Lonely Planet Writer

Help Puerto Rico's hurricane recovery efforts by volunteering for a day on farms

After delivering over 3.7 million meals in Puerto Rico following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017, the Nobel Prize-nominated chef, José Andrés and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen (WCK) are helping to feed the recovering island. The international NGO is supporting local smallholder farmers and food-related small businesses in an effort to help reduce the island’s crippling food insecurity (a whopping 85% of food products are imported), and they want visitors to the island to take part.

Franco and Natalia from the farm Cosechas Tierra Viva. Image by World Central Kitchen

Plow to Plate, WCK’s agricultural recovery program, launched in September 2018 on-the-heels of Maria’s one-year anniversary and has since invested over half-a-million dollars towards an ecosystem-wide increase in food security, sustainability, and resiliency on the island. The program supports small farms, community-based projects, agribusiness, and food-sector enterprises by offering financial support in the form of cash grants, technical training in agriculture and business, as well as an active agri-tourism volunteer program to connect farmers and businesses with island visitors.

Sebastian Sotomayor, a small organic farmer from San Sebastian, proudly displays his plantains. Image by Mikol Hoffman

Tourists, inspired by the chef, who encourages travelers to help the island by visiting there, and who wish to help in recovery efforts, have the opportunity to work for a half day or full day at smallholder farms located across the island.  The program operates Monday through Friday, with most farmers heading to market on the weekends, and volunteers usually arrive early in the morning to beat the Caribbean heat and work through lunch or till closing in the afternoon.

A day of service at Plow to Plate partner farm Desde Mi Huerto in Isabela might include making new seed beds. Image by Desde Mi Huerto

While there’s a common thread of utilizing sustainable practices for food production, farms range from non-profits to innovative agribusinesses, seed producers to dairy producers, hydroponics to interior vertical farms, and beyond. There’s much to be done, and volunteers are put readily put to good use- from planting to harvesting, making new beds to clearing land, germinating, weeding, trimming, cleaning, you name it – to ensure that fresh produce and other products are cultivated, picked, packed, and distributed to reach those who need them.

Visitors to ARECMA.’s community farm can delight in the spectacular views of Vieques and Culebra. Image by World Central Kitchen

WCK’s volunteer program encourages visitors to join in the fun, roll up their sleeves, and get their hands dirty to help smallholder farmers by signing up for a day of service at one of their many partner farms, located across the archipelago.  But beyond the fun, these services provide crucial human capital for small farmers. In addition, it’s an opportunity for volunteers and local food producers to exchange knowledge, and extend the visitor economy into rural communities outside the capital city of San Juan.

“The experience was particularly gratifying because of the personal scale. We weren’t sure how big the farm would be, so when we saw it was just the two of them and a helper, we realized that our contribution would be a real help to them no matter how small,” volunteer Jim Barnett told us after a day of service at Finca El Reverdecer in Ponce.

WCK welcomes visitors of all ages, shapes, and sizes. If you’d like to volunteer with WCK in Puerto Rico and contribute to nourishing today’s and tomorrow’s generations of Puerto Ricans  with fresh foods, send an email to volunteerinpr@worldcentralkitchen.org.