Spotlight on Puerto Rico Food Sovereignty: “Setas de Puerto Rico”

The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of attorney Rebecca Feliciano, the need to find a new source of income for her family in Puerto Rico’s ailing economic climate in 2011 would become the company that, in just three months from opening, harvested enough fresh mushrooms to cater to the demands of the entire island. The farm’s name is Setas de Puerto Rico, which translates to “mushrooms of Puerto Rico” and is located in the Cuyón neighborhood of Aibonita.

Using a loan of over $330,000 from the Economic Development Bank, Rebecca Feliciano started her mushroom company and farm with the goal of establishing a more lucrative revenue stream. Within the first few months of her operation, she was able to bring on 24 employees and supply a generous harvest of fresh mushrooms to Puerto Rico, making her farm the first of its kind – and, to date, the only of its kind – on the island.

On a visit to Setas de Puerto Rico in 2012, shortly after the company was established, then Governor Luis G. Fortuño had this to say about Rebecca and her pioneering efforts in an unfortunate economic climate:

“These innovative facilities and the extraordinary work of the team at Setas de Puerto Rico Inc. are proof of the ability we all have to reinvent ourselves and seize opportunities to meet the demand for products; in this case, fresh harvested mushrooms. Rebecca took the difficulties she faced and turned them into an opportunity. Her success shows that, with effort, courage, and sacrifice, we can achieve our goals.”

Contributing to Puerto Rico’s food sovereignty

Setas de Puerto Rico is the first Puerto Rican company dedicated to the large-scale production of mushrooms in the country. Of every dollar spent on their products, seventy cents remain in Puerto Rico, contributing enormously to the island’s economic well-being. By developing local production, the farm positively impacts the food supply chain, from distributors and wholesalers to retailers, restaurants, and, most importantly, Puerto Ricans.

Setas de Puerto Rico differentiates itself from its imported counterparts by offering mushrooms that are locally grown, much fresher and more nutritious when they hit shelves, are of a better quality and taste, involve less handling (and therefore stress), and are available at competitive prices. Furthermore, being locally grown, this fresh produce is available in constant and reliable supply on the island, which is important for the businesses (like restaurants and hotels) whose menus feature mushrooms.

Setas de Puerto Rico is an important example of the innovation and pioneering efforts of Puerto Ricans to establish a reliable and sustainable, locally grown food system. For more information on Setas de Puerto Rico, please check out their website at https://setasdepuertorico.com. Alternatively, contact them at +1 (787) 294-6006.

What is the Puerto Rico Food Sovereignty Series about?

This blog series by Fusion Farms focuses on the individuals, couples, families, and friends who are actively contributing to Puerto Rico’s food sovereignty and security by investing their time, money, and passion into local agriculture. From coffee plantations and mushroom farms to home-grown organic vegetables and hydroponically grown herbs, each blog tells the story of the unique contributions, trials, and tribulations of a people who are proudly Puerto Rican and who strive towards a better future for this beautiful island nation.

Fusion Farms is the first indoor aquaponic farm of its kind on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. The concept seeks to transform the unused Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) buildings that are scattered across the island into hurricane-protected, vertical #aquaponic farms. Within this contained and controlled environment, vegetables, micro-greens, and herbs can be grown and supplied to the island, greatly reducing its dependence on imported fresh produce. Furthermore, Fusion Farms will be able to supply a fresh, #sustainable source of fish protein, since Tilapia are an essential component of aquaculture.

For more information about Fusion Farms and to become an investor in this innovative start-up, go to www.fusionfarmspr.com or email Info@FusionFarmsPR.com

Fusion Farms PR

Food Sovereignty in Puerto Rico: The Resurgence of Agriculture in the Hurricane Ravaged Nation

Steps are being made to promote Puerto Rico’s food sovereignty, recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, and reduce the island’s dependence on imported foods.

In 2009, a major economic crisis hit the Caribbean island nation of Puerto Rico. The ensuing seven years (2009 to 2016) saw upwards of 40,000 home foreclosures and a mass migration of Puerto Ricans to the American mainland, eager to escape the economic tragedy and start over.

According to Daren Blomquist, Senior Vice President of U.S. housing data provider, Attom Data Solutions, these high level of foreclosures resulted mostly from the island’s long economic slump, which also produced an unemployment rate of 12%.

