Even though enough food is produced around the world to feed Earth’s population, more than 690 million people go hungry each year. When extreme weather events disrupt normal supply chains, food scarcity can aggravate the already strained situation underserved communities experience.
Puerto Rico imports over 85 percent of its food. When Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, food security became a big issue, but it’s not just severe weather events that cause food scarcity. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic impacted supply chains and caused food scarcity for many communities. That’s why EBL has begun supporting Puerto Rico’s growing food sovereignty movement as part of our overall effort to build greater resilience for the people of Puerto Rico. It’s sort of a natural outgrowth of the community resilience centers we’ve helped support with solar power, energy storage and water catchment systems. [Centro Paz Para Tí Community Resiliency Center, below]
In case you’re not familiar with the expression, “food sovereignty” is a sustainable farming system that directly benefits communities, whereby people in a given community work together to build on traditional farming knowledge in order to produce and harvest food for locals. The goal is to reduce the distance between food producers and consumers, while utilizing natural resources and sustainably supporting the livelihood of farmers.
Al Sol de Hoy is a family-owned farming business, located high atop a ridge in the mountainous region of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, that promotes food security through “the education, production, and distribution of 100% agricultural products harvested in Puerto Rico.” Al Sol buys from 15 local farming families in the region and serves as a link between local farms and local markets and restaurants who want to buy farm-fresh produce directly. Additionally, Al Sol has more than 1,000 families in their database, and they currently sell and deliver boxes of fresh produce to more than 150 families on a weekly or biweekly basis using a traditional CSA program. This service expanded significantly during the pandemic when people wanted to avoid crowded grocery stores. [Miliany and Luiz from Al Sol, below]
EBL recently helped fund a project for Al Sol de Hoy designed to pilot two new solar-related technologies while helping Al Soy store and package produce in an environmentally conscious way, without ramping up their electricity bills. This collaborative project, supported by EBL and with involvement from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, was led by Uplift Solar, a Nevada-based start-up with new technology for increasing solar panel efficiency. Uplift Solar’s new power electronics are installed inside solar panels [below] and are compatible with almost every solar panel model available. Their technology is designed to increase power production and solar panel functionality. In the second phase of the project, new solar thermal cooling technology will get installed to further support Al Sol’s operations. The refrigeration component is needed for expanding Al Sol’s box content to more delicate produce that requires refrigeration shortly after being harvested. This will also help eliminate food waste by allowing Al Sol to store extra food that had not yet been distributed.
In a simplified explanation, solar refrigeration technology absorbs the heat from the sun and uses thermal energy to turn a refrigerant chemical solution from vapor to liquid, which produces energy. Most of the energy consumed by the fridge is used to power the cooling effect, and it is sustained by insulation. Solar refrigeration is environmentally friendly because it is run completely on solar energy, which means users can also save a lot of money on their utility bills. It’s also a better form of energy production because it doesn’t rely on dirty fossil fuels or emit toxic gases.
Earlier this year, EBL installed solaEBL has visited several small farms in Puerto Rico and met with farmers to discuss their needs for reliable, renewable energy to power their operations and keep produce cool so it stays fresh before it can be delivered to market. Many of these farms are situated in remote areas where access to the island’s electrical grid is impossible or too costly. We plan to support several farms with solar-powered cool storage units, so stay tuned to hear more about these resiliency-building projects.