Centro PASO & Sustainable Agriculture
A look at local food insecurity and high tunnel farming systems

This article includes excerpts from a federal grant Proposal Narrative Co-Assembled by Olivia Curran and Rianna LeHane, with translations by Nati Chevrel and Morgan Miller

The Project: 

Centro PASO has always conducted educational workshops for youth and adults alike. One of their popular workshop series teaches locals about the importance of at-home gardening and its benefits for providing home-grown fresh foods. As a territory of the US, anything exported to Puerto Rico must come directly from the continental United States. As a result, delivery time is generally longer. During a crisis like COVID-19, where international shipping delays are up to a month long and are caused by extreme supply shortages, islands like Puerto Rico suffer significant consequences. Currently, the Center is seeking funding for the construction of a high tunnel: a greenhouse-like structure, straight walls of 2160 square feet, with drip irrigation system for traditional cultivation. This is part of an initiative to extend their Agricultural Workshop offerings. This structure will be used to bring increased access to fresh food to the people of Aibonito, Puerto Rico and its surrounding towns. 

The estimated cost of constructing the system and extending the program is $50,000. PASO feels that given the local need, this would be a worthy investment in their community's wellbeing. 

The Need: In order to know the needs of the Aiboniteña people, a professional study was carried out in 2012. The survey was administered to an average of 400 families, to identify the real needs of the community. Information from the US Census Bureau was used for the sample.

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"COVID showed us that we need to be more independent. There was a real lack of fresh food available."
- Mary Miranda, President of the Board of Directors

In addition to this, discussions were held with different sectors such as social workers, professional counselors, and civic and religious leaders to learn about their different points of view. The results of the study and the focus groups demonstrated that Centro PASO’s projects should be directed to families. It is within the family that social problems are born. Centro PASO began offering services to the Aiboniteño community and neighboring towns with volunteers in their new facilities on September 12, 2016, in an abandoned school. Today, Centro PASO provides counseling, case management, emergency food and medical supplies, and a variety of educational workshops for children and adults. Centro PASO also partners with Fiesta4Hope, a non-profit whose mission is to support developing communities through the promotion of sustainability. Fiesta4Hope partners with grassroots organizations in these communities, listening to their needs and projecting their voices areas across the continental United States.

One of Centro PASO’s goals is to promote sustainability within their community by teaching citizens about agriculture, nutrition, farming techniques, and environmental sensitivity. High Tunnel installation will expand PASO’s efforts to promote sustainable agricultural practices in their suburban community. Additionally, a high tunnel would both protect the crops and harvesters from high winds, heavy rains, and hail which are common during hurricane season. The installation of this agricultural system will allow the Aiboniteña people to grow and harvest their own food year-round and expand PASO’s efforts to create a healthier, self-sufficient community in Aibonito. 

An example of a high tunnel farming system

Expected Benefits of the Urban Agriculture Small High Tunnel Outreach Program regarding seasonal change:

  • Extend the growing season.

  • To better the quality of the plant and the quality of the soil.

  • Reducing the transport of nutrients and pesticides.

  • To better the air quality through reduced transport inputs

  • Reducing energy use by providing consumers with a local source of fresh produce

  • High Tunnels protect plants from harsh weather and allow farmers to prolong their growing seasons

  • To prevent direct rain reaching plants,

  • The opportunity to use precise tools, such as drip irrigation, to efficiently supply water and nutrients to plants.

  • To better the ability to control pests and protect plants from pollen and pesticides adrift