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This morning we started off our day by going to the USDA Tropical Agriculture Research Service (ARS) Station, located right next to the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. We met with horticultural plant pathologist, Dr. Brian Irish, who showed us a video about the work they do in the research center and then got a private tour of the grounds. This was all very fascinating. In the video we learned about the studies being done by all of the USDA researchers in Puerto Rico.
They own farms on the northern part of the island where they produce many types of crops including corn, bananas, plantains, rambutan, starfruit, sorghum, mamoncillos and many more. The goal of these farms is to create a collection of germplasm that are accessible around the world. Although the grounds are not a botanical garden, they consist of over 2,000 permanently established species! Wow! Dr. Irish let us try a variety of fruits from the trees. We liked the cacao and the rambutan the most. Cacao is the seed where you get cocoa for making chocolate!
[Dr. Brian Irish of the USDA-ARS in Mayaguez, PR explains the process of turning cacao in the sweet and decadent chocolate that we love.]
After grabbing a bite to eat we took a quick drive though the University. UPR-Mayaguez is a land-grant university originally established for the study of agriculture, mechanics and military tactics but now offers degree programs common among today’s modern land-grant institutions. We noticed the buildings were all in close proximity and there were numerous tree species on the campus, much like SIU.
[Posing in front of one of the beautiful murals decorating the UPR-Mayaguez’s College of Agricultural Sciences]
Our afternoon consisted of touring and teaching a local school called Escuela de Laura Mercado near San German, PR. This is a charter agriculture school, grades 7-12, where the students are required to take at least two Ag classes a year. First we were shown the student’s projects such as small vegetable gardens, recycled bottle greenwalls, and medicinal gardens. We were also shown the farm where they experimented with coffee, cassava, banana plants, hydroponics and also their school forest.
[High School Ag Teacher, Kenneth Barbosa, shows us the school’s farms. In the background is intercropped bananas, plantains and coffee. The area in the foreground has plastic mulch down to solarize the soil prior to planting.]
Teaching the classes was a little difficult because a majority of the students would only speak Spanish. A few of the students helped out by translating and we were able to have some good conversations about agriculture and Illinois.
[Heather Kiner (ABE) describes Illinois cattle production and agricultural exposition fair system]
By the end of the day we were ready for a nice hearty dinner, so we met up with Kenneth, the high school agroecology educator, for dinner. He took us to one of his favorite local restaurants in downtown Mayaguez serving a mix of Italian and Puerto Rican foods. It was so delicious and we were happy to see some Italian food on the menu.
[Our group gives Kenneth Barbosa his very own SIU College of Agricultural Sciences hat for welcoming us to visit his agroecology classroom. l-r Thomas Marten (AGSY ’12 & ABE), Dr. Karen Jones (ANS), Kenneth Barbosa (High School Ag Teacher/FFA Advisor), Claire Mueller (FOR), Heather Kiner (ABE), Morgan Schulte (FOR), Katie Gehrt (AGSY), Ella Herges (ABE), Jalyn Ridgely (ABE) and Daniel Suess (ABE & POLS).]
All in all, it was a very educational day. We learned a lot on the current research going on in tropical agriculture as well as how agriculture is being taught around the world. We are sad that our adventures have come to an end as this was out last full day on the island before returning home.
Heather Kiner – Senior, Agribusiness Economics
Claire Mueller – Junior, Forestry- Forest Recreation and Park Management
Saint Louis, MO
Today we packed up all our things, enjoyed one last breakfast in Fajardo and prepared to travel to the West side of the island. On our way, we made a stop at the Bacardi Rum Distillery. The tour began soon after we arrived. We learned about the history of the Bacardi family and the origin of their signature rum.
The tour also covered the run making process and demonstrated how to make a couple mixed drinks. Noting the absence of sugar cane being grown in Puerto Rico, we learned that the sugar cane used in the distillery is mostly sourced from the Dominican Republic and Brazil. The tour ended in the gift shop, of course, and the bar. We all received drinking tickets! Don’t worry it’s the good kind. Two free drinks for everyone, except for Dr. Jones, she was driving.
