to you.

Kayte (narrating):So in addition to the brigades and other volunteer groups, they hired nearby farmers with equipment to help clear the land.

Güakiá Colectivo Agroecológico is an 11 acre farm located on the Northern part of The Island. They have worked out an agreement with the local nuns who own the land, to clear, improve and maintain the land, for the low-cost rent of $1 per acre (photo courtesy of Güakiá)

Kayte: So you have cleared some beds or some rows now, and what do you have growing at the moment?

Marissa: We have banana, plantain, casava, beans, corn, papaya, ginger, turmeric, shallots, tomatoes, sweet pepper, zucchini, I don’t know how to name the gandules in English. It is a type of bean, but different, it’s a pretty good one.

Stephanie: It’s very Puerto Rican. It’s dried and cooked, in rice. It’s really for Christmas. We eat Arroz y Ganduldes, rice and gandules.

Marissa: And we make the rice and it is the best part of the Christmas thing.

Kayte: what kinds of seasonings?

Marissa: We make a sofrito, that is a mix of onion, garlic, sweet pepper, pepper, salt, oil, cilantro, and we just put it in a blender, and we have the sofrito, and we use that to cook.

Stephanie: Yeah we use that not only for Christmas, that is our base, that’s the base for every dinner, yeah…sofrito, amazing.

Kayte (narrating): The Güakiá Collective has also maintained and nurtured the connections with the surrounding community

Marissa: One of the workshops that we made in the community was a compost workshop. We invite them to separate everything that is trash of the fruit–yeah, organic. And we pass, every Friday, we pass by the houses and we collect all this organic matter that they separate to do a compost, community compost in the farm.

Stephanie: It’s kind of like a competition for them too, like, “Ooh! Who’s having more compost?” or stuff like that. And, so, they’re eating better cuz they want to eat fresh foods now. They don’t have that much smell from the trash in their house. They spend less in their trash bags, and they feel like they’re part of something bigger, that they are helping the island, they are helping the reconstruction of the island. And we have some exchange with them. We give them compost for their plants, or some tomatoes, it’s a really good– it’s a compost program with the community. It’s really good and it’s going along great.

Kayte (narrating):Future plans for the farm include the installation of solar panels for electricity, a sustainable water source, buildings and infrastructure, and strengthening connections with the community. They also hope to find ways to make the farm sustainable economically, so that the five members of the collective don’t need to hold 2 or three additional jobs to stay afloat.

Stephanie: You know, Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. So, things that could put you in context of why is it we are doing what we are doing, and why is it so hard. So basically, We can’t vote for the president. We only have our representative in Congress, and he also can’t vote, he only has a voice, so, it’s nothing…

Kayte (narrating):Stephanie also brought up the Jones Act and what it means for Puerto Ricans in terms of their dependence on the United States. Though Puerto Rico’s tropical climate makes it suitable for year-round farming, the island currently imports 80% of its food, mostly from the United States.

Marissa: All the peasants all the people that do agriculture in Puerto Rico, they [left] the farms to work in industry and factories because it was the industrialization moment. So we lose our connection to the land. That is why [we have such a high percentage of imports]. But we are returning to the land.

Stephanie: Farming in Puerto Rico, just farming, it is such a huge resistance. It is so powerful. If we have food, we have food security, and we are getting out of the system. So it has kind of all the things in it.

Marissa: We need at least Sovereignty in our food, and then we can construct or build something different from The Island. But we have to start with the food. Because it’s a freedom for us, I think.

Guakia on Instagram

Guakia on Facebook

Music on this Episode:

Albatross by Max Cameron on Killer Tracks

Chill Ex, mickbordet, Alexander Nakarada, and The Surfing Violinist, via SoundCloud Creative Commons.

The Earth Eats’ theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Stories On This Episode

Creating Condiments And Community With The Spicy Hermit

Josephine McRobbie caught up with a food entrepreneur who goes by the name The Spicy Hermit.

Chef D’s White Wine And Black Locust Flower Jelly

This jelly is great on toast or scones in the morning, as a pork or chicken glaze or in desserts and baking as a glaze or topping.

Report Outlines Strategies To Address Black Farmer Inequalities

Recently released census data from the USDA shows a decline in Black farm ownership.

Cage-Free Egg Bills Reveal Industry Influence

Washington has followed California’s example with a law to phase out eggs from caged hens, but the legislation uses egg industry definitions for “cage-free.”

Kayte Young

Kayte Young discovered her passion for growing, cooking, foraging and preserving fresh food when she moved to Bloomington in 2007. With a background in construction, architecture, nutrition education and writing, she brings curiosity and a love of storytelling to a show about all things edible. Kayte raises bees, a small family and a yard full of food in Bloomington’s McDoel Gardens neighborhood.

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