For most people, Puerto Rico conjures up images of beaches, sunshine and healthy living, presumably with plentiful tropical produce. In reality however, the country’s supermarkets, where most people shop, are stocked with imported foods and local farmers have struggled to compete. To help rebuild support for the island’s fresh produce, the Old San Juan Farmers’ Market was established in 2010 in the city’s historic center; an explosion of color and vibrant flavors and the newest member of Slow Food’s network of good, clean and fair farmers’ markets – the Earth Markets.
The Old San Juan Farmers’ Market, called Mercado Agricula Natural in Spanish, is held every Saturday morning in the internal courtyard of the Museo de Arte e Historia in Puerto Rico’s historic area by the sea. It is privately managed in collaboration with the very active Slow Food Boricua Convivium, and the organizers have selected around 40 small-scale producers from across the island for their commitment to good, clean and fair food production.
With a focus on the link between nutrition, health and a natural lifestyle, the market offers a striking quantity and quality of fresh produce. Coconuts, bananas, sour sop, mangos, plantains, star fruit, yucca, peppers, tomatoes, avocados, passion fruit, breadfruit and citrus fruits according to the season as well as eggs and dairy products, sourdough bread, coffee, sweets, flowers and natural beauty/hygiene products. The market is ‘meat-free’ and the street foods stalls also prepare vegetarian and vegan dishes.
As one of the few places on the island where high quality local food can be found, the Old San Juan Farmers’ Market offers a direction for the future. A report from 2007 indicates that the island was then producing a staggeringly low 10% of total food consumed, and that if imports were to stop fresh food would run out literally in around ten days. Furthermore, the quality of U.S. imports is perceived to be “relatively low” and there is concern about the lack of information on the “more than 3,000 artificial substances (that) are legal to be added to food produced in the U.S., many of which are proven to be dangerous for human health.”
The decline in local food production began with post-war industrialization policies that ignored agriculture and favored imports, and is linked to the continuing steady decline in fertile agricultural land due to development, overuse of agricultural chemicals and reduced numbers of people wanting to own/work farms. Consequently, Puerto Rico’s agricultural biodiversity is suffering.
The Earth Market is a small but important step for the Puerto Rican agricultural and gastronomic pride, on an island that has suffered, and continues to suffer, heavily from a kind of gastronomic colonization.
For more information on the Earth Markets, visit the website: www.earthmarkets.net