David R. Cohen is the former Associate Editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times. He is originally from Marietta, GA and studied Journalism at the University of Tennessee.
After a long day of rebuilding farms, Puerto Rican musician John Rodriguez Jr. and his nine-piece band perform for City Winery volunteers and locals. (Photo by Ryan Vizzions)
Eighteen team members from City Winery Atlanta joined 107 others from City Winery locations across the United States to help farmers in the middle of Puerto Rico continue to rebuild Jan. 29 to Feb. 1.
The mission was the brainchild of Jewish City Winery founder Michael Dorf, who went with employees to Puerto Rico in lieu of the organization’s annual business retreat because he is a practitioner of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
The recovery work took place more than four months after Hurricane Maria struck Sept. 20 at Category 4 strength and destroyed 80 percent of the American island’s crops.
The volunteers focused on four farms in the center of the commonwealth. The work ranged from rebuilding greenhouses to cutting up fallen trees and digging drainage ditches where the rain washed out roads.
The group stayed in the capital, San Juan, and rode on buses for hours each day to get to and from the farms.
“It’s still really, really bad down there,” said Jim Ethridge, the marketing director of City Winery Atlanta, who made the trip to Puerto Rico. “Some of the farmers told us that the work we did in those four days would have taken them six weeks to do. At another farm, they told us that the work we did would have taken them six months.”
Besides providing labor, City Winery Atlanta also delivered food, water and other supplies donated by Atlanta-area organizations. Among others, Big Green Egg donated hundreds of pounds of charcoal, Springer Mountain Farms contributed a pallet of water, and Medshare provided medical supplies.
In true City Winery fashion, the climax of the trip involved a concert for locals on one of the farms featuring a nine-piece band led by John Rodriguez Jr. Because the power was still out in that part of the island, a generator provided electricity for the stage.
“During the day we worked with these farmers side by side, and at night we brought them out for a fiesta,” Ethridge said. “So it was very cool to work with people, and then we all drank wine with them and listened to incredible music into the night in the tropical rain forest of Puerto Rico.”
City Winery Atlanta, which opened in June 2016 at Ponce City Market, has many Jewish and Israeli artists and is the venue for opening night of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival on Thursday, March 8, featuring new acoustic/klezmer groups Tsvey Brider and Beyond the Pale.