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  • Writer's pictureRick Burnette

Dios es Fiel

Gardening, although hard work, is generally satisfying with benefits not limited to exercise, aesthetics and food. Tending a garden requires and inspires hope. Even when crops crash due to excessive weeds and other pests or a lack of rain, they aren’t necessarily finished. Recovery is a natural part of the gardening process.

Over the past year, my own Southwest Florida garden has been battered by a hurricane and a brief freeze as well as excavation due to the failure of our household septic system. Despite the toll that these events have taken on many of the plants, there was always something else that continued to thrive.

Some nine months after Hurricane Maria – a Category 4 hurricane – devastated Puerto Rico, I took a trip to the island to follow up on CBF disaster response efforts. Having heard reports of trees stripped of limbs and leaves, I wondered if anything would be growing, much less producing.

Upon arrival in San Juan I was relieved to see mango trees, though battered and reduced, with ripening fruit. And during walks through a neighborhood in the city’s outskirts I observed recovering backyard gardens containing crops such as plantain, pigeon pea, pomegranate, citrus, cocoyam, lemongrass and sugar cane.

During a day trip to Lares in the mountainous west of the island we encountered roadside stands of locally grown mango, citrus, ñame yam and chayote. Climbing further into the hills we drove past recovering patches of plantain and coffee.

Arriving at the hillside farm of Lourdes and Cesar, we could see the damage that had been done to dozens of previously plastic-covered structures that until last year produced vegetables as well as coffee seedlings destined for neighboring farms. The owners of this farm may be down, but they are not out.

The few structures that remain in operation still produce áji dulce (sweet pepper) while new crops of lettuce and culantro (an herb) are being prepared for planting. Though nowhere near the volume of 100,000 coffee plants that had been produced the year before, there were still some surviving seedlings.

Lourdes shared how since early 2018 they were being assisted and encouraged by the members of Iglesia Bautista De Metropolis in San Juan as well as teams of volunteers from the states. These groups show up frequently to continue the job of clean up and to prepare for reconstruction. All of this is being facilitated by Pastor Jesus Garcia, who has worked tirelessly to help Maria-affected households and communities - including his own congregation - to recover.

From my agricultural perspective, I was struck by two observations. One was the generosity of Lourdes and Cesar who employ older neighbors for a fair wage, giving them purpose, community and a better means of support. What if all farms and businesses treated their employees with such dignity?

Finally, the word “resilience” kept going through my mind as I saw signs of recovery in nature as well as among farms and communities in Puerto Rico. Creation is being renewed. Gardens are being replanted. And the people aren’t giving up.

On the way back to San Juan, we drove past a hand-lettered sign proclaiming, “Dios es fiel” (God is faithful) – a testimony to the source of all resilience.

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