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USDA StrikeForce Helps Alturas de Peñuelas Community Gardens Grow

UPR-SEA Agronomist Dr. Giovannie Soto (left) leads hands-on gardening class at Alturas de Peñuelas.
UPR-SEA Agronomist, Dr. Giovannie Soto (left), leads hands-on gardening class at Alturas de Peñuelas Housing Community.

During the last week of July, USDA-NRCS and University of Puerto Rico Agricultural Extension Service (UPR-SEA) staff continued their project to install community gardens across Puerto Rico. The project is a partnership between USDA agencies and UPR-SEA as part of the StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity that helps economic growth by investing in rural communities. The project partners are sharing the vision of the People’s Garden with Puerto Rico housing communities to enable them to develop, take over and maintain their community gardens.

NRCS and SEA staff conducted a five-day Home Garden and Nutrition workshop (“Huertos Caseros y Nutrición”) July 24-28 at the Alturas de Peñuelas housing community. Alturas de Peñuelas Apartments house 88 families including 313 people. The tenants are very low- to moderate-income families; elderly persons; and persons with handicaps and disabilities that are eligible to live in Section 515-financed housing.

During the week, UPR-SEA agronomist Dr. Giovannie Soto delivered several presentations to the community about the benefits of community gardens and best ways to garden, compost, and self-irrigate in the garden. He showed residents how to build, plant and maintain a garden for the community.

NRCS Agronomist, Mario Rodríguez (in hat) helps Alturas de Peñuelas youth & adults plant tire garden
Dr. Soto (left) and NRCS Agronomist, Mario Rodríguez (in hat) help Alturas de Peñuelas youth & adults plant seedlings in their tire garden.

NRCS agronomist, Mario Rodríguez (right), presented information about natural resources conservation and human social behavior practices to protect natural resources. He explained the meaning of the acronym “SWAPA +H +E” – Soil, Water, Air, Plants, Animals + Humans + Energy – to the group and exchanged ideas on how to maintain and improve resource quality, especially water quality and soil health. Also NRCS specialist gave ideas that can be used to best manage the garden site. He also described how to attract pollinators, organic methods of nutrient management, and how to manage water infiltration in the box garden.

UPR-SEA home economics professors, Dr. Zoraida Figueroa Laracuente and Dr. Lourdes Colón Burgos, also held a series of workshops for residents focused on balanced nutrition, child obesity, and the nutritional rainbow. They encouraged participants to move and shake their bodies through physical activities, and involved the kids in manual art activities.

Alturas de Peñuelas youth receive nutrition education and participate in art project.
Alturas de Peñuelas youth receive nutrition education and participate in art project.

Community administrators brought breakfast and lunch each day for all the children under 18 as part of the StrikeForce Summer Meals for Kids program. The meals were provided by local school kitchens. The USDA Food & Nutrition Service’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides free food service to all children 18 and under during the summer break. SFSP is designed to fill the nutrition gap that happens when school is not in session to make sure children get the nutritious meals they need. Children in summer camps, excursions, and other daytime events can participate, as well as walk-in children; but enrollment in a particular activity is not required.

For details on the StrikeForce Community Garden project, contact Mario Rodríguez at 787-831-3464 x116 or