Image Source: “Ciencia Pa ‘La Gente”. Radioteca.net

In Puerto Rico, increasing food security is a top goal. Puerto Rico was vulnerable to food insecurity prior to COVID-19 and the pandemic has only exacerbated those concerns. On the island, locals are creating innovative projects to increase food security and AtmaGo provides a citizen journalism platform for these community leaders to communicate their initiatives. 

As Atma Connect’s Puerto Rico Program Associate I, Erika Marrerro, recently presented an AtmaGo Citizen Journalism Workshop to the collective group of women in agricultural sciences, “Women in Ag Science” (WAGS). WAGS includes women from Puerto Rico, Colombia, China, and Brazil. They created the group to create visibility for women in agricultural science and discuss the role science can play in increasing food security. The members of the group want women to feel comfortable to join the field of agricultural sciences and help reduce the gender bias that exists within the field. To grow their communication skills and educate themselves in the importance of citizen journalism, they contacted Atma Connect to provide additional training and resources. “We were looking for ways to improve our writing to reach more general audiences and the AtmaGo workshop was a good fit for our goal,” explains Noelymar González, co-founder of Women in Ag Science and a soil science doctoral student at UC Davis in California.

During their Citizen Journalism Training, I demonstrated how to use citizen journalism to communicate the power of science to others in their communities. Among the topics of discussion, we stressed the importance of research and science in the development of society and how Citizen Journalism can inform and inspire communities. “I think we would have a better informed population if more people mastered the skill of citizen journalism,” says Noelymar.

As a scientific community, WAGS has noticed that scientists can have problems creating a relationship of trust and communication with the people they are trying to reach. This creates issues of misinformation. Some people find it easier to obtain information from non-scientific sources, probably because it is prepared in a more attractive and easy-to-read way, even if they are not educational sources. This phenomenon has been seen numerous times during the COVID-19 pandemic where misinformation has spread around the virus and vaccination efforts. 

During the workshop, we discussed how academic scientists can practice their creativity and use easy-to-understand and engaging outreach strategies, such as AtmaGo, to reach those hard-to-reach people and have a positive impact on their lives. “The experience was helpful and the practice exercises were a lot of fun!” – Noelymar González, co-founder of Women in Ag Science.

Visit Women in Ag Science and learn about their work: https://www.womeninagscience.org/

By strengthening their communications through citizen journalism, WAGS can reach and inspire new people, such as Jean Cuevas who helps run 6 community gardens throughout the Caño Martín Peña Special District in Puerto Rico. Jean regularly reads and posts in AtmaGo. In a post on AtmaGo, Jean describes how each of the gardens strengthens the local community it serves. “The Caño Garden Network was created through the relationship that each of these gardens has with the communities. This seeks to rescue and maintain a culture of planting, eliminate clandestine landfills and promote food security and sovereignty in an active community. Stay tuned for upcoming posts to learn more about each garden,” writes Jean. 

Another example is that of Marta Santos, a community leader for an initiative addressing food insecurity in communities on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico. “This group started with the Garrochales Produce initiative, which was born out of this pandemic. We as a community have seen how certain issues do not get the attention they deserve. We want to bring attention to our community garden initiatives so that other community members can feel inspired and replicate it in their communities,” explains Marta. When the pandemic hit she and her community started taking on the issue of food security because they did not know how long COVID-19 would last.  Today, the project is still going strong in the houses of community members. Each family has either a chicken farm or a vegetable garden, and food is being produced at the family level with the surplus exchanged, sold, or shared with the local community. Marta uses AtmaGo to read information about how other communities are tackling food security and learn from them. She has also written posts to educate and inspire others.

These are just a few examples of how citizen journalism is bringing together groups of people on the island who are all striving to build resilience, counter misinformation, and improve their local communities. 

Written by: Erika Marrero, Puerto Rico Program Associate, Atma Connect