A 22-year old young man’s dream of transforming the agriculture sector within the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico is becoming a reality, as Jose A. Molinelli Gonzalez recently won an investment grant of 7,500 euros from Youth Time International Movement in Paris, France for a project in which he hopes to introduce urban farming within an old building in his city using hydroponic systems.
Basically, the initiative of the “Urban Hanging Gardens” seeks to renovate abandoned public buildings in the urban area of San Juan through the installation of green spaces and hydroponic gardens which can be rented out to farmers as production spaces at a low-cost price. The overall purpose is to tackle urban decay through the establishment of green spaces, while also providing farmers displaced by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and new farmers without the capital to purchase land, a cheap and efficient start-up alternative.
Jose and his team are motivated to do this project because they have a passion for fixing a problem that affects many people close to them; both through the bad effects of urban decay (criminality, disease, market failures, etc.) and the external food dependency expanded by Hurricane Maria. Jose highlighted,
“by dealing with this problem, I could see both the urban places that decorated my childhood, and the farmers that I admired as superheroes and regain their success and stance in society.”
He further explained that currently the time is just right for a project like this, since the Municipality of San Juan is facilitating the acquisition of approximately fifty (50) abandoned structures in decay through terms of gradual payment. From 2010, the Municipality of San Juan has subsidized the initial start-up rent costs of business that use and remodel these buildings for operational purposes. Also, there is currently a tax exemption on social entrepreneurship and youth entrepreneurs who are 25 and under in the country which Jose hopes to access.
In terms of social impact of such a project; Jose strongly believes that it will assist what was an emerging sector (agriculture) regain its growth, while complementing urban development. He added that this urban garden project can lead to higher employment rates, improve public health, safety and be a catalyst for mitigation of external food dependency, therefore raising value of local markets, and providing innovative ways of optimizing agriculture on the island.
The two main challenges to this project are the cooperation of the government to maintain the tax exemptions and acquisition of building and since the project is based on the factor of monthly rents for production space, the failure of tenants to pay rent could also impede the necessary allocation of funds to make the project grow. Jose explained that he won the 7,500 euros in investment primarily for the purchase of the hydroponic system components, but the project will need additional funding in areas, such as building renovation, employment and utilities, for the project to be sustainable.
However, this young entrepreneur is optimistic and has these words to say to young entrepreneurs, “seeking to solve a problem or optimize a condition in your surroundings, is the safest formula for entrepreneurial success, since the uncertainty of product demand is mitigated by the urgency and necessity of an innovative solution to deal with a problem. The success of contemporary entrepreneurial activity is highly dependent on innovation and problem solving at a societal level. Our current context transcends the fads, clichés and motifs of traditional entrepreneurship, in which the same idea could be reformulated through isomorphic mimicry in a plethora of contexts.
If you are going into entrepreneurship, be innovative, observe everything, identify spaces for growth and optimization and make them happen either by creating a solution, or encouraging others to do so.
In the words of Hannibal Barca, the Carthaginian General, you must either find a way, or create one.”
All the best to Jose and his team and we do look forward to seeing the urban hanging gardens agriculture initiative implement in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2019.