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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

At Family Market, hopeful signs for nutrition & the future of island agriculture

At the monthly “Mercado Familiar” (Family Market), such as the one held in Gurabo on Wednesday, customers who receive nutrition assistance benefits can purchase food items with their PAN card. (Photo by Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)

By Richard Gutiérrez

Recently the STAR reported on Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s announcement of $103 million in benefits through the Nutrition Assistance Program (PAN by its Spanish acronym) for September. PAN benefits hundreds of thousands of families around the island, as well as those who can’t work because of specific disabilities.

Now perhaps this may seem like something that will only benefit those program participants, but what about the island’s local and overall economy and agriculture? How might they benefit from something like this, considering most food products are imported to the island instead of locally planted and grown?

Well, quite a lot, according to the island Family Department. On Wednesday, Gurabo held its monthly farmer’s market, which is commonly known as “Mercado Familiar” (Family Market). It is where many area residents go to purchase food items, especially fruits and vegetables. During the monthly events, those who receive nutrition assistance benefits can purchase food items with the PAN card.

At Wednesday’s family market, the turnout was fairly impressive for the three farmers who participated, perhaps not just because of the extra money they took in via regular customers who receive PAN benefits, but because on that day, those who qualified received two $40 vouchers to use specifically at the event. The vouchers were given to those older than 60 years old and are part of the PAN program.

“Here in Gurabo, we have approximately 6,500 families that participate in the nutrition benefits program,” César Casus Rivera, the associated director of the Family Socioeconomic Development Administration, told the STAR. “In addition, these people were impacted with a percentage adjustment that was provided to them in September -- over 50 percent more than what they regularly receive.”

“With the large number of people who live here and participate in the nutrition benefits program, and the fact that these people received an additional amount in their benefits, it results in many people coming here and enjoying fresh products from the island,” he added. “But it’s not just that. Today we had an event in the coliseum where we gave away 450 vouchers to use specifically at this event, if they met the requirement. We were able to give away all 450 of these vouchers in record time, by 7:30 [a.m.] they were already gone. This has boosted agriculture on the island, because when people come to the farmer’s market they have a specific amount that is uniquely and exclusively to be used at the farmer’s market. This obviously doesn’t only help products get sold, but it also creates jobs, because every farmer usually has around 30 to 40 employees, and in these family markets they can use all of their employees and even add new ones because of the high demand -- in a sense, moving the island’s economy.”

“So many people have come to the event,” added Heumara Rivera, an auxiliary office system secretary who works with Casus Rivera in the Caguas Region. “The overall combination of more than 450 people who received the $40 vouchers and those who came additionally who participate in the nutrition benefits program, or even those who do not, have made for a spectacular number of people coming to this event and supporting the local economy of the island.”

Rivera pointed out that in only three hours, the farmers were nearly sold out.

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