During 2017-2018, the project team adjusted the project work plan (PWP) according to an amendment to the Research Subaward Agreement due to the catastrophic impact of hurricanes Irma and María occurred in Puerto Rico during September 2017. There was no segment of Puerto Rico that was unaffected by the climate event, as most of the island was without electricity, water, and reliable communications. The project team resumed operations on October 9, depending upon generators until December 2017. The complexity of the recovery situation across the island caused delays in the completion and reporting of our project. Nevertheless, we worked very hard to assess the various situations to develop the proper strategies to meet the objectives of the project. The hurricanes wiped out 80% of Puerto Rico’s crop value, as well as 60% of those of the urban garden participants in the project’s San Juan study area. Our low-income communities faced several urgent social, economic and environmental health priorities before they can even begin to repair or rebuild their gardens. In addition, the project team group also was impacted by human fatalities in their families, relocation outside of Puerto Rico, as well as circumstantial limitations that hindered their ability to complete their tasks according to the proposed project schedule. On January 10, 2018, the University of Georgia approved an amendment for a no cost extension until December 31, 2018.
During the third year, the Socio-economic Development group (Socio-Dev) concluded the assessment of the political, regulatory and academic framework from local agencies and institutions (municipal and Commonwealth agencies) documented the agricultural sector in terms of regulations, permit process, incentives, among others. As well, the Physical Spatial & Land Use Analysis group finished phase I and II for the analysis of vacant plots in the municipality of San Juan, the field visits to all potential plots for urban orchards, validation of macro-spatial criteria to the best qualified plots, and the final recommendation for soil quality analysis. Finally, the Environmental Quality and Agricultural Technology (EQ-AgriTech Group) concluded the third step: Phase I-ESA, and the fourth step: the selection criteria (site soil sampling for environmental quality assessments) at the three (3) selected municipal properties. Phase I-ESA conducted in accordance with Standard Practice ASTM E-1527-13 did not identify evidence of recognized environmental conditions (RECs) in any of the three sites assessed. Most of the compounds or parameters analyzed were not detected in the soil of the studied plots. These included volatile organic compounds, pesticides and herbicides.
The project team worked in several drafts of the Urban Agriculture Guide, as the final outcome of this project. All the research components submitted their results and recommendations for the guide in close coordination with the Project Director, and the feedback of the other components. At this point, a final draft is under review by the director of the Land Use and Development Programs Office of the Municipality of San Juan and by the Editor. Once, the edition of the Guide is complete, we expect to present results and recommendations to the MSJ and the community.
As non-expected outcomes of this year, we developed the first urban agriculture fair on April 2017, denominated Food 0 Km, for an open encounter of urban farmers, academic and community sector. There was an opportunity to learn from farmers’ knowledge, sell and buy organic products, share agro-ecologic learning, and make connections. The event was widely disseminated in Radio, TV and newspapers. Additionally, we reported hurricane Maria impacts of nine (9) affected urban gardens (Huerto Comunitario Cosechemos, Huerto del Pilar, Zona Acuapónica, Huerto Bohío, Huerto Buena Vista Hato Rey, Huerto Comunitario Israel y Bitumul, Huerto Vivero Bosque Urbano de Capetillo, Tras Talleres, Las Monjas Buena Vista. We got information on gardens needs and coordinated voluntary team for recovery tasks. The task force connected urban farmers with volunteers of Universidad Metropolitana, as well as other entities, such as the School Laboratorio of Interamericana (UIPR CEDin), Organization Para La Naturaleza, Fire Task Force of Puerto Rico, and Las Cucharillas Marsh Project.
Systemwide Integration and Evaluation Meetings: During 3rd year of the project, four (4) integration meetings were or will be held with all the components of the Project Team (June 14, 2017; September 14, 2017; December 14, 2017; March 14, 2018). In these quarter meetings each subteam of researchers presented their reports for the corresponding period, based on the accomplished and agreed tasks per quarter. They also provided a written report. Furthermore, the project was also evaluated using and evaluation form with questions designed to provide the information needed to follow the Generic Logic Model for NIFA Reporting.
