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Created by Jessica van Dop DeJesus (The Dining Traveler)
Sitting atop a hill with a view of lush tropical Puerto Rico is Agroponicos Cosecha de Puerto Rico, the only aquaponics farm on the island. As you enter the greenhouses, you hear the sounds of el coqui, the iconic tiny singing frog, a symbol of Puerto Rican pride. As many Puerto Ricans are facing a tough economy and leaving the island to mainland United States, Victorino Bernal, Jorge Casas and Pedro Casas have decided to stay and develop an alternative food source via aquaponics farming.
Caption: Overlooking their farm, (left to right) Victorino Bernal, Pedro Casas and Jorge Casas. By Jessica van Dop DeJesus
Aquaponics is a perfect combination of two agricultural strategies: aquaculture and hydroponics; they complement each other in a symbiotic relationship which produces fresh fish and organic vegetables. Aquaponics is a natural process- an eco-system serving as a biological filter known as the Nitrogen Cycle.
Caption: Basil racks. Photo by Jessica van Dop DeJesus
The fragrance of the basil and rosemary welcomes you as you enter the greenhouse. There are rows of green leaves bursting from the vertical planters. You see the spearmint, bok choy, kale and mesclun coming alive. These later are seen in the dining rooms of popular Puerto Rican restaurants such as Di Parma Trattoria.
Caption: Fresh basil ready for the market. Photo by Jessica van Dop DeJesus
Although a tiny island, Puerto Rico is densely populated with more than four million inhabitants. There’s more people to feed than the working soil can produce. Many of Puerto Rico’s food products are imported from mainland United States or Latin America. This is what the owners of the farm want to change. “We developed a sustainable farming operation in which we can produce food to be consumed on island,” said Victorino, an energetic man in his late twenties.
Agroponicos Cosecha de Puerto Rico has been in operation since 2012 and it has grown exponentially since. The farm also has ties with small farms in remote parts of the island by providing logistical services to get their produce to more densely populated areas. They work closely with a farm in Adjuntas (a mountain town in the south of the island) distributing produce that would normally not be able to reach the metro area.
Caption: The fish at the farm. Photo by Jessica van Dop DeJesus.
Whether you are eating dumplings at Yummy Dumplings or having a salad at the Condado Vanderbilt, you may be tasting a piece of Agroponicos Cosecha de Puerto Rico. “We aim to provide chefs with the best quality product available for their customers,” said Jorge, one of the co-founders of the farm. Jorge, Victorino and Pedro are passionate about building relationships with the local community. Their future plans include tours of the facility and educating other farmers in Latin America about sustainable farming practices.
“Many of my friends have left the island to pursue their professional careers in mainland United States or Europe,” said Victorino who earned his bachelor’s degree in Belgium and master’s in France. “I decided to return to Puerto Rico to create a business and make a positive impact in my community by introducing a new system of food production that is chemical free and sustainable.”