Puerto Rico has faced numerous hardships within the last year as a result of Hurricane Maria. One of the them has been getting fresh produce. Puerto Rico currently imports about 85 percent of its food, a situation that became evident following Maria. That’s why José Nolla Marrero, a 17-year-old Puerto Rican high school student, created E-Farm, a digital e-commerce platform that connects farmers across Puerto Rico with consumers. It’s an ambitious idea that started when Marrero was 15. Two years later is playing a vital role in the revitalization of Puerto Rico.
Food and farming play a huge role in the economic stability of Puerto Rico, which makes platforms like E-farm so important in the island’s recovery.
José Nolla Marrero, 17, founder of the Puerto Rican web venture e-Farm (@efarmdirect) has restarted his work linking farmers with customers after the hurricane devastation a year ago:#PuertoRico #farmtotable https://t.co/Bm3BBW9cxe
— Maggie Rowe (@rowemag) October 1, 2018
Before Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 20, 2017, Puerto Rico was beginning to see signs of an entrepreneurial wave as start up tech companies sprouted up across the island. The 2012-2013 Global Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum ranked Puerto Rico third in the availability of scientists and engineers.
Marrero is the perfect example of this young wave of entrepreneurs but instead of wanting to leave the island he wanted to connect with the people there. He participated in multiple entrepreneurship programs that earned him more than $40,000 in grant and seed money to help him develop the platform.
E-Farm was founded on the basis of helping farmers sell their produce to consumers in a modern way. Through the app, you can see and get to know the farmer and where the food is coming from before you buy it.
“I found out that people wanted a way of buying these products directly and that’s how the idea of E-Farm itself came about,” Marrero told NBC News. “My goal with E-Farm is to make every farmer an entrepreneur, so that they can be self sufficient and that they can sell their products directly to consumers.”
When Hurricane Maria hit, E-Farm’s growth was quickly halted because of what the storm did to produce in Puerto Rico.
I HAD to share these pics from @Nature_Island. A milestone moment today as the Roseau Market re-opened for the first time following Hurricane Maria! After being forced to sell their produce along the sidewalks of the city, vendors are relieved to be back at a central location. pic.twitter.com/6VyFGk6rSw
— Alison Kentish (@iamalikentish) December 1, 2017
When E-Farm first launched there was successes but things quickly turned south when Hurricane Maria hit. The storm devastated about 80 percent of all the island’s crops and damaged Puerto Rico’s dairy industry and coffee plantations.
“Hurricane Maria decimated the entire agricultural industry in Puerto Rico, which made it impossible for me to sell, since none of the farmers could sell themselves. I was also personally impacted,” Marrero told NBC News.
After Maria, there was a sense of isolation on the island since there was no electricity. With no internet and no cell service, E-Farm temporarily shut down and Marrero had difficulty even finishing school since he took online courses.
Today E-Farm is seeing a relaunch as the agriculture industry begins to recover in Puerto Rico.
E-farm today has 24 registered farms on it’s website and has shipped goods to consumers across Puerto Rico, New York, Connecticut and as far west as Montana. Marrer is currently in talks with five other farms as well as he tries to keep growing his brand.
Marrero wants the long term vision for E-Farm to be a bridge between farmers and consumers.
For farmers who sell their products on E-Farm, the platform has been instrumental in getting their businesses back up as well.
“Helping a farmer or helping anyone in your community in particular, I’ll put it this way, it feels better than getting an A+,” Marrero said. “It shows how your work really affects people in a positive way.”