Socio-economic Development component (Socio-Dev): During the past year, the Socioeconomic Component completed the primary and secondary research, participated in several meetings and worked in the draft of the final document referred as the Urban Agriculture Guide. The survey to the general population was completed and the results were presented to the rest of the research components in April 2017. In addition, the component completed the literature review process, specifically those aspect related to the economic feasibility of urban and community agriculture and considerations to strengthen the activity. The component collaborated and participated in the First Urban Agriculture Fair that was carried out in April 2017.
In May 2017, the coordination of the interviews to the public policy and education sector was initiated. Federal and Commonwealth agencies such as the NRCS, the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Extension Service, the Municipality of San Juan, and the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company were consulted. Various interviews were conducted during June through August, however, some were suspended due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but resumed during October 2017.
The component submitted the results and recommendations for the Urban Agriculture Guide in close coordination with the project PI, and with the input of the rest of the components. A final draft was sent to the PI for revision in February 2018. The component also prepared maps depicting opportunities to be included in the Guide. The component developed recommendations for the municipality, the urban farmers and others that can be implemented by either sector. In addition, a list of competitive and programmatic funding opportunities that can be used by the municipalities and the urban farmers was prepared.
Community Participation and capacity Building Component (Comm-Capacity): Comm-Capacity is a key team to gave feedback to other team components. They worked together with the SocioDev Group and EQ-AgroTech group to guarantee that the needs of the urban farmers are included. As well, they worked with Physical-Spatial & Land Use Analysis Component (PHSP) Group to discuss spatial criteria to select potential plots for urban gardens.
During the months of March 2017 through February 2018, the Participation Component held a total of 24 meetings. These meetings focused on finalizing several aspects of the research. The component reviewed the list of local agencies and institutions (municipal and Commonwealth agencies) of the Municipality of San Juan that were assessed to evaluate the political, regulatory and academic framework. The component also finalized the Pricing spreadsheet for the toolbox and participated in the Urban Agricultural Fair organized by the Metropolitan University. The component finished the data analysis and presented a Final Report, in addition to the recommendations and feedback provided to the Socio-economic Development Component throughout the project.
For the community participation section of the guide, all members of the Component prepared and edited their contributions to the guide. In addition, along with the Socio-Economic Development component, the Participation component helped facilitate two meetings for all project components to receive feedback on the integrated guide. A comments guide and presentation were prepared and submitted to the Project PI. Additional support was provided to the PHSP Component, including the revision of plot selection criteria and potential need for agronomic soil analysis as well as suggested tests. The component supported in the preparation of a detailed outline for the guide, prepared a logistics packet for the Urban Agriculture fair, and provided feedback on the non-technical poster for this project. Lastly the Participation Component continued with Urban Network support by visiting the Capetillo Urban Garden.
In this period one of the Cooperating farmers had to resign, and a new cooperating farmer was integrated into the project. Her interventions have already produced several introspective revisions of the Guide and two illustrative diagrams. The illustrations highlight the participatory selection process as well as the plot selection process. She has also brought new energy and a new perspective for the potential future guide presentations.
The first objective of the project is to Construct a robust and easily replicable methodology for communities to support the different array of productive urban farmers -especially existing under-served or limited-resources and community-based farmers-, including criteria to identify available and apt properties that could be developed for a productive and environmentally restorative urban farming system in their jurisdictions.
- We developed the final map with the current urban gardens, the potential vacant green lots, and several layers of information in the municipality of San Juan (population density, restaurants in the area, parks and natural reserves). A buffer of 400 meters was created for each vacant lots and urban garden to provide information of accessibility. The method was using physical-spatial/land use analysis using GIS: green infrastructure, public properties and abandoned or underutilized properties within the Municipality of San Juan, specially for Río Piedras and Santurce.
- We completed third and fourth step of the site selection criteria: Phase I ESA and soil sampling in three municipal potential sites for urban gardens.
- We integrated the results of Phase I, the environmental quality Phase I and the soils analysis in the Guide.
The second objective is to Define and address the local socioeconomic, political, and institutional framework that fosters or hinders urban farming from a supply and demand perspective.
- We finished the assessment of the political, regulatory and academic framework from local agencies and institutions (municipal and Commonwealth agencies related to the agricultural sector in terms of regulations, permit process, incentives, among other as well as related federal agencies).
