El Departamento de la Comida
My name is Tara, founder/owner of El Departamento de la Comida. I am a 32 year old queer woman from Santurce, Puerto Rico. After thinking I was going to be an Architect, getting my degree, living and working in New York City, I decided to take a different route. I moved back to Puerto Rico, a beautiful tropical island with sun, warm water, friendly people, and what I saw as the opportunity to live a creative, successful life while ensuring health and happiness. Little did I know that I would be embarking on a challenging mission, to improve our islands’ food system! I love to work with food and farming. It has introduced me to a community of diverse and stimulating people. I have experienced hands-on the value of good food. It is powerful, political, and one of my “weapons” for social change. I am a very busy gal, always at some workshop, or working at the restaurant, visiting a farm, planning the next kitchen class, discussing a new strategy, or talking to a new producer. Stuff like that. My time off is mostly used to garden on my balcony, exploring a country road, foraging, feasting, and of course, floating in the ocean. My dreams are pretty big. I want to be happy, healthy, and successful, but that’s not all. I want those around me; family, friends, neighbors, strangers; to also be happy, healthy, and successful, and food is an important part of that. I’m not so much a “foodie” as I am a “food community” lover.
This loan is special because:
More about this loan
“El Departamento de la Comida” (The Department of Food) began in 2010. It is one of the only places in Puerto Rico dedicated to supporting a local sustainable food community, working with producers and consumers from all over the island. How? In a couple of ways. We use only local ingredients from farms we visit, people we know on a first name basis. Those farms use responsible growing practices (no chemicals or pestcides), so they are improving our economy, our health, and without polluting our ecosystems. We cook the food, creating a different menu everyday based on the season and availability of crops. Our menu is completely vegetarian, mostly vegan (we sometimes get fresh eggs or milk from a farmer). Our clients are not necessarily vegan or vegetarian, just people who want to eat some really good food. We believe in a diversity of clients in the same way we support diversity of crops and farmers. No monoculture here! Part of the space is a veggie store run by a non-profit organization that also hosts workshops, cooking classes, food memberships, and farm visits. We open five days a week, selling veggies, showing people how to cook them, eat them, grow them, love them. Our kitchen is a tool for our clients. They get to taste different recipes, ask how to make them, know who and where they are from, and support sustainable farming. The space has organically become a meeting place for exchange of knowledge, sharing seeds, and building community. All our food scraps go to our neighboring community garden. We only use compostable “to-go” cups and plates, no plastic. We use social media to spread the word; what’s happening on the island in organic agriculture, share our daily menu, our latest crop delivery, the face of a happy client. We have also gotten a lot of worldwide press, that has helped us meet other awesome projects around the world. One of our biggest challenges has been to run a successful operation while staying focused on our mission. It can be difficult to run a kitchen without a set menu, that pays just prices to its producers, and that only uses coconut or grapeseed oil for cooking. Those little details add up, but we have chosen to stick to it, and after six years (and a couple stumbles along the way), it’s working! Our next challenge is to find a way to expand our operation and at the same time help our producers to secure the sales of their crops.
What is the purpose of this loan?
We would like to expand our business by making products with our seasonal crops; sauces, jams, canning, pickling, dehydrated fruits and herbs. We would like to secure that perishable crops can somehow have a longer shelf life and not become waste in any way. We want to extend our kitchen by adding a prep room with the proper equipment to make stuff that can last longer, be distributed around the island or abroad, be taken home to cook with, and increase demand for our farmers. Many of our clients have been wanting us to sell our dressings, pastas, soups, not just eat them at the restaurant. This expansion will increase our sales without too much risk. We already have some of the elements in place: a strong brand, customer demand, great ingredients in need of a good home, and the recipes! What we need is equipment and the added permit. Some of the things we would purchase: a freezer a double door refrigerator a small ice-cream maker a dehydrator stainless steel tables and shelves a first order of jars and reusable containers canning instruments and labels a display cooler for selling the products at our space. This will help us help our farmers and at the same time let us make food in a different way. This loan will help us get the equipment necessary to expand El Departamento de la Comida and its brand to other stores, markets, and homes. Our clients will be able to support us by buying veggies, eating at the restaurant, and taking stuff home!
Years in operation: More than 5 years