The passage of tropical cyclones often brings disastrous impacts to the agricultural sector because it entails damage to infrastructure, flooding in agricultural areas, and destruction of crops. Such is the case when Hurricane ‘Fiona’ swept Puerto Rico last September 2022. The United States commonwealth, with around 3.1 million people importing more than 85% of all its food has, once again, been pushed to the edge of food insecurity.
According to the report from Puerto Rico’s Department of Agriculture, the hurricane left around $100 million in crop damage and destroyed the vast majority of the territory’s crops and livestock. However, given the territory’s location in the Caribbean, Fiona was not the first and is definitely not the last storm to impact Puerto Rico.
Francisco Santana, the founder of an indoor vertical farming company Grupo Vesan, is one of the leading proponents of the farming method in Puerto Rico. He and his group established an 8,000-square-foot hydroponic warehouse where they germinate and nurture a variety of crops. Their delicate lettuce crops survived the onslaught of Hurricane Fiona and they were the only ones on the hard-hit southern coast of Puerto Rico to ship produce, according to Santana.
On an island getting a lot of sunshine and rain, indoor hydroponic farms remain an oddity. Many people still prefer traditional outdoor farming because of the energy, nutrient, and water cost needed to have a controlled environment indoors. However, the increasing number of extreme weather events is pushing more farmers to consider indoor farming as an option to move forward. It is in this trend that Grupo Vesan and other established indoor farms are trying to make an impact by creating an education and research center to promote indoor agriculture across Puerto Rico and helping other farmers put up start-up capital for the system.