- The local socioeconomic, political, and institutional framework was assessed and integrated in a final report in the Guide. As well, all the policy recommendations were integrated to the guide.
The third objective is to Identify and address local educational challenges and needs in order to ensure successful capacity building and stewardship to our main target farmers and the local jurisdictions.
- Local educational challenges and needs of target farmers were identified and addressed. For this objective, several talks and workshops were organize with community farmers.
- Agriculture Fair – Food 0 Km on April 26, 2017 at the Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan.The purpose of this activity was to disseminate, for the first time, the urban agriculture project that aspires to the integrated socioeconomic development of urban and peri-urban farmers in marginalized sectors. The fair included 11 exhibitors of farmers, educational talks, sale of germinates, seedlings, medicinal plants, exhibitions, and massages, among others. Talks were on how to grow difficult crops, responsible consumption, healthy nutrition, medicinal herbs and plants, and composting. The activity stimulated the exchange of knowledge and products among farmers, students, teachers and general public. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INGyx59OrEg
- Composting Workshop. Cooperating farmer gave a workshop on 10 June 2017 on composting in the Peninsula Canteras, Santurce. As well as, the research assistant talked on the Garden Network and the steps to follow to strengthen it.
- In addition, we detected several needs related to capacitation of gardeners during post-hurricane María recovery efforts, such as a written emergency plan, as well as the mitigation strategies to address losses after the hurricane. To address post-hurricane effects, we developed a collaborative network with the Fire Task Force of Puerto Rico, the Cucharillas Marsh Project and Para La Naturaleza. With volunteers from different entities, we performed pruning of fallen trees on orchards, debris collection, weeding work beds, and lifting fallen gates. Also, the orchards received donations of bird feeders, as well as donations of food and clothing among the most needy communities.
The fourth objective is to Catalyze education through the development, publication, presentation, promotion and dissemination of a bilingual (English and Spanish) policy and practice toolbox for communities to be available to download from the web for education in formal and informal settings, and for adaptation in other jurisdictions in the United States and Latin America.
- The first draft of the content for the Urban Agriculture Guide was completed on September 1, 2017.
- Second draft was reviewed on December 14, 2017 at the System-wide integration and evaluation meeting.
- A final draft in under review of our collaborators of the Municipality of San Juan and the editor of the project.
Socio-economic development component
Our target groups were farmers (producers), local businesses (consumers), the general population (potential consumers) and local agencies (institutional and public policy framework). To study the agricultural system component, the primary research consisted of:
- Qualitative methods: a focus group and key informant interviews
- Quantitative methods: Web survey; and
- Consultations to agencies and the Municipality of San Juan.
All the measurement strategies used for the interviews, surveys and the focus group were developed in coordination with the Capacity Building Component. Cooperative farmers provided their continuous input, and later the instrument was circulated among the representatives of the other research’s components to obtain their input, before its submission to the Ana G. Mendez System’s Compliance Office. IRB protocol approval number 01-529-15.
The production was represented by the community urban farmers in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The research methods used was a focus group and one on one interviews, and visits to the gardens, which ensured greater participation. The selection of farmers was based on a list of the urban gardens and their leaders provided by the cooperative farmers. Additional participating urban gardens were identified using the snowball technique. The purpose of this approach was to know their physical and operational characteristics, how they started, their collaboration networks, and to identify their challenges and opportunities. In total 15 representatives of urban farms were consulted in the municipality of San Juan.
The current and potential demand, as well as the distribution, was investigated through interviews with chefs or owners of restaurants and local distributors of foods. The purpose was to have an idea of the potential buyers of the urban farmers’ products in San Juan, as well as to investigate and define the existing and potential demand, based on the needs of customers, their perceptions, behavior, preferences and market needs. The businesses interviewed were recommended by the Capacity Development Component, and by members of other working groups. In total, 11 businesses were interviewed, which included food trucks, restaurants, and local markets among others.
In addition, a survey was conducted to investigate the willingness of the Puerto Rico’s general population to buy and support this type of products, as well as their perceptions, behavior, preferences and socioeconomic profile. The method was a web survey, that was available for two months. There was a response from 492 participants.
