Growing Partners: Desde mi Huerto
This article is part of Growing Partners, our new series of articles focusing on the farmers, gardeners, seed growers, breeders, vendors, donation recipients and non-profits we work with who are making waves in sustainable agriculture. Together they form a revolution of environmental stewardship and positive change working its way over the global landscape. We're so invigorated by their trail-blazing work every day, we want to share it with the world--and inspire the food movement leaders of tomorrow to follow in their footsteps.
Desde mi Huerto is an organic farm in Puerto Rico operated by Raul Rosado and his family. Raul visited us at High Mowing last year to learn more about our seed production techniques and how we run our business, and we were really inspired by what he's doing and his commitment to organic principles. So we asked him to share his story, in his own words.
HMOS: First off, please tell us about Desde mi Huerto, including location, crops grown, land area in producton, and how product is distributed.
RR: Desde mi Huerto is a family business, farm and educational project. We have several projects running all at the same time.
The first and most important is our farm where we produce our products.
The farm is a 3 acre, flat piece of land that we bought 3-4 years ago in the countryside in the small town of Patillas. Our farm is located next to the Patillas River that brings fresh water from the Carite Tropical Rainforest. It’s a special place between the mountains, and here we have our tropical seed production.
We produce local varieties of seeds such as eggplant, tomatoes, seasoning peppers, melons and pumpkins, as well as tropical fruits like papaya, passion fruit, guava, starfruit and cacao. We also produce local grains and beans, and local herbs such as "Recao" (long leaf coriander), and many others. The seed production has become our main business—we sell online, have racks in several supermarkets in PR, and we are trying to use the whole 3 acres for this purpose every day, trying to stretch to every inch of the farm to use it all.
We use the pulp of some fruits and veggies for preserves, pickles and other products.
Here on the farm we also do monthly workshops for kids, to connect them with the experience of harvesting and organic farming, and with mother earth. We also do workshops for people who want to start doing organic farming or home gardens.
We have a greenhouse for plants to be used in service to home, school, and restaurant gardens.
Desde Mi Huerto also plants gardens for people in their homes, restaurants, schools or communities, and we provide a monthly maintenance service.
HMOS: What is the mission of Desde mi Huerto? What makes it unique?
RR: We are a family business established in 2005 in "Finca Ecologica Rio Patillas” in the town of Patillas, Puerto Rico. We produce organically grown vegetables, plants and seeds, and we educate to share the knowledge of this way of farming and gardening.
Our mission is to provide organic products and services for a better quality of life in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Examples include freshly harvested vegetables and materials for home and community vegetable gardens (plants, seeds, compost and other fertilizers). We want to help grow the organic farming movement to ensure a better and healthier future for all.
Our vision is to work so that Puerto Rico has the knowledge and the tools to reach food security. We work to keep alive and in sustainable development our tropical native heirloom seeds and the traditional organic farming knowledge, and pass it to the next generation.
HMOS: What is the relationship between Desde mi Huerto and your local/regional community? How do you foster this relationship?
RR: When we first moved to this land, people could see what we were doing and they loved it. This is a community with a lot of unemployment and unmotivated people, but with a lot of potential and a beautiful setting. When people saw that we were planting all these vegetables in this grassy field they got inspired, and you started seeing all these gardens and farms being planted all of a sudden. The neighbors started coming to ask for suggestions and to buy plants and they came to buy seeds and give us some of their seeds. All our workers live in the same community and people respect what we do on our property. We’ve never had anything go missing from the land even though we don’t have gates or security in any tool storage, green house, etc.
HMOS: How old is Desde mi Huerto? How would you describe its growth/expansion?
RR: Desde Mi Huerto started around 2004 is now about 11 years old. We started by doing gardening services and plant propagation for gardens and organic markets. 1 or 2 years later we got set up in a rented farm and we started doing educational workshops—we wanted people to understand that it is possible to plant anything in PR, in any part of the island, any part of the year because farming has been a taboo in our culture and that is horrible. In 2008 we started propagating seeds but selling only in organic markets. In 2012 we started distributing our seeds in many supermarkets, and today we are in more than 75 stores around the island. We provide services for about 30 home and restaurant gardens every month and participate in 4 organic markets each month.
HMOS: What are some advantages of the area in which you are located? What are some disadvantages?
RR: The advantages are clean air and fresh river water, humble people, and the weather is nice to farm the whole year. Some disadvantages are the travel time to markets, tropical weather is sometimes unexpected and harsh, no freezing makes it more difficult to fight pests and mold, and since we are hidden in the mountains it takes about an hour to get to some clients.
HMOS: What is a major challenge you have faced as a business, and how did you overcome it?
RR: Investing and re-investing money to have all you need to keep going and expanding makes it a difficult time for our business earnings. Also, we only recently got internet access at the farm, about 6 months ago.
HMOS: What resources have been important to your success? What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
RR: Having a web page is super helpful, also getting to know the needs of the clients. And like they say, "Dont put all your eggs in one basket"—we have different ways to earn money, so during the year we can survive even if sales go down in one season.
HMOS: What High Mowing varieties perform best in your area? (And tell us why if you know). Are there any special techniques you use?
RR: Marketmore 76 cucumbers, Provider bush beans, and Santo cilantro are three of my favorites, as well as Copenhagen cabbage and Mild Mustard Mix. I think we don’t have any special techniques—we just fertilize well with manure compost, use plastic mulch and have good helping hands.
HMOS: What High Mowing varieties are you hoping to try?
RR: I hope to try some of the big bell peppers like King of the North, and some varieties of onions and herbs.
HMOS: What are your goals for the future of Desde mi Huerto?
RR: We hope to expand our seed distribution to other tropical climate areas, and keep on educating and making Puerto Rico a more sustainable place.