From soil to solidarity

MCC partner Finca Eirene connects faith, food and people through agroecology

A woman gesturing to lush trees in a forest

Agroecology – the integration of ecological principles to agricultural systems and practices – is a deeply spiritual practice for Kelmadis Pérez Rivera, founder of Finca Eirene, a woman-led agroecological farm in rural Toa Alta, Puerto Rico.  

“Those are my greatest moments of prayer when I’m planting. I pray for that seed,” she says.  

Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean woven with rich flora and fauna that once had a vibrant agricultural industry, faces challenges deeply rooted in its ongoing colonial history and a changing climate.  

From centuries of Spanish colonial rule to becoming a United States territory in 1898, Puerto Rico’s local food system has suffered from the consequences of colonial practices and policies. Monoculture farming pushed cash crops like coffee and sugar cane for exports, reducing the self-reliance and sustainability of local farms and communities. This has increased Puerto Rico’s dependency on the U.S. for imports and food security.    

Since the 1930’s, Mennonites and non-governmental organizations, including MCC, have had a notable impact on the island of Puerto Rico in the areas of health, education, community-building and disaster response.  

Today, MCC is walking alongside local farmers in Puerto Rico like Pérez Rivera. On her small, 2-acre farm, she is pursuing food-oriented community development and climate change solutions through agroecology.

"Total well-being of everything"

“I took ‘eirene’ from the Greek in the New Testament, which is usually translated as the word for peace,” says Pérez Rivera. “It is a peace that includes balance, a harmony in social, economic, political and natural aspects. It’s a total well-being of everything.”

As a self-described ‘ecofeminist,’ Pérez Rivera experiences how women and nature are oppressed and exploited in similar ways. She explains, “Within ecofeminism is that mixture of denouncing how I as a woman find challenges, difficulties or oppressions equal or similar to those suffered by nature.”

A woman standing in front of lush green trees
Kelmadis Pérez Rivera gives a tour of her farm in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico in May 2024. MCC photo/Yujin Kim

“For me [as a woman], getting access to land here in Puerto Rico is very difficult,” she says. “I admit that it helps me to be married, but if I had been single, I would still be looking for a farm.”  

When she acquired her two acres of land in November 2023, people thought that she would cut down the forest and put the land to work immediately.  

However, she took a different approach: “…what I believe it is to conserve, which is to care, to carry things in their harmony, in their rhythm.” Today, Pérez Rivera is still getting to know the land. She watches what grows and tries to disturb as little of the land as possible when planting. 

Implementing climate solutions through agroecology

In 2017, Hurricane Maria brought unprecedented devastation to Puerto Rico, with 80% of the island's crops destroyed, leading to significant food shortages. The slow and neglectful response from the U.S. government exacerbated the already vulnerable situation. As the island continues to recover, it also grapples with the increasingly intense impacts of climate change, including frequent hurricanes, extreme heatwaves and unpredictable weather patterns.  

The impacts of climate change are apparent to Pérez Rivera and local farmers. They experience frequent and consecutive heat alerts and unusual rain events. She says, “I don’t remember these temperatures in Puerto Rico. Not even in the hottest summers.”  

Warming ocean waters bring more intense hurricanes to the island. For Pérez Rivera and her family, preparing for hurricane season begins as soon as May or June each year. Part of that preparation is to gather up her free-range chickens and put them in crates for their protection. Even so, she says she loses two or more chickens each time a hurricane passes. 

A woman crouching looking into a chicken coop
Kelmadis Pérez Rivera checks on her chickens at her farm in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico in May 2024. MCC photo/Yujin Kim

“These last two years in particular have been very hard… Here, there is always a rainy season, a dry season and people were already preparing to work the land,” she says. “But these drastic events… extreme heat alerts are affecting the production. For example, panas (breadfruits) and mangos [production] dropped dramatically. What I used to go to the forest to feed myself, I have to replace with something else.”

As Pérez Rivera adapts to these new weather patterns, like heavy rains, she says, “We have to be very careful with how [crops are] planted to avoid soil erosion, so that is why I focus more on agroforestry and agroecology. It allows me to take better care of the land.”

According to her, agroecology and agroforestry – the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and livestock systems – are sustainable methods for mitigating and adapting to climate change. “The agroforestry system allows us to reduce those impacts, so that those impacts are not so severe, and it is also one of the methods that has been scientifically proven to help the planet recover from the effects of climate change,” she explains. 

Constant care for soil, food and people

Everything has a place and purpose in Finca Eirene. The farm embraces biodiversity in the soil and of plants and pollinators that visit the green dense shelter. The thick, free-spirited trees and their roots protect the soil from erosion and promote water infiltration. Chickens roam around freely, nourishing the soil with their manure and controlling the weeds and pests. Pérez Rivera makes her own compost and mulch with fallen trees and grass clippings.