Finally, the existing institutional and public policy framework was assessed based on consultations to agencies that are related to the agricultural sector or local economic development. The purpose was to identify policies or programs with the potential to encourage or hinder the development of sustainable urban agriculture in San Juan and the rest of Puerto Rico. In total, 10 consultations were conducted to various offices representative of seven agencies and the Municipality of San Juan.
Physical Spatial & Land Use Analysis; To achieve goal, we used the tools of spatial analysis ArcGIS, Google Earth and aerial photos, analysis of the property inventory of the Center for Municipal Revenue Collection (CRIM, for its acronym in Spanish) and conditions of the land, as well as field visits. The spatial analysis was under the coordination of the Office of Planning and Territorial Planning of the Municipality of San Juan, and incorporated students from the School of Environmental Affairs of the Metropolitan University in the Geographical Information System Laboratory. The initial task was the development of a land inventory, which was carried out in several stages.
The cooperating farmers worked on the literature review and incorporated their life experiences into the development of 11 macro spatial criteria for the selection of potential plots for urban gardens. The macro-spatial criteria were discussed with the work team and the recommendations of the Office of Planning and Territorial Planning of the Municipality of San Juan were incorporated.
The selection of appropriate plots of land for agriculture in urban areas began with the establishment of minimum criteria in order to avoid excluding potential sites (Eanes & Ventura, 2015). The objective was to create a comprehensive land inventory. In this way, all unoccupied lands that were owned by the state or private lands were evaluated and then “filtered” with the most specific criteria. For this selection, we use the ArcGIS and the interpretation of the aerial photography of the study area.
The macro-spatial criteria used for the first selection of vacant parcels of land in urban areas were mainly based on the adequate area of the land to carry out the agricultural activity. The size criterion in the United States varies from 500 square feet (Oakland, Oklahoma) to 2,500 square feet in Madison Wisconsin (Puente Asuero, 2013). In Boston a limit of 10,000 square feet was established for the plots (Chin, Infahsaeng, Jakus, & Oorthuys, 2013). For this study, cooperative farmers recommended a size with a solar area greater than 600 square meters or 6,458 square feet.
We also take into account the legal or natural risk aspects that would allow or facilitate the activity of agriculture in the field. No vacant parcels of land that were within wetland areas were considered, classified as national reserves or parks, cemeteries, golf courses, playgrounds, or with short-term development plans. Neither the inclusion of land spaces adjacent to roads and easement due to the complexity of permits, community access and security elements.
Environmental quality Component: As part of the environmental quality analysis, a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) in conformance with ASTM Standard Practice E-1527-13 was conducted at three parcels of land in the Municipality of San Juan. The parcels selected for study were those with agreements with the Municipality of San Juan. Two of the parcels are located within the Peninsula de Cantera area (Calle A and Calle Los Padres) and one in the Venus Garden Community Recreational Park. The required federal and state environmental databases were reviewed for records regarding possible hazardous material handling, spills, storage, production, or remediation at the parcels or in the vicinity areas of the parcels. Historical use information sources and maps were consulted to develop a history of the previous uses of the parcels and surrounding area to identify the likelihood of past uses having led to recognized environmental conditions in connection with the parcels. To obtain information indicating the likelihood of identifying recognized environmental conditions, a visual inspection of the sites were performed, and at least one person knowledgeable of the uses and physical characteristics of the parcels was interviewed.
Limited soil testing were conducted to support the environmental quality evaluation of the parcels. Soil quality analysis were performed to assess the presence of contaminants that could limit the reuse of the parcels for developing an urban garden or that could represent a risk to human health. Soil sampling activities were conducted at the three parcels on December 14, 2017. The sampling consisted on the collection of two (2) top soil samples at two representative locations at each parcel. Soil samples were tested for the following parameters: pH, organic material, nutrients, micronutrients, metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), pesticides and herbicides. There are no federal or state guidelines for agricultural soils or agricultural reuse standards. Most states set guidelines for soil cleanup with risk-based standards based on anticipated reuse of the property. Analytical results were compared to the EPA Regional Screening Levels (RSL) for Chemical Contaminants at Superfund Sites (2017). The EPA Regional Screening Levels provide comparison values for residential and commercial/industrial exposures to soil, air, and drinking water. They are risk-based concentrations that are intended to assist risk assessors and others in initial screening-level evaluations of environmental measurements. For the purpose of this analysis, the residential clean-up levels are used since they are the most restrictive criteria available.
