e.JPGIt's nearly daybreak and the radiant sun is blazing; declaring life amid amber brushed sky, accompanied by cotton candy clouds resting low above a vibrant landscape. A light breeze glides beneath limber branches carrying perfect green mangos and nearly ripened papayas, creating soft waves of an almost organic melody. Yet, it is the warmth of those who have established this magical place and their appreciation for G‑d’s nature that beckons outsiders to venture inside their enchanting world apart. There is peace here, they seem to say; this farm is our very own tropical playground. There is harmony at Gan Eden, this Garden of Eden.

For owners Yoav and Ada Cohen. the birth of Gan Eden Farm was years in the making. Their dreams began in a small Yemenite village in northern Israel, Amka, where Yoav Cohen and Ada Yoseph grew up as neighbors, living just a few steps from each other. Together they studied at Hebrew University in Rechovot, where Yoav turned his passion for agriculture into a degree in agronomy and Ada studied nutrition.

The couple wed in 1986 and soon after, Yoav landed a job working for a company that grew herbs on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. Yet, it was only after another move, this time to the main island of Puerto Rico in 2001, that the couple’s dream of owning a farm reached full fruition. Yoav successfully formed a partnership with a fellow Israeli, Menashe Moshiach, to establish Gan Eden Farm, which Yoav now calls, his “home away from home.”

The land at Gan Eden Farm is a vast display of natural beauty. It boasts thousands of acres speckled and brimming with glorious rows of robust vegetables and succulent fruits. Crunchy cucumbers, hearty squash, and colorful peppers are sent to distributors in Miami. Mangos travel to Europe for distributors there to sell. A breathtaking display of these homegrown gifts is a lesson in artistic satiation. Yoav’s desire to grow the finest produce helped guide him over the years, and served as his motivation and inspiration to succeed in his line of work.

Though it never quite felt like a chore, for his heart was always- and remains- firmly planted and deeply rooted in the land.

As the Cohens’ farm took off, their own family blossomed to include three children — daughters Lee 


and Shai, and a son, Gil. Though the family home was located some 50 miles from the farm, the Cohen children were regular visitors to Gan Eden. Trips to the farm were almost a weekly family affair. There were wild tractor rides, kite flying, and plenty of running around while giggling among the sunflower fields. Gan Eden was their personal secret garden; the vegetables, like beautiful flowers, blooming all around them told a story. Birthday parties and school field trips were often held on the farm.

Farming in Puerto Rico is certainly nothing new. The primitive tribal economy of the Boriquén Indians, depended on agriculture and although the gold-seeking conquistadores, as they were referred to, were hardly concerned with the development of agriculture, Ponce de León appreciated the richness of the soil and ensured that there were farmlands available to the people.

Today, however, farming is not for the fainthearted. Agriculture accounts for less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s GDP and the choice crops have evolved. For years, sugar cane was a key crop, yet those fields began to slowly shrink, as interest in other farming sectors —including dairy production and livestock — flourished.

(Local government officials, however, recently announced a new initiative aimed at restoring the country’s sugar-cane production.) For now, the region’s main crops include: coffee, plantains, pineapples, and bananas. Other fruits, including the mango crops grown and harvested at Gan Eden Farm, are also high in demand.

Life was enchanting for the Cohen family. They were living on a tropical island and each day became about self-discovery and uncovering the agricultural treasures they had stumbled upon at the farm. It was exciting and their ambition as a young dynamic couple propelled them; reaching business goals and attaining fresh clientele on a timely basis.

Yoav’s job allowed him to fulfill important tasks, while maintaining a close-knit relationship with his children and extended family. Ada ensured that their children were equally loved and cherished. She did this by spending one-on-one time with them, sustaining a constant and genuine interest in their personal lives, and holding mandatory dance parties where the children would frolic and sing as loud as their voices would carry. Israeli music served as a backdrop at these events and hairbrushes became purposeful microphones. Never a sour moment, the Cohen family ties were as pure and as wholesome as the produce growing on their farm.

Chf.jpgShai, 24, thoughtfully remarks, “Lee and I sometimes joke about how we can’t even think of a single sour moment growing up. We had a wonderful childhood and could not have asked for better parents.”

While the Cohen children are now pursuing their individual interests, the farm is never far from their minds and hearts. Eldest daughter Lee, 26, flew to Berlin a couple of years ago to participate in an extensive farming convention called, “Fruit Logistica.” Shai and 17-year-old Gil, meanwhile, find gratification in representing their family farm and often help out with small projects or by spending part of their summers lending a hand at the farm. The children feel fortunate to be a part of something so special and rewarding.

Yoav, too, finds personal fulfillment in the farm. Beyond the beautiful vistas, brilliant sun and warm breezes, the farm makes a difference in the lives of others. Yoav lives his life with the intention of giving back by partaking in charitable acts, including providing employment

to others, which the great religious thinker Maimonides called the highest form of charity. Many a time, he will send produce over to the Chabad Jewish Center of Puerto Rico, a gesture he often views as merely a trivial act of responsibility, rather than acknowledge his overwhelming generosity. Though prosperous, the Gan Eden Farm, like any other business, has braved its share of economic challenges. The global recession and a weakening economy and rising unemployment in Puerto Rico only further induced Yoav’s fervor to stay afloat and remain efficient. Resilience and staunch perseverance guided the Cohen family through external complications and the economic abyss.

Yet, even the determined and the brave can use a bit of uplifting at times.

After 28 years of marriage, family matriarch Ada recently passed away.

Ada was the soul of the Cohen family; bringing humor and endless love into the children’s lives. Her passing proved to be a truly trying time for the family, and Yoav worked hard to protect his children and the farm. Ada’s light and wisdom shine brightly on the farm, and her legacy continues to grow. Her children aspire to achieve and excel within their personal and scholarly endeavors, and are proud to call themselves her offspring.

The Talmud declares farming as an act of faith. For a farmer must sow, plant, toil and then believe that his efforts will prompt growth. The Cohen family certainly underscores this concept. Crops may not weather each storm, yet there is always room to plant again. After all, anything is possible as long as there is a Gan Eden in Puerto Rico.

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