Most people who know Sarah see her as a writer or an activist of issues relating to women, people of color, the LGBTQ, animals and the environment. In fact, if you've ever been in what she refers to as "an epic Facebook thread," you've witnessed her in action.
Some admire her, others are repelled by her "dedication" to the cause ... in her case, the cause du jour (the cause of the day). She's intense, that's for sure.
There's a side of Sarah most don't know about unless they visit us or they know her well. Ask her to take you on a tour of our eco-organic farm and she lights up. She will tell you a story of two corporate working stiffs who gave up their all-consuming, consuming-all lives to become eco-organic farmers in Puerto Rico.
In the interior of the island of Puerto Rico lies a town called Utuado. It's the third largest municipality on the island. Nine ago we came to Puerto Rico for our second vacation. We'd decided to give up our corporate America jobs (in biotech) and buy a farm in the middle of nowhere and become self-sustaining farmers. Our intentions were two-fold:
- Get away from the all-consuming, consuming all lifestyle we'd been living
- Give back to Mother Earth.
We rented a house sitting on 8 acres of land in a town whose name we couldn't pronounce. Who comes to Puerto Rico to vacation in the mountains in search of farmland? Why farmland when the island boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world?
Well four days into our vacation we decided we'd been traveling the last 40+ years and now we were home. We moved two weeks later on September 17, 2008.
We rented a house and searched for farmland. We found one very fast and made an offer. We closed three weeks later and started expanding the tiny house and planting fruits and vegetables.
We moved in on December 31, 2009. Having sunk our life savings into buying the farm and expanding the house, we were indeed home but broke. We had $40 in our checking account.
We couldn't go back to work for someone. Amgen (where we'd both worked) offered me a job here on the island as a consultant. Although I would have made double my U.S. salary, it's not what we came here to do. I would have had to get an apartment on the other side of the island and it would have delayed our reasons for coming here.
Sarah started doing freelance work: marketing and admin at first and at some point she decided to see if the apple hadn't fallen too far from the tree. Both her parents had been writers and so she thought "why not?"
Sarah built a business that started with an article for a client who wanted more than she could deliver on her own. Offering clients writing, social media, graphic design and web coding, every dime Sarah's business brings in goes to the farm. After her team members are paid, after expenses are covered and food is purchased, everything Sarah makes pays for plants, construction on the farm, animals, etc.
If you've visited us, you know we live very modestly. Our house is small (one bedroom) and it's all about the farm. The goats, the ducks, the chickens, dogs and cats are a huge part of our life. What many people don't know is that over the years we've planted fruit trees from around the tropical world, vegetables and many varieties of bamboo (for construction, a living fence along the property line, furniture, and of course, eating).
We compost and recycle everything we can. Everything we do is on a meager budget.
Guess Who's Coming to Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner?
Although vegetables usually take no time to come up, by contrast fruit trees can take between five and seven (sometimes more) years to fruit.
This year we'd started seeing flowers on many of the trees I planted five and six years ago. We often talked about how we aren't rich but soon we would be eatin' good! (For an idea of what we grow, visit our website Mayani Farms: http://mayanifarms.com)
Our hopes and dreams would soon be realized but in an instant...
On September 20, 2017 with only four days notice (just enough time to ensure cisterns were filled with water, gas containers were filled up, animals are put in their hurricane shelters and wood covered all the windows), Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico.
Some say she was a category 5, others say she was just a category 4. These are semantics. With wind speeds of 150 miles per hour or higher, Maria undid 7.5 years of hard work we'd put into the farm.
She arrived on the island at about 8:00 p.m., and we kept checking her trajectory. All signs pointed to her eye passing over our town. All we could do was brace for her wrath.
Maria hit the whole island but the majority of her devastation was in Barceloneta, Arecibo, Adjuntas, Lares and Utuado. We believe Arecibo and Utuado were hit the hardest.
By 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 21, our once-lush farm that was going to feed us into our old age was gone. 12 hours of punishing wind and rain uprooted trees like someone plucking a piece of sand from the beach.
When it was safe to go outside, we determined we'd lost 80% of our trees. Fortunately our animals are fine. We only lost three chickens and two ducks.
Many people lost during Maria's "visit" to our beloved island: their homes, furniture, roofing, you name it. Our situation is no more or less dire than others. What Maria stole from us was years and our future. We can't get back the 8 years she took from us (time since we started planting).
We've estimated it will cost about $20,000, maybe more, to rebuild our farm. We are asking our friends and family to help us.
We estimate it will take between six months and a year just to clean Mayani Farms. Replanting will take another 18 months.
The photos are some before and after for perspective.
This is a rough breakdown of what we will use the money for:
We learned this year we have water at the bottom of our property. We had already started pumping that up to the house.We need new pumps, water lines, another cistern. Estimated cost: $4,000
Fix the fence to the goats' play area and extend it down the hill: $2,000
A new greenhouse (one thing we didn't have time to do before Maria came was dismantle it): $1500
Rebuild two dry sheds for hay (we live in the tropics where it's extremely humid. We have to have a way to keep hay for goats dry and free of mold): $3,000
Replace the tropical fruit and vegetables we lost: $9,000
Chains, oil and gas for the chainsaw: $1000
We've already received $11,303 in donations but we are still short about $9,000.
If you aren't comfortable donating cash, please consider Amazon or Home Depot gift cards. We purchase our chains for the chainsaw from Amazon and we estimate we will need about 25-30 of them. And if you prefer buying the chains and shipping them, it's a Stihl 16" chain loop (61 PMM3 55 Drive Links).
If you'd like to buy 2 at a time, Amazon has a 2-pack for less money.
We have a smaller chainsaw that we'll need chains for as well. It's a Stihl Rapid 33 RS3 72 20".
We can order the bars for both chainsaws on eBay.
If you buy a gift card, please send them via USPS to:
Paul and Sarah Ratliff
Utuado, Puerto Rico 00641
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,
Paul and Sarah Ratliff
P.S. please forgive any typos. I'm not a writer like Sarah.