There’s a growing interest and need for small scale, sustainable urban agriculture in Puerto Rico. Urban farming, is seen as an opportunity not only as an income for undeserved populations. It is an opportunity for urban revitalization, social interactions and community development. However, urban farmers need support from institutions, such as municipalities.
This research provides recommendations to support and strengthen urban agriculture practices in Puerto Rico.
Physical Spatial & Land use Analysis (PSCH)
The spatial analysis of vacant lots in the municipality of San Juan finished a first inventory of 98 vacant lots for potential urban orchards. The results of this analysis demonstrated that the vast majority of the lots had private ownership. One of the biggest limitations at this stage was the time and effort of the spatial analysis and the lack of precision of the the CRIM property registry. In the second stage (field visits), we discarded 71 plots in which (1) the coordinates did not coincide with the GIS layers; (2) there were several cadastral numbers for a single site in the inventory; (3) a construction in process was found; (4) the ground had already been waterproofed with asphalt or cement for other uses such as parking lots/abandoned public car storage; (5) they were courtyards of private houses; or (6) the socioeconomic profile did not coincide with disadvantaged communities. The twenty-seven (27) remaining plots were evaluated with the rubric of macro spatial criteria, and them fulfilled the criteria of soil (93%), slope (89%), permeability (77%), vehicular access (96%), and desirable attributes such as access to the urban train (93%). The criteria of less compliance in the plots were those of presence of undesirable attributes, such as the presence of gas stations next door (59%), access to sunlight (48%), access to water (45%), and safety (37%). As a result of this analysis, nine (9) plots obtained scores greater than 7 points, classified with very good potential (7-8 points) and excellent potential (9-10 points). Please refer to the methodology of this component to understand the criteria.
Nine private lots qualified for the evaluation of soil quality; However, the attempts to contact the owners were unsuccessful due to the lack of updating of the contact information in the property registry or, failing that, when they were contacted they did not have interest in having their land for potential agreements for the creation of urban community gardens. According to Miccoli, Finucci, & Murro (2014), for owners of a vacant land, the use for agriculture competes directly with alternative uses that are cataloged as higher cost-effectiveness. Our study corroborates once again that one of the greatest limitations for communities that want to develop an urban garden is access to land. This in turn is one of the essential components that the municipality of San Juan must consider when launching a plan for the development of the Urban Agriculture System. To expand the possibilities of vacant lots, the municipality of San Juan offered the contacts of community leaders who have agreements for the use of plots of public tenure under agreements with the Municipality. The leaders of communities contacted were Península de Canteras in Santurce, Bravos de Boston in Santurce and the Parque de la Urbanization Venus Gardens, in Cupey.
To determine the public accessibility between vacant lots and the support system (eg density population, restaurants, parks) we analyze a buffer of 400 meters. This conservative radio is taken following the indicators of the European Commission of the Environment, the Ministry of Environment and Territory and the Italian Environmental Protection Agency (Ambiente Italia Research Institute, 2003). The distance of 400 meters to 500 meters is equivalent to about 15 minutes walking. This radial distance is considered ideal for public, such as children, seniors and people with disabilities to have access to services within open spaces. [The following maps are in Spanish, we are in the process of translation]
Environmental quality (EQ-AgriTech) results
Soil quality sampling. There is no soil environmental assessment criteria or contamination levels established for agricultural soils or soils that are intended to be reused for urban gardens. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established assessment levels for risk-based soil cleaning or remediation for anticipated reuse of property (residential, commercial and / or industrial uses). The analytical results obtained in this study were compared to the EPA’s Regional Assessment Levels (RSL) in 2017 for chemical contaminants at sites evaluated under the Superfund program. These levels provide comparison values based on exposure risk for residential, commercial and industrial uses. These are concentrations based on different exposure routes that are intended to assist in initial environmental risk assessments but are not regulatory standards. For the purposes of the present analysis, RSLs are used for residential remediation since they are the most restrictive criteria available. In addition, the Preliminary Remediation Goals (PRGs) of Region 9 of the EPA 2009 are used to supplement the RSLs. Although the 2017 EPA RSLs for chemical contaminants were developed with the purpose of integrating the remediation levels and targets established in the different regions of EPA before 2017 (including Region 9 PRGs), for some of the parameters of interest in this study there are no established RSLs.
