A Journey to Supporting a Sustainable and Just Recovery
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.