Jaime Pellicier says there's nothing new about what he teaches in communities across central and south Puerto Rico. A retired farmer, Jaime has spent all his life studying centuries-old techniques in sustainable agriculture.
"Going back to our ancestors, they had knowledge about how to use the earth and not damage it." Jaime says. "I went back to learn how they did it and integrated it. Let's go back to how they did it." But he wasn't satisfied simply farming sustainably; he set out on a mission to teach others to do the same.
Jaime founded AFUEA Inc., which stands for Agricultores Forjando Una Exitosa Agricultura (in English, Farmers Forging Successful Agriculture), a nonprofit organization that teaches families, students, other farmers, local leaders, and community organizations how to sustainably fish and grow produce for food and home remedies. He also helps them market and sell their food from their homes, schools or neighborhood markets.
Jomarys Maldonado saw some of the families Jaime had trained selling homegrown produce at a community market and contacted him so she could bring him to assist other communities. She is community development program supervisor at Ponce Neighborhood Housing Services
, a NeighborWorks America network organization.
"We ally with Jaime and his organization, because one of our goals is to promote economic growth in these communities that have a lack of essential services, like education, job opportunities and health care service," Maldonado says. "With agriculture, we promote health care knowledge and also economic growth."
Jaime's dedication to teaching those skills has earned him the 2021-2022 NeighborWorks America Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership
, a recognition he never expected to
Jaime Pellicier Illustration/Audrey Chan
achieve. "It's my life mission," he says. "I want to make sure people understand how to heal themselves with the plants they grow in a sustainable, affordable system."
Jaime collaborates with farmers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture
and the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus, to teach and mentor aspiring farmers, especially in underserved communities. They help more than 10 new farmers each year develop self-sustaining products that can provide an income for their families. AFUEA gives them technical assistance, tools and equipment so they can generate crops free of chemicals, develop their own compost, and create economic opportunities for themselves.
The organization works with local schools, teaching young people how to grow and sell agricultural products; the students have raised hundreds of dollars for their schools. AFUEA also leads community workshops on topics such as composting, urban agriculture, self-sustaining communities and agroecology.
AFUEA operates from the homes of volunteers, where students come and learn on the land. The newest center is in a house next to Jaime's own mountaintop farm. When the house went up for sale, Jaime used his retirement funds to buy the property, creating a new teaching center that has accommodations for groups to stay, while learning from Jaime on his farm. The farm attracts people from hours away and farther; a coalition of women farmers from North Carolina recently spent a week at the center learning from Jaime.
None of this is easy work, and Jaime admits he has often thought of quitting, "but people will come to me and say, ‘You have changed my life' – even teenagers and young adults," Jaime says. "That empowers me in such a way that from here until I leave this Earth, I will do this work."