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Catching up: Alex Matzke
This is not so much an introduction as it is a re-introduction. People grow, move, evolve, and sometimes we are lucky enough to come along for the ride. We first featured Alex’s work in December of 2020, she has since moved to Puerto Rico with her partner to work a farm on ancestral lands with the goal of establishing food sovereignty. They have been tending the land, connecting and learning from their communities, all while beautifully documenting their work. We’re so thrilled to count Alex Matzke as part of this incredible Handyma’am community and continue sharing her story.
What made you make the move to Puerto Rico and tell us what you have been up to.
I grew up in rural Nebraska and Iowa; I worked for years in agriculture detasseling corn, my maternal grandfather farmed the land that he and my Nana inherited from their families. We would occasionally join him in the giant machinery for planting and harvesting. Most everyone grew corn or soy beans, and occasionally winter wheat, alfalfa and other cover crops. Papa was the first person I knew to embrace no-till farming — it was a revolution, and he told me before his death that folks thought he was losing it.
I’ve always valued the importance of farming, but knew that I didn’t want to (and simply could not) compete with Big Ag—even with theoretical inherited land from Nana and Papa. It wasn’t until Steven and I began growing food and medicinal plants together in the Carver Community Garden that something clicked and a shared dream bloomed into something tangible.
“Papa was the first person I knew to embrace no-till farming — it was a revolution, and he told me before his death that folks thought he was losing it.”
Since childhood, Steven (@cheapgarlic) felt pulled to be part of the generation to return to the island. His family had been like so many stretched between home and the mainland, in response to America’s colonial treatment of what is now known as Puerto Rico. We eloped during the height of the pandemic and moved here in early 2021.
How has your work changed since moving to Puerto Rico and how has it stayed the same?
I’m still teaching at VCUarts, albeit now remotely. I used to teach welding courses and now teach a class that more resembles a seminar — asking undergrads how they are thinking critically about the sustainability and context of their methods/ethics/materials. In my welding courses students were encouraged to utilize existing (recycled) materials to mitigate the negative effects of the metal industry on the planet. My class (@nosuchthingastrash) still visits a local scrapyard to see how metal recycling creates the fabric of our everyday lives, though I very much miss the opportunity to join them!
Tell us about your plans for Bueno Compartir.
Bueno Compartir (@buenocompartir) got its name from our elderly neighbors who remind us it’s good to share. Clumps of banana plants make a perimeter around parts of the farm — they were seeded by the ancestors of our neighbors as rough boundaries for this parcel. We walk this perimeter, checking which banana racks are ready. The racks get divided between our neighbors, our elderly family, and the elders of our friends, paying back (and forward) the abundance.
Our plan for Bueno Compartir includes working toward Food Sovereignty. This can look a lot of different ways to different people, but a description I really like from The Red Deal by TheRedNation.org describes it as: “Although peasant communities in the Global South define food sovereignty as a right to control the food you grow and eat, Indigenous food sovereignty movements are focused on rekindling long standing relationships with the land. Indigenous food sovereignty movements are about health revitalization, language conservation, and connecting youth with elders.”
This last part in particular, connecting with elders, is our primary focus outside of the physical labor of the farm. There is a tendency in Permaculture, Agroecology and Natural Farming circles to reject elder knowledge outright if it involves chemical fertilizers. We believe this is a mistake. Although we utilize different methods than our elders, their wisdom extends far beyond what they spray on their crops. Respect for their lived experience should be the absolute bare minimum.
“The Handyma’am community has something folks here do not — political power.”
How can the Handyma’am community support your work from afar?
A majority of the island spent more than a week without electricity, but the outages started long before Hurricane Fiona made landfall. We moved here with the knowledge that the colonial nature of the infrastructure meant services weren’t guaranteed—especially now that the electrical grid has been privatized by a Canadian/American company. We choose to forgo electricity, municipal water, and the internet to begin with, as folks are paying Ontario and Houston for electricity they are not receiving.
The Handyma’am community has something folks here do not — political power. Puerto Ricans and anyone living permanently in Puerto Rico do not have representation in congress, a vote, or theoretical electoral college representation as to who gets to be the president. The Handyma’am community can advocate for folks in America’s territorial holdings by paying attention to what is happening in Guam, American Samoa, Hawaii, and here in so-called Puerto Rico. Americans stateside have the political power to stop the colonization of Puerto Rico and give Puerto Ricans back their home.