Building a Sustainable Farm that Feeds and Educates in Puerto Rico


The major crop on our farm in Puerto Rico is education and promoting the economic development of our island through agriculture.

We of course grow food for people to eat. That’s what farmers do, and our farm in Manati on the north central coast supplies our island’s gastronomic market with lots of leafy plants like lettuce, kale, arugula, cilantro, and pac choi, plus peppers, radishes, carrots, eggplants, mangos, and much more.

Our top customers are local restaurants, hotels, and a supermarket chain called La hacienda meat center.

Yet we also see ourselves as an educational organization whose mission is to advance economic development and sustainability through agro-tourism.

I grew up in a home with animals and plants, but we weren’t commercial farmers. Many people in my generation worked in the pharmaceutical and the bio-pharmaceutical industry, along with thousands of other Puerto Ricans. My wife was one of them. During a course to renew her chemist’s license, she learned about hydroponics and how this method of agriculture could support restaurants.

We had a piece of land that was well-suited for this kind of project, so we met with a couple of chefs, asked them what they needed, and started our farm and with friends created a collective farmer network that would supply the local market. We call our farm Frutos del Guacabo, which is named in honor of Chief Guacabó, an indigenous leader from the Taino period of history. His people were some of Puerto Rico’s original farmers.

Today, Puerto Rico imports about 85 percent of its food. While it’s good to be a part of a global food system, we believe that our island can do better. At Frutos del Guacabo, we are committed to the local economy and a farm-to-table strategy that allows us to meet the needs of the nearby gastronomic and cocktail scene.

We are also visible. We enjoy showing people what we do and how we work, inviting guests to come to our farm, an agro-culinary canvas, and see our operation firsthand. We call it “lunch and learn”, where we support a sustainable farm-to-table platform by producing and educating directly on a working farm. Consider this an open invitation to you for a tour, a meal, and an educational experience.

Many of our visitors are students from our area, and it’s important for them to see agriculture and an opportunity. We also receive people from around the world, including the global culinary community. Some are day-trippers who arrive on cruise ships that dock in San Juan. Others are spending more time on the island. They include chefs, bartenders, nutritionists, church groups, and summer campers.

What they witness is a small farm of incredible versatility, as we produce a wide range of products, including many seasonal crops. At workshops and culinary events, they watch and participate in the making of goat cheese, jams, and preserves. This shows how we not only raise plants, but we add value to the harvest product.

They also see our sustainability, which involves making the most of everything we have. For example, we squeeze passion fruit into juice, in a process that leaves behind the seeds. Yet we don’t discard the seeds. Instead, we caramelize them, allowing them to become crunchy textures in desserts. We do something similar with the skins of oranges. And after we use the fruit of pineapples to make jam, we ferment the skin to make hot sauces.

We want nothing to go to waste.

Best of all, however, is that visitors see our business model, which involves keeping our ears to the ground, listening to our customers, and responding to their needs with locally grown food. Puerto Rico is an island that imports about 85 percent of our overall consumption, but we have a climate and soils that allow us to grow a variety of products.

One of my hopes for my little farm is to demonstrate that not only can we supply local customers, but also to help Puerto Rican expand its food exports beyond the rum that has led the way for so long.

The value of this local production is creating a positive impact with a triple bottom line: A positive social impact. A positive economic impact. Increased food access and availability for all Puerto Ricans.

Farming is our family business and the axel of the agriculture ecosystem we are working in. We will never forget our first customers in our local market—and the educational value of showing how this commitment can allow a small farm to flourish with sustainable farming practices and a focus on knowledge transfer.

Efren Robles

Efren Robles

Efrén Robles was born and raised in Manatí, Puerto Rico. He is the co-founder of Frutos del Guacabo, a Culinary Agro-Hub Farm and co-founder of Horizon Solutions a water treatment consulting firm. He’s a passionate businessman, committed to the growth of local food ecosystems. During the past 13 years Efren has been able to work with over one-hundred farmers and commercialize over 200 local products. He has been very active on the local gastronomic scene and with the help of his family they have developed gastronomic experiences designed to showcase the impact of local production/consumption on the near communities.

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