Today in the Mission Yearbook

Couple struggles to revive their Puerto Rico farm


Farmers employed about a dozen workers before Hurricane María

March 2, 2019

It’s been more than a year, but the mere mention of the devastation causes Lourdes Perez’s chin to tremble. Tears fill her eyes.

Everything was lost. The coffee trees. The plantain trees. Everything from the farm she and her husband, César Oliver, had been building for more than three decades.

You don’t have to look far to find evidence of Hurricane María’s wrath on Hidropónicos César y Lourdes’ farm in the steep mountains of Lares, a northwestern Puerto Rico town. Twisted metal lies on paths cut through the farm. Some structures are still broken and tattered, and on a tour through the property, Lourdes will describe what certain sections once had, punctuated by the refrain, “but it’s not there anymore.”

There is also modest evidence of revival, from building materials to sweet pepper marmalade, Lourdes and César’s attempt to create a little revenue in the aftermath of the storm.

“The most important thing that we need to do is rebuild the farm, so we can again give the community a place in which it can work,” Lourdes said.

Before the storm, the farm employed around a dozen people in the community — primarily seniors who don’t have many sources of income in the mountainous region.

“The reason you see them cry so many times is it’s not the same when you lose part of your house, because it’s just your house, and it’s sad, but it may be just you … but in this case, it’s the jobs of 11 people in that community, 11 families being affected,” said Edwin A. González-Castillo, a native of Puerto Rico now working for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to find partnerships for the church in the hurricane-ravaged territory. “So, the responsibility they have on their shoulders is big and I saw that in the way they talked: they’re desperate to rebuild because they need to provide for those families who are left without a job.”

González-Castillo led a group of representatives from ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency on a visit to the farm in December to see how the church might be able to assist the couple.

“This is the kind of thing that speaks to us, because the way I read it is, every dollar you give is a dollar added to community resilience,” said Jim Kirk, associate for domestic disaster response for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. “If people are meaningfully employed, seasonally employed, if there’s better food security, it’s just a win-win across the board. As opposed to handing someone food to deal with immediate hunger, you’re giving them tools for long-term security.”

The group visiting the farm included representatives of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Self-Development of People, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Special Offerings. Programs are funded by the One Great Hour of Sharing Special Offering.

The farm was one of many projects visited by the group and will be considered as a potential partner as the programs discern how to best support the recovery in Puerto Rico.

One possibility, Kirk said, is establishing a Presbyterian Volunteer Host Site at nearby Camp Guacio, where there’s potential for volunteer groups to come lend a hand rebuilding the farm. While some of the work must be done by trained professionals, there are also jobs for volunteers to do to revive the struggling farm.

Across the board, the visitors said they were struck by the couple’s resilience and commitment to the community.

“You get this sense of hope, and it is real hope,” said Alonzo Johnson, director of Self-Development of People. “It’s not a blind hope. It is a hope that is deeply rooted in action.

“It is traumatic, but they haven’t stopped. They haven’t given up. They haven’t given up the call, they haven’t given up the determination.”

Rich Copley, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Puerto Rico, Hurricane María

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Lisa Longo, FDN
Michelle Lori, PMA

Let us pray:

O Holy Spirit, thank you for your work throughout the world. Thank you for ministries that thrive, and for ministries that cease. Thank you that the kingdom of God depends not on our work, but on the One who is, who was and who is to come. Amen.

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