Educational & Outreach Activities
- Gardens Network Orientation, September 19, 2016, San Juan, PR – The Community Development component had its first orientation to 30 gardeners at the Restaurant Department of Food in Punta Las Marias with the purpose of reactivating the network of orchards with effective strategies.
- Agroecology workshop, Río Piedras, PR – February 9, 2017, agronomist Ian Pagán gave a talk on agroecology to 15 people from SJ communities interested in urban farming.
- Urban agriculture Fair, San Juan, PR April 26, 2017 – The Urban Agriculture Fair was held at the lobby and gazebos of the Universidad Metropolitana in Cupey. The purpose of this activity was to disseminate, for the first time, the urban agriculture project that aims at the integrated socioeconomic development of urban and peri-urban farmers in marginalized sectors. The fair included 11 farmer exhibits, educational talks, sale of germinates, seedlings, medicinal plants, exhibitions, and massages, among others. The audience was near 100 participants composed of students, faculty, science teachers, Media, and community members, among others.
- Composting Workshop, June 10, 2017, Santurce, PR – Cooperating farmer Angel Guevarez gave a workshop on composting in the Península de Canteras. In addition, the research assistant, Eva Bayona talked about the direction of the Garden Network and the steps to follow to make it known. A monthly brigade-workshop plan was worked out to make a tour of all the orchards of SJ. The first will be the school garden of Manuel Elsaburu and Vizcarrondo.
This project constitutes the first systemic approach to urban agriculture in Puerto Rico. For the first time, we have baseline information on urban agriculture system in San Juan. There is a learning community and networking group sharing results and recommendations for the implementation of better practices on urban agriculture in Puerto Rico.
Our project developed the first urban agricultural fair denominated Food at 0 Kilometers that connected urban agricultural knowledge with participants, teachers and students interested in urban farming system. The event was widely disseminated in Radio, TV and newspapers, before and during the activities.
Other benefits to urban orchards are related with the recovery efforts coordinated post-hurricane disaster. The task force organized connected urban farmers with volunteers from the School Laboratorio of Interamericana (UIPR CEDin), Organization Para La Naturaleza, Fire Task Force of Puerto Rico, and Las Cucharillas Marsh Project.
During 2017, two grants were approved by the USDA-NIFA that benefit the project leader, graduate students and public school teachers.
Increase Hispanic students’ success in agriculture-related education in Puerto Rico. The objectives are: to improve the graduate curriculum with agriculture sciences; to increase under-represented graduate students’ support to ensure educational equity and impact recruitment in agriculture-related education and future workforce; and to develop a network of experiential learning opportunities that prepare students for success in the food and agricultural sciences system. The project support 24 credits scholarships, summer internships and stipends for ten (10) graduate students. We developed and approved two graduated courses (6 credits) in Sustainable Agriculture and Urban Agriculture at Universidad Metropolitana, available to those that want to increase knowledge and practice in agriculture sciences.
- Agriculture literacy through Immersive Learning Outdoors Experience. The project geared to increase the number of secondary teachers (8th to 12th grade) trained in food, agriculture, natural resources and humans science in Puerto Rico through a professional development and immersive outdoors experiential learning program. The project impact 20 active teachers for all disciplines from secondary schools (8th to 12th grades) of the Humacao Educational Region (HER), specifically schools from the USDA-Promise Zone in PR.
- The SocioDev Group finalized the baseline information on the socio-economic environment of urban farmers at the Municipality of San Juan, as well as the evaluation of the political, regulatory and academic framework of the municipal and commonwealth agencies of the municipality of San Juan.
- The PHSP Group completed the selection of potential sites for urban gardens as well as physical-spatial maps.
- The EQ-AgriTech Group finalized the Phase I (ESA) and the soil quality sampling and analysis in three municipal sites.
- The Comm-Capacity Group completed the farmer’s educational needs.