Three weeks. Three cities. Three personalities
Tara Rodríguez Besosa
As the days and weeks pass, my mind continues, my body continues. Changed. Stuck on something that it doesn't want to let go. As each day goes by, the more we plan, the more we communicate, meet, and collaborate, the more I feel personal fear. Will I be strong enough to endure this amazing future?
The answer is yes, as long as I can communicate to others my anxieties, what I used to communicate to myself within nature has now become more difficult after the hurricane, I feel “off”. This makes me more responsible than ever for giving back to the land what it has given me, this connection is not to be lost.
Different groups have been meeting, some daily, others weekly. Everybody I know is doing something. Fundraisers are doing well, many Puerto Ricans from the diaspora have been supporting efforts back home, it has been a rollercoaster of good news and bad news, of posts showing us working together, of pictures showing communities that are still without communication nor aid. Multi million dollar contracts are already being passed out to foreign, republican, newborn corporations.
Of the groups I have been working with the Queer Kitchen Brigade has been born. Pao and Luz and a few more have been organizing weekly canning brigades with POC/LAtinx/Queer/etc persons in New York City. After reading about the big shots and vultures making their next move, here’s something to check out.
How does this work? When we were speaking of how to help with food for immediate relief, it seemed ridiculous to send to sustainable farmers shitty canned industrial food. Something seemed so off. How could we create aid that supported farmer to farmer efforts? Pao got NYC farmers’ market onboard, donating produce that cannot just be shipped over to Puerto Rico (to this day we continue to fight the Jones Act and shipping regulations, as well as not being able to send relief to a place in need without getting it confiscated). Queer Kitchen Brigade picks up the produce at the different weekly markets, gets a sponsored kitchen space, sets up a “canning” event, gets the jars at a discounted rate, asks for people coming to bring stuff like vinegar, peppercorns, coriander, and sets up what becomes a genuine group effort in support of healthy food for healthy communities. Each week the group sees new faces, of all ages and colors, with one thing they all agree on: fresh strawberry jam in the making is the best smell ever.
These jars then get taken home to one of the organizer’s home’s. They then locate a person who is headed to the island, get them a suitcase, and fill it up. That person then delivers the jars, hopefully trying some of that strawberry jam with their community back home.
Farming brigades have begun. The PR Resiliency Fund gave $2,000 to support efforts of the next ten farm brigades by helping to cover some of the costs of food, gas, tools. Every little bit counts. Mara in La Perla got her solar panel, is starting her seed germination station with the seeds we have been getting her, soon will be able to share germinated plants with farmers as they clear out their land.
Vero, my cook/partner of El Departamento de la Comida has a different community kitchen she is cooking at almost every day of the week. Hard to go back to operating a restaurant after this, we probably never will. My sister is at her farm in Aibonito, worried about the conditions of the road up to her house, which might soon impede her from getting in or out. My friend Luis is Finca Flamboyant in Sabana Grande has been stuck with a broke down car and hardly any communication. We sent $500 to Norysel in Cabo Rojo for buying materials for rebuilding her house, and two amazing people living outside of PR helped her start a fundraiser that will help with getting more materials.
Jeannine, an activist/farmer friend of mine from Philly Urban Creators called me last week. Life Do Grow Farms was coming the last week of November to Puerto Rico for their farm employee retreat. I was meant to take them around the island to visit a couple farms, take them to beaches and rivers, and give them some well deserved rest. Yeah, things have changed. To my surprise they did not cancel and go to another destination to enjoy some days at the beach, they said “HELL NO, we are going to Puerto Rico! And we want to help!” When speaking about the logistics of renting a van, getting a bunch of tools donated to use when they came and then leave at a farm, figuring out which farms wanted extra hands, what they needed, where we would all stay while on the road, things started to get tricky. The island is still without much communication, most farms are not ready to have people just show up and say they want to help, roads are still blocked, there is no food, and getting tools, renting a van, good luck.
This got me thinking, then thinking some more. Ana Elisa, from Finca Conciencia, had a great bus project she called “La Sambumbia” a few years back, which was an agroecology bus for driving to Haiti to support efforts over there by having a mobile seed bank, radio station, proyector, and kitchen. She had also introduced me to the Victory Bus in NY that not only transports prisoners’ families to be able to visit inmates, but also includes giving them fresh local vegetables in the form of a CSA box. Speaking on our conference calls with allies in and outside of Puerto Rico, the brigades are an essential tool for farmer to farmer support, as well as being the best way to learn if you are looking for hands on experience with agroecology. How to support brigades, but in a way that not only provides tools that farmers might not have, like heavy expensive equipment, but also to support the organizational efforts of brigades, volunteers, farms, documentation? If with the PR Resiliency Fund we have decided to go beyond the first 24 weeks and extend it to 24 months, how would we best dedicate our efforts?
A bus, we need a bus. Not just a van we rent every time we want to go volunteer on a farm. A bus we can use for the next 24 months, that will have everything we need to be the best farm brigaders ever! Danielle, from Afca started making the proposal, adding the numbers, putting my ideas in order, and the Solidarity Bus was born. Wish we could use the $300million that was just given to some corporation for rebuilding the electricity of Puerto Rico, and instead use all that to get every farm and community solar energy, rainwater catchment systems, build community food hubs in every town of the islands, and do this with a squad of Solidarity Buses to transport goods, people, tools, and more!!! Sorry just went on a daydream of resilience!
We don’t need Trump, we need you! So far Puerto Rico has received REAL RELIEF from other communities, not from the government. We come first, then they respond, at some point. We cannot wait, this is happening now. Farming brigades have begun, seeds have arrived, people are hungry, and ready to work. This bus will support that. For more information on how to help, where to sign up, what we need still, check out the links and articles, write me emails, look it up! Jeannine from Philly Urban Creators and her team are not only coming to Puerto Rico, they are hosting their own fundraising events, got a good deal on the shipping container, and are going to buy the first tools for the bus!
I am very excited, confident this will work, and moving forward! Please share our efforts! This is less of a crónica and more of a Call to Action!
This is a part of a series of 24 chronicles that will be published weekly in English and Spanish, as a part of www.24weeks.us.
Read here Report on Puerto Rico's Food Post-Hurricane Maria