Yoniel Santana works at his grandmother’s produce stand at La Placita de Santurce farmers’ market, which sells mostly locally grown produce in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Credit: Carlos Giusti / AP, NBC News

One positive consequence of the economic crisis, however – a silver lining – was the shift in industry on the island from manufacturing to agriculture. Eager to create successful local businesses and promote #foodsovereignty in Puerto Rico, many locals started their own farming initiatives.

“We had a very beautiful movement towards agriculture,” said Edwin Almodóvar, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Especially after the wave of layoffs, many people started seeing agriculture as a space for business opportunities.”

Efrén Robles and his wife Angelie Martínez, owners of Frutos del Guacabo, a culinary agriculture farm, inside one of their hydroponic greenhouses. Credit: Angel Valentin, The Guardian

According to 2016 statistics provided by the governor’s office, income from Puerto Rican farms grew by more than $900 million (a significant 25%) between 2012 and 2014. The amount of acreage under cultivation rose by 50% between 2014 and 2018, generating at least 7,000 jobs. From 2015 onwards, 23,000 Puerto Ricans had farming jobs.

It seemed as though #PuertoRico had found its economic niche and on such a fertile tropical island, the potential was great. Then, in September 2017, category five Hurricane Maria slammed into the island, leaving vast tracts of farmlands totally devastated and small scale, local farms ruined either through physical damage or through the destruction of vital infrastructure and the power grid. Even those farms that were able to get back on their feet within a few months of the hurricane were unable to get their fresh produce to market due to roads that had been rendered impassable by fallen trees and rock slides.

Mushrooms grow in Setas de Puerto Rico, an agricultural business located in Aibonito, Puerto Rico. Credit: Rebeca Feliciano, NBC News

Rebeca Feliciano Bras and her husband, who had embarked upon an agro-business Setas de Puerto Rico (Mushrooms for Puerto Rico) in 2011, had their entire crop wiped out by Hurricane Maria. For seven years, they had been growing fresh mushrooms on their plantation in the mountains of Aibonito, the only farm producing local mushrooms on Puerto Rico. When the hurricane hit, the generator responsible for controlling the environment in which the mushrooms grew was destroyed and the roads by which they transported their produce to market became impassable with fallen debris.

“Without transportation, I couldn’t sell,” said Feliciano Bras.

It took the couple nearly a month to clear a path for them to drive into town to sell their harvest.

Today, even 18 months after the storm – the most deadly in Puerto Rico’s history – the island continues to import about 85% of all its fresh food produce, growing just 15% of what’s consumed locally.

For Carlos Suárez, the USDA’s lead representative in charge of hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hurricane Maria demonstrated the need for the island to establish food sovereignty: to become more self-sufficient when it comes to food production.

“It made the public understand it’s not a matter of if, but when,” that transition should take place.

“We have to raise more awareness,” says Franco Marcano, a mechanical engineer and co-owner of Cosechas Tierra Viva, a local farm that grows baby kale, arugula, cilantro, green beans, and eggplant for local farmer’s markets, restaurants, and private deliveries. “Every year we’re prone to hurricanes, droughts, you name it, and we have to be self-sufficient. We need to depend more on crops that can grow quickly.”

We already saw that Puerto Rico is susceptible to not having food. Agriculture should be a matter of national security.”

A produce stand at La Placita de Santurce farmers’ market that sells mostly locally grown produce in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Taken Sept. 23, 2016 by Carlos Giusti / AP, NBC News

Today, there are a number of efforts underway to promote food sovereignty on Puerto Rico. In addition to the burgeoning number of local farms on the island – many of which have bounced back after Hurricane Maria – the Puerto Rican government is offering incentives to farmers, especially those investing in renewable energy technologies and agricultural techniques that are immune from hurricanes, like indoor hydroponics and aquaponics.

And while the island is likely several decades away from feeding itself, the Department of Agriculture and farmers are hoping and working towards a food sovereign future for Puerto Rico.

