Each time I go to Puerto Rico, which I’ve done the past two years in a row now, I hope to have an opportunity to give back to the island that gives me so much, not because eco-tourism and voluntourism are trendy now, but because of the way, I feel when I’m there. The happiness, peace, and love that fill me when I’m there is something I NEVER feel anywhere else. Now, of course, I’m partial, and so are most of the diaspora. But it is completely valid, as there is an almost immediate feeling of comfort in hearing our accent and smelling the sea and rain in the air once you’re off the plane. With all those feelings of contentment, I always want to give back and volunteer in Puerto Rico. I haven’t always had the chance, but I like to be open to it. I hope you think about volunteering on your next vacation, wherever that might be. Because after all, you’re visiting a place that’s giving you joy, why not give back to that land and its people?
Where Did I Volunteer – Finca Don Pupa, a Pineapple farm in Lajas, Puerto Rico
How did I Sign Up – Chef Jose Andres’s charity, World Central Kitchen.
Where did I learn about the opportunity– Instagram! I mentioned in a previous post, that Instagram is an outlet I use to get inspiration for my trips. I have specific folders on what I what to see, do, and where I want to go and eat. It’s where I learned of World Central Kitchen when they were in Puerto Rico during Hurricanes Irma and Maria. I figured why not, with all the good the organization did during hurricanes, Irma and Maria, I figured they were a reputable organization.
What I did as a volunteer- So what did I do on a pineapple farm? Assist with “weeding”, maintaining the pineapples’ healthy by cleaning up the area in which they grow and turning over the soil with a rake, and spreading soil fertilizer on the other organic fruit farm. At the time of signing up, we were not told the specifics of what we would be doing, we were only given suggestions on what to wear and what to bring….we did not know to bring gloves, so we were grateful to Don Luis for giving us the extra gloves he had.
Interview I did with Don Luis:
TS- First you’re name and last name.
Luis Almodovar Morales and the farm is Don Pupa Farm
T.S.- And why is it called Don Pupa?
LM- It’s a nickname that was given to my father-in-law, he worked in agriculture, worker of the land, and he was well known in this area of Lajas, he worked with oxen carts, and he was in the sugarcane industry, he worked in the sugarcane industry and everyone knew him as Don Pupa. His name is Jorge Perez, I don’t know where Pupa comes from, but…
T.S.- Before doing this, what did you do?
LM- I worked in the plastic industry, PVC, I was a general manager of PVC company, and I did investigations, tube design.
T.S.- For how many years?
LM- Ah, from ’85 to 2006.
T.S- You studied to do that?
T.S. And your dad studied at Rutgers (of the Rutgers University of New Jersey)?
L.M.- Yes my dad studied here in Puerto Rico at the University of Puerto Rico for his Bachelor’s, and did his Master’s and Doctorate at Rutgers University. Apparently, there was some type of combination or association with the University of Puerto Rico at that time. They investigated agriculture and those type of things. He is a specialist in wheat and wheat science.
T.S.- And why a farm, and not retire somewhere else?
L.M.- Well I say retire, but it was that I was left without a job in 2008, and for one to retire, one should not retire to do nothing, one should retire to do something. And since I had this land already since 94′, this area was most favorable for sowing pineapples, because in Puerto Rico in the coastal areas, pineapple is sowed. In the North, the pineapple was sowed, and in the South, the most favorable cultivated is, on the coast. And so I had this land and began to work it. And eventually, I bought more land a while back. We are going to go to another part where we grow organically, this field is not organic, I call this artisanal, like the farmers in the past did. They used pesticides and insecticides but low grade, what they call direct spraying. In the commercial (farming) industry, broadcast is used, which is spraying on top of all the crops with the machine. That sprays the whole field to kill the weeds, whereas here, what we did today is manual, complemented by the application of herbicide directed by specific times of cultivation. That helps make it less harmful, and when the practice is done right is very safe. It’s when is done in excess, in the wrong way that it is harmful. So here we have this, and in a little, we’ll see the organic fields, that have fruits.
T.S.- And what would you like people to know about the land and of sowing in P.R.?
L.M.- In Puerto Rico?
L.M.- One of the things that I did when I started, more or less, was give a cultural and educational focus on the cultivation of the pineapple. For example, not many know the connection (history) between the pineapple and the United States, in the colonies. If you go to Mount Vernon, Virginia, where George Washington lived, when he retired from politics, he basically became an ambassador for the United States. He received a lot of people, and he always had pineapples at his table because it was a symbol of status. If you go to Baltimore, which was one of the first ports, in the ships’ manifests you’ll see they received pineapples from the Caribbean, not from Hawaii. That started at the end of the 19th century, that’s when importing pineapples from Hawaii to the United States started. One of the things that makes the pineapple valuable in the east as well as the west was the rollout of the railroad, which reduced the time of transportation, and many goods are perishable, although the pineapple is not as perishable as, let’s say lettuce, which only takes days (to spoil) the pineapple could take weeks. So the journey could take weeks to months, making it a valuable fruit. Puerto Rico is one of the few places where Caribbean Indians brought the pineapple, it was here pre-Christopher Columbus. Because when Christopher Columbus came the pineapple already existed on the island. There were three variations, one called “Bread of Sugar”, it’s native in an area of Cafe Valeria. It’s a small pineapple, really sweet and aromatic. The “Big Head” pineapple, which is a big pineapple, juicy, from the south of the island, here in Lajas, but is hardly found now. And there was another pineapple, which was called the Estoposa, which was a pineapple, which I believe was used for medicinal reasons. Because it was used as a laxative, and for abortions, but not the mature pineapple, the still green pineapple. The pineapple that’s cultivated here now is commercially known around the world as MD2. It was started in Hawaii and was brought here around 10 years ago. I participated in that program and little by little I cultivated that pineapple.
T.S- And how can people get in contact with you?
L.M.- Well via Facebook it’s Finca Don Pupa, the phone number is there and the address. And here are some samples of marmalades, we make jams, dressings, and vinaigrettes for consumption.
T.S.- And World Central Kitchen?
L.M.- Yes. World Central Kitchen has my info. If anyone whats to learn about the pineapple can contact us and we’ll do a tour.
T.S.- Well, it was a pleasure to help you a bit, I hope I helped a little. And thank you for the interview.
L.M. Yes, yes! It’s a good experience to have. Sometimes it’s hard to explain the experience or type of work that the volunteers do. And I’m going to try and work with World Kitchen, because I made sure to tell them you would need to wear long sleeves, and the volunteer times should be in the morning because in the afternoon it’s hotter. There are other things that we do like fumigate and fertilize, but it’s under the sun, and it’s hotter.
T.S.- Well thank you!
List of volunteer agencies
Techos P Mi Gente– Housing Rehabilitation and Roof Building
Para La Naturaleza– Nature-focused volunteering such as beach clean-ups.
Others can be found on the Discover Puerto Rico website.
I’m looking forward to volunteering on my upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, and I hope this gave you the inspiration to volunteer no matter where you go on your next vacation. Thank you to Don Luis for his time and hospitality. I’d also like to thank him for knocking down mangoes from his mango tree for us, for giving us sample marmalades, and for educating us on all things pineapples. FYI: I’m proud to say my Spanish has gotten better, thanks in part to me going to Puerto Rico more often. I try!- T.S.