When a Hurricane Destroys Your Farm, You Open a Restaurant
When the path forward is covered by fallen trees, downed power lines, devastation and impossibility, what would you do?
Before the hurricane, Javier and Sonia grew crops, ran their farm stand, took care of their three boys, and managed vendor relationships for their main products, Té Sana and a line of piques (sauces).
They worked hard, they had plans, and they were growing. Their farm’s produce provided the mainstay of the business. With the popularity of their organic tea, and distribution agreements with stores all over Puerto Rico, they could begin expanding their small farm stand.
Then came María.
Acres and acres of organic tea — nurtured for years, cultivated carefully — were destroyed in a single day.
Their new home — which they’d moved into only weeks before — was completely flooded. Their children’s schools were closed.
Expansion plans became survival maneuvers.
With the rest of the Caribbean, they put long-term plans on hold. You don’t think about the future when you aren’t sure how to survive the present. No power, no water, and no crops meant no business. For a time, Javi and Sonia weren’t sure they could recover.
But they kept going.
First it was greens. Arugula by the handfuls. One of the quickest crops to grow, and more popular than ever. The hurricane had destroyed almost all the fresh produce on the island.
People were craving fresh, green, life-giving food.
Slowly, they found and grew more produce. Local farmers, after months of clearing debris and replanting, began to harvest crops. Water services returned.
Things were getting easier, but still, everything was harder.
Getting inspections and permits took even longer than usual. Specialty ingredients, equipment, and supplies were difficult to find and costly to ship in. Every setback was more than a setback: it was one more push closer to the edge, one step nearer that point of no return.
They thought about shutting it all down.
It would be easier, they knew, to leave. There were jobs elsewhere. Easier jobs. An easier life. No one goes into farming for the relaxation.
But the life they loved was here. This island. Their home.
They stayed. They rebuilt the farm. They let go of some things (you can’t rebuild a decade of organic tea cultivation in a few months). And they tried new approaches, like adding local fish to their formerly all-vegan menu.
They took one step after another toward their vision.
The vision had been the same, present in their hearts and minds before María: a farm-to-table restaurant highlighting the freshest, best local produce. Everything on the menu prepared expertly, full of flavor, presented with care.
The vision remained, but the approach to the vision?
The path forward?
That was totally different. Plans always change when they meet reality. When that reality is a hurricane, plans get demolished.
When the vision remains but the path to it is covered by fallen trees, downed power lines, devastation and impossibility, what would you do? It’s a time of soul-reckoning. You have to decide how much the vision is worth. How real it is to you.
If it’s real, you keep going. If you can still see it — just there, at the end, barely, through a tangle of obstacles you never predicted — you take a step. Then another.
On March 31, 2018, six months after Hurricane María, Sana Farm to Table Restaurant opened.
If there’s anything to learn from a hurricane, it’s that nothing is certain. You don’t move forward because you have a guarantee. You don’t work hard because you know it will all work out. It might not work out. It might be destroyed. You might find everything falling apart instead of coming together.
Knowing this, living this lesson, if you keep going forward, you do it for one reason:
You do it for the love.
Farm-to-table, ocean-to-table, but most of all, heart-to-community. Sana’s story is one of many. An entire island has faced this reality and made these choices. Some had to leave, hearts breaking. They are still here in spirit.
And Sana is here, feeling like your new best friend.
There’s chatter and energy all day, activity, coming and going. It’s a point of connection. At night, the lights glow and there’s music. The food on your plate is beautiful and it’s from the island you love. You step into this oasis that grew out of a storm, and you breathe deep.
Originally published on anniemueller.com