Today we packed up all our things and prepared to travel to the West side of the island. On our way, we made a stop at the Bacardi Rum Distillery. The tour began soon after we arrived. We learned about the history of the Bacardi family and the origin of their signature rum. It is interesting how in spite of the Cuban Revolution, the Bacardi family persisted to raise their brand into the most successful rum in the world.
The tour also covered the run making process and demonstrated how to make a couple mixed drinks. Noting the absence of sugar cane being grown in Puerto Rico, we learned that the sugar cane used in the distillery is mostly sourced from the Dominican Republic and Brazil. We had the opportunity to compare the variations within the various rums through smelling the rums. Then we got a lesson in the history of rum cocktails including why a rum and coke is called a Cuba Libre, the origins of the mojito and why a daiquiri is called a daiquiri. The tour ended in the gift shop, of course, and the bar. We all received drinking tickets! Don’t worry it’s the good kind. Two free drinks for everyone, except for Dr. Jones, she was driving.
As we traveled out of the eastern part of the island, the ground began to flatten. We noticed a few Holstein cows and a couple pastures. After a while the mountains began to reappear and we drove on some treacherous and crazy roads, winding all the way down the mountain. Peaking out the van windows we could see vast plantain trees and coffee plants down the mountainside into the valley. We were looking for a coffee farm and we found one!
Café Oro is a coffee processing plant that gets coffee fruit from many local farmers. One of the employees willingly gave us a tour of the whole place and explained the coffee making process from hand picking to roasting. Thomas Marten, one of our chaperones, did a fine job translating because our guide only spoke Spanish.
The coffee they make is of extremely high quality! The employee giving us the tour is originally from Columbia and controls the quality of Café Oro’s final product. He has spent his whole life immersed in coffee culture and considers himself a professional. He provided us an insight into the production of coffee from harvest to a cup of joe. He shared his views of government subsidies and how they have pros and cons for coffee production. Our group purchased coffee from the plant. With many “Gracias’s” exchanged we headed towards Mayaguez.
[Posing for a quick picture in front of the grinding and packaging machines with our guide and the owner of Cafe Oro]
We arrived safely at our hotel and had a nice Puerto Rican dinner. We are looking forward to meeting the folks at Illinois Crop Improvement Association and learning about current agriculture research this directly benefits the Midwest tomorrow.
Morgan Schulte, Sophomore Forest Hydrology
Daniel Suess, Freshman Agribuisiness Economics and Political Science
!Hola! We spent the day at the only tropical rainforest in the US, El Yunque National Forest. The USDA Forest Service, has managed El Yunque since 1903. From 1933-1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps built recreation sites, trails, and buildings along the main road. El Yunque is one of the most studied rainforests in the world and known as the “cradle of tropical forestry.” The forest is home to around 225 tree species and very little wildlife. Hiking up the mountain, we noticed that the extreme biodiversity wasn’t visually obvious, but the snails were huge!
El Yunque, as we learned in the visitors center, is the safest rainforest ever! There are no threats of poisonous plants, only 4 species of snakes (none of which are venomous), hardly any insects, and no giant carnivorous animals. Que seguro! The absence of dangerous biota in combination with the gorgeous weather made today a little slice of paradise.
We set out for the highest peak with high hopes and were not disappointed. The 2.4 mi El Yunque Trail took us on an adventure to the clouds. The weather was absolutely perfecto! The sun was shining most of the day and our sunburns from yesterday were cooled by the gentle breeze. At the top of the peaks the warm wind whipped and made us watch our step. The view from top was unmatchable, stretching from the other peaks to the ocean, cities, and valleys! We made it to the top of El Picacho, Mt. Briton Tower, and El Yunque. By the end of hiking the hills, our legs needed a break.