About Fusion Farms

Fusion Farms is the first indoor aquaponic farm of its kind on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. The concept seeks to transform the unused Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) buildings that are scattered across the island into hurricane-protected, vertical #aquaponic farms. Within this contained and controlled environment, vegetables, micro-greens, and herbs can be grown and supplied to the island, greatly reducing its dependence on imported fresh produce. Furthermore, Fusion Farms will be able to supply a fresh, #sustainable source of fish protein, since Tilapia are an essential component of aquaculture.

For more information about Fusion Farms and to become an investor, go to www.fusionfarmspr.com or email Info@FusionFarmsPR.com

A Wonderful Week of Firsts: Fusion Farms’ Receives Keys to Facility and First Ever Equipment Delivery

They say the first step on any journey is the biggest. And while Fusion Farms has been motoring on up that proverbial mountainside for over a year now, laying the extensive business, financial, legal, and administrative foundations for our vertical aquaponics farm in #Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, this past week has seen what has felt like the first step on a new chapter of our story.

Kendell holds up the keys to our hurricane protected PRIDCO building, the soon-to-be home of our indoor vertical aquaponics farm.

On June 30th, Kendell Lang and Lisa Jander, the husband-and-wife team behind Fusion Farms, were officially handed the keys to our pilot facility, a vast concrete building, which we have leased from #PRIDCO – the Puerto Rican Industrial Development Company. There are many of these buildings located across the island and have been standing strong, even through severe weather events like Hurricane Maria, since they were built in the 1960’s. It’s inside this very facility that Fusion Farms will be establishing Puerto Rico’s first indoor vertical #aquaponics farm!

The next development that happened this week – and this may seem like a small step but it is an extremely significant one – is that we received our very first delivery of the equipment that will be necessary to start and run our #farm.

The delivery truck pulls into Fusion Farms’ yard
The lawnmower is offloaded into our facility’s delivery bay
Loading the rainwater collection tanks

The delivery consisted of two 400-gallon water storage tanks for the collection of fresh rainwater, a dual propane gas generator with gas tanks, a specialized refrigerator for our seed library, and a power pressure washer for cleaning. Oh, and a tractor lawnmower to keep the yard’s thick grass in check!

These two steps – taking possession of our #hurricane protected facility, the near future home of our vertical aquaponics farms and receiving our first delivery of equipment – constitute the first physical manifestations of the hard work Kendell and Lisa have tirelessly channeled into this dream of theirs. And that dream is to establish a hurricane protected farm on #PuertoRico that can give back to the island by providing a reliable, locally grown source of fresh and healthy leafy greens, herbs, vegetables, and fish.

Having recently been awarded the maximum #solar energy grant amount from PRIDCO for the purpose of installing solar panels, Kendell and Lisa aim to go as “green” as possible, using mostly #renewable energy sources and rainwater to drive their farm. The assistance of a propane power generator will ensure that, regardless of the weather or Puerto Rico’s unstable power grid, Fusion Farms can continue to grow fresh produce.

“Doing well by doing good is our motto,” says Kendell Lang, CEO and co-founder of Fusion Farms. “We believe that successful businesses fulfill an important purpose and, in our case, that purpose is to help uplift Puerto Rico’s struggling economy and combat its reliance on imported food from the mainland. By establishing a reliable, local source of fresh greens and fish protein that can withstand the Caribbean’s notoriously tempestuous weather, we can play a part in getting Puerto Rico to its feet a little faster.”

The current Fusion Farms facility, which is based in Mayaguez, will be the first of many if Kendell and Lisa’s pilot program is a success. Together, the couple aim to flesh out a repeatable, scalable model for hurricane protected #vertical aquaponics farms that can be applied to other PRIDCO buildings on Puerto Rico, on other islands in the Caribbean, or anywhere in the world really.

“If this follows the trajectory we’re fighting for, it’s possible that we’ll be able to establish these farms in remote areas across the island that struggle enormously to gain access to fresh, healthy greens and protein,” says Lisa, co-founder and Director of Operations of Fusion Farms.

For now, we celebrate many firsts: our first-ever delivery of equipment and the first physical step towards establishing Puerto Rico’s first-ever indoor, hurricane protected, and sustainable vertical aquaponics farm!

For more information about Fusion Farms and to become an investor, go to www.fusionfarmspr.com or email Info@FusionFarmsPR.com

Kendell takes Fusion Farm’s new lawnmower for a test drive.