Chickens in a lush green forest
Chickens at Finca Eirene, Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, take a dust bath. Dust baths help them keep their feathers clean and free from parasites. MCC photo/Yujin Kim

“I try to interrupt or disturb as little as possible [in] the area I work,” she says. “Within agroecology, one of the things that is most promoted is the protection of the soil.”

Bananas growing on a tree
Banana plants grown in Finca Eirene, Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. The large leaves of banana plants create a canopy that provides shade, retaining soil moisture during dry periods. The root system of banana plants also helps stabilize the soil. MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas

Pérez Rivera advocates for care and solidarity for the ecosystem and works to reconnect people with the land and food. She says, “In agroecology we encourage maintaining that constant care and getting people involved.”  

She emphasizes the importance of people’s ability to grow local food to sustain their well-being, rather than solely depending on supermarkets and imported foods that often are not representative of what is grown on the island.  

Despite the tropical climate that allows farmers to grow crops year-round, the island imports 85% of its food. Puerto Rico’s current relationship with the U.S., along with policies such as the 1920 Jones Act, hinders Puerto Ricans’ connection to their land, local food, agricultural traditions and livelihood.  

The Jones Act requires that maritime cargo entering U.S. territories like Puerto Rico must be U.S.-owned, crewed, registered and built vessels. This creates an immediate barrier for receiving goods and emergency aid from neighboring countries and increases carbon emissions, as nearby nations’ ships must detour to U.S. ports, such as those in Florida, before reaching Puerto Rico. 

A man and woman talking on a balcony in a lush green forest
Kelmadis Pérez Rivera and Doug Day Kaufman, executive director of Anabaptist Climate Collaborative, engage in a conversation around climate change. MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas 

With a grant from MCC, Finca Eirene intends to build a greenhouse with a rainwater collection system later this year. The greenhouse will help tomatoes, cabbage, basil, onions, carrots, ginger and marigolds grow year-round. The controlled environment provides a protected area for seedlings to mature and will increase the community’s access to locally grown foods. The 600-gallon rainwater collection system will help sustain the farm's needs during periods of drought by securing water resources for the plants.

Pérez Rivera plans to invite volunteers to help build the greenhouse and part of the rainwater collection system. It will be an educational opportunity for young or beginner agroecological farmers to develop knowledge and skills. “We’re seeing more young people returning to farming,” she says.

Jean Carlos Arce, Puerto Rico program coordinator for MCC East Coast, says, “Our support of Finca Eirene will allow them to bring together the community on a project that will help them properly face the ever-changing climate conditions on the island.”

Pérez Rivera is grateful for the grant from MCC because “getting support for this type of project in Puerto Rico is very difficult.” She explains how government funding for agriculture projects is often limited to conventional farming methods that involve chemical fertilizers and pesticides. She says, “I don’t want any of that here.”

A group of people walking in a forest
MCC and Anabaptist Climate Collaborative staff tour Finca Eirene in May 2024. The biodiversity at Finca Eirene creates an ecosystem of care and resilience. MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas

Pérez Rivera’s faith in God is the inspiration behind her agroecological practices. She reflects, “The heavens tell the glory of God in all moments. For me, every day is waking up to God’s goodness and remembering that commandment in Genesis to take care of the earth.”

Jesus’ parables, often filled with agricultural analogies, also resonate with her. “That always spoke to me. And being able to work on it also helps me to connect and deepen this small seed.”

MCC’s commitment to creation care

Through partnerships with organizations like Finca Eirene, MCC is responding to the basic food and community needs of people in Puerto Rico who face struggles caused by centuries of colonization and the growing intensity of our changing climate.

In all of our work, in Puerto Rico and beyond, MCC envisions communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation.

Ecological restoration at MCC’s Welcoming Place campus in Akron, Pennsylvania aims to transition 70% of the entire campus to native plant species. As a result, staff, visitors and local community members alike are growing in awareness of biodiversity and native landscaping as a way to care for God’s creation.

Around the world, MCC’s partners work to support people in adapting to the challenges of climate change. In Rwanda, for example, MCC partner Peace and Development Network (PDN) is tackling food insecurity and climate challenges through conservation agriculture, which includes minimal tilling, mulching and crop rotation. These techniques restore soil health and increase crop yields for farmers and help communities find steadiness amid the uncertainty that climate change brings.  

Climate change is making difficult situations even worse for farmers like Pérez Rivera and vulnerable communities around the world. MCC encourages U.S. and Canadian supporters to take advocacy action to address the root causes of climate change through our Climate Action for Peace campaign. Visit to learn more and take action.

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