We all scrambled down the mountain and pilled into the van in search of food! We pulled over at a roadside food stand in the forest, which was surprisingly crowded. I (Morgan) ordered a chicken quesadilla with plantains inside, which was a nice addition. I (Claire) ordered grilled chicken and arroz y habichuelas, yum yum! After our legs got a rest we went hiking again!
We made our way down through the forest a ways to La Mina waterfall. It was a mere 35 minute hike, nothing compared to the 4 hours we hiked earlier today. The waterfall was freezing, but very beautiful. The final hike back to the car was rough. We were a little dehydrated and feeling the twinge of headaches. The billions of stairs (ok maybe that’s an exaggeration) made our thighs burn all the way to the top! Once we made it to the car, everyone passed out for the ride home, except Dr. Jones of course..she was driving.
Claire Mueller, Junior – Forest Recreation and Park Management
St. Louis, MO
Morgan Schulte, Sophomore – Forest Hydrology
Today was our third day in Puerto Rico. January 6th is a holiday here called Three Kings Day (the Feast of Epiphany)! This is the day that the Three Kings brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. Gifts are often exchanged on this day. Like on Christmas day in Illinois, many of the local business are closed. In fact to our dismay many of the activities that we had planed we had to reschedule for another day.
But no day in an island as beautiful as Puerto Rico can ever be ruined. So after bouncing our schedule around we went to a beautiful beach near Luquillo. Along this beach there were many shops with local merchandise and food. One of our favorite things was a Pina Colada in a coconut. All of the locals were very friendly and helpful. Another thing that we saw were some horses in the bed of a pick-up truck. From what we have seen they do not use trailers here for their livestock.
Tomorrow we will explore the only tropical rainforest in the USDA’s Forest Service – El Yunque. Hasta Luego!
Ella Herges & Katie Gehrt
Paxton, Illinois & Gifford, Illinois
Ella is studying Agribusiness Economics and Katie is studying Agricultural Production.
Well, the adventure has finally begun! Today we left for Puerto Rico. I have been looking forward to this trip for months, and even after the first day, it has been quite an adventure. Let me say that today was definitely a quite interesting day of travel. Heading to Philadelphia from St. Louis, I had maybe the best flight I have ever had. But from Philadelphia to San Juan, the flight was quite interesting. The few times that I have flown I have had an unusually large amount of bad flights. I have had flights delayed for long periods of time, have had a flight cancelled while I am in a foreign country, but I have never had someone sitting next to me almost die. The flight started fine, I was in the middle seat between two people I didn’t know both of them only spoke Spanish. Half way through the flight there was a medical emergency with one of the other passenger. I can honestly say that was the most peculiar flight that I have ever and probably will ever be on.
After that ordeal, I realized that I was in Puerto Rico. I looked around and noticed it was different than what I expected. It was as if I was in a whole new world. The culture is completely different. Spanish is spoken by everyone while english is spoken fluently by few. I also have noticed many of the drivers have interesting driving habits. We just drove to our hotel and it was a frightening experience. Driving around looking for our hotel I was able to look at some of the Christmas decorations that were still up and I was a surprised. Along with the traditional Christmas tree there were also nativity scenes every where. While there are a lot of nativity scenes on the mainland as well, there were several that were very large and right next to the highway. It has lead me to assume that the Puerto Ricans are a very religious people.
After safely making it to our hotel, we were able to experience our first island meal. I was excited to taste, what I have heard from several people is, some of the best food on earth. I ordered cassava stuffed chicken, which is chicken with a potato-like root in it, and tostones, which are flattened plantains that are fried and taste similar to french fries. It was really good and I am looking forward to what I am gong to eat next.
I am excited about what the Island has to teach me this week. I am looking forward to learning some of the history behind the Island, as well as, interacting with the locales and learning more about the island’s agriculture industry.
Freshman – Agribusiness Economics and Political Science