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A Symbol of Strength in Puerto Rico’s Fields

When Norysell Massanet left her job in the film industry and started farming, she was swimming against the stream.

In Puerto Rico, over 80 percent of farmers rely on a second income. But Norysell is one woman — with one daughter, three dogs and some goats. When we talk about grassroots feminism, the daily strength of working women like Norysell is in part what we mean.

“I cannot afford to hire somebody to build my house, so I have to do it. I have to learn carpentry,” she told me in an interview.

Grassroots International met Norysell on our 2019 delegation to the archipelago. Donors and activists witnessed Puerto Rico’s just recovery and just transformation firsthand. Norysell showed us how farmers are leading their communities towards a better relationship with their food, land and culture through agroecology.

“She’s a warrior in every sense of the word,” Yulissa Arce, the former Solidarity Program Officer for the BEAI Fund, delegation participant and a fellow Boricua, told me. For October 15th’s International Day of Rural Women, we are celebrating women warriors like Norysell.

Reclaiming Our Food, Culture, and Ourselves

Norysell’s plot sits along a mountain, but the salty breeze and views of waves still grace the fields from miles away. There, on a modest farm, she raises goats and practices a form of agroecology deeply connected to her land and culture.

As Norysell explained:

“Puerto Ricans for decades were lured to abandon their livelihoods, including their agricultural practices, and made dependent on imports. There are high rates of diabetes. When you look around you, you realize you need to do something about it.”

This is what inspired Norysell not only to take up farming, but to share her knowledge, skills and holistic way of thinking with others:

“What I do share is knowledge, through different workshops on regenerative agriculture. When I talk about ‘regenerative’ I’m not only speaking in terms of soil but also bodies. Specifically I’m starting to shift to working with adult women. I’m working on a series of workshops based on regenerative practices and overall well-being and mental health.”

Even before implementing these workshops, she was having an impact — using social media to document her farming practices and guide others. One family’s story shows how important this work can be.

« A young grandmother brought her granddaughter to see my farm, » Norysell recalled. « She told me, ‘Every night when I get home from work at the gas station, I go online and I go and check on your photos. I see what you’re doing, I see what you’re sharing and I dream. And that helps me get through the night.’ That grandmother now has a few acres of land and is finishing her house.”

« The people that write to me, that take inspiration from me are the people that pull me through, » she added.

Rebuilt with Solidarity

Norysell lives a rural life. “I don’t have any doors. I don’t have any windows,” she said. That brings her closer to nature and the land; it also makes her more vulnerable to the weather.

In the lead up to 2017 she built an open-air outdoor kitchen. It was essentially a platform with a roof to wash vegetables and cook food. She made good progress on the construction. Then the hurricane came.

Amid the decimation across the island during Hurricane Maria, her kitchen was swept away. Along with it went her hard investments of time and money — an adversity compounded on difficulties that might have ended her farming dreams.

But she was not in fact alone. Organización Boricuá, one of our grantees and a member of La Via Campesina, had received $20,000 from Grassroots International’s Caribbean Emergency Relief Fund. With it, the food sovereignty movement sprung into action all over Puerto Rico, bringing vital support to their fellow Boricua farmers, like Norysell, whose home they helped to rebuild.

Grassroots International continues to support the post-Maria recovery process, and now emergency COVID relief, through our Puerto Rico partnerships, inspired by stories like Norysell’s. As Diana Villa, Grassroots International Solidarity Program Officer reflects, “What really strikes me is her conviction that ‘there’s always a way.’”

With that conviction, Grassroots International stands in solidarity with Norysell and her fellow Puerto Ricans as they strive for the Boricua dream of reclaiming their land.


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