Iowan works to help sustain Puerto Rico agricultural industry after back-to-back hurricanes

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RICON, Puerto Rico (KWQC) - More than one year after being destroyed by back-to-back hurricanes farmers on the island of Puerto Rico are looking to the Midwest for help rebuilding.

“That’s my Greenhouse over there,” farmer Hector Santiago told TV6 reporter Chris Carter on his trip to the island. “It was very very bad.”

As a native of Puerto Rico, Santiago has seen the problems first hand. When Hurricane Maria rolled in damage to the farms was widespread and it went beyond damage to the crops. Eighty-five percent of the food on the island is imported and with roads impossible getting food was impossible.

“We didn't have transportation so we didn't have food available,” Santiago said.

Recognizing the problem, Santiago set out to find a solution in hopes of making farming a priority of those on the island. It paid off. Small greenhouses started popping up providing farm to table food.

"Our generation learned our food came from super markets,” Santiago said. “They didn't know that they had to do farming, that had to plant."

The lesson of farming was just the first of many. Santiago said the island needs many more and with the help of LeClaire native Danielle Colby, they hope to achieve that. Colby’s monthly trips to the island include efforts to bring Midwest knowledge to the island.

"Our wonderful link to the Quad Cities is that we need so much work in ag here in Puerto Rico and we come from the QC where ag is such an important industry,” Colby said. “I think that is a nice marriage."

The average age of a Puerto Rican farmer is 62. Danielle and Santiago recognize farming is dying and without it, the future of agriculture in Puerto Rico is in jeopardy.

"Every strong nation, every place that prospers, needs a strong agricultural,” Santiago said.

Santiago and Colby hope with the help from the United States mainland, the future of farming will be strong. Santiago said it starts with education.

"They come here and show people how to plant things, how to harvest and how to, for example, fight things like pests and diseases,” Santiago said.

Santiago said that they have received a significant amount of seeds from the mainland. He said that is a start and now they need infrastructure. Santiago hopes to build greenhouses and create solar systems allowing communities to have their own farm to table systems.