Structures of Sustainability: A Regenerative Model for Community Agriculture Development

Final Report for LS00-111

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $19,678.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: Southern
State: Puerto Rico
Principal Investigator:
Vivian Carro-Figueroa
University of Puerto Rico Agric. Experiment Sta.
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Project Information

Abstract:

The overall objective of this planning project was to design a study that would implement and test a community-based partnership model designed to enhance “structures of sustainability” for local farmers and other community stakeholders. In pursuing this objective we convened a community advisory group within the central Puerto Rican community of Barranquitas, assessed the structural problems facing local agriculture, prepared a food system profile of the community, and held three outreach events, one each focused on the general public, farmers, and youth. The culmination of the project is the preparation of a final research design and a formal proposal.

Project Objectives:
  1. Convene a community working group in Barranquitas, PR.

    Conduct a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) of the structural problems facing sustainable agriculture in Barranquitas.

    Identify potential partner communities in the Caribbean or in the U.S. mainland south.

    Identify meaningful criteria for evaluating the impact of community-based interventions on both farm and community levels.

    Hold five educational events to share the results of the PRA and solicit feedback.

    Design a multidisciplinary research proposal to implement and test the community- based model for enhancing “structures of sustainability” in agriculture.

Introduction:

Growers in Puerto Rico’s mountainous central region face a number of structural constraints that greatly hamper the practice of ecologically sound and economically sustainable farming. In the four decades following the second World War, an industrialization process in Puerto Rico unraveled traditional networks for the local marketing of fresh food products and created a dependence on food imported from the mainland U.S. that continues today (Weisskoff, 1985). More recently, trade liberalization policies have placed Puerto Rican-grown food crops from the central region in competition with those from elsewhere in the Caribbean (Raynolds et al, 1993; Carro-Figueroa, 2000). These policies, and the lack of an alternative model tailored to the conditions of mountain producers, have debilitated the sloping farmlands of the central region while, over the long run, weakening the traditional knowledge base for sustainable production techniques.

Despite the blows dealt to Puerto Rican agriculture in the decades since World War II, some farmers in the central region survived by diversifying their crops and creating new linkages with local markets. However, recent structural changes have made economic viability increasingly difficult for local growers to achieve. First, since the early 1990s trade liberalization policies have subjected farmers specializing in food crops(such as yams, sweet potatoes, taniers, plantains, celeriac, and cassava) to competition from imports from other Caribbean islands, often produced with impoverished labor and pesticides illegal in the U.S. Second, in part because of its limited scope, much of the agricultural marketing network in Puerto Rico is highly centralized, which means that farmers often face an oligopoly when marketing their products. Third, the institutional weakness of local land-use planning mechanisms in Puerto Rico (Concepción, 1993) combined with the insular government’s decision to privilege coastal farmlands encourages the conversion of agricultural lands in the central region to residential or other uses that are more profitable in the short term.

Within this difficult context, two groups of farmers in Puerto Rico’s central region face the most difficulty in continuing or expanding their role in enhancing Puerto Rico’s working landscape. First, small farmers, typically growing coffee intercropped with banana, plantain, fruit trees and some annual food crops, face very limited resources in terms of labor, appropriate technological inputs, and ineligibility for government assistance. This population was also the hardest hit by hurricane Georges in the fall of 1998, which caused $43 million dollars worth of damage in the coffee sector alone (Financial Times, 1999). Given the fiscal constraints faced by these producers, the five-year period before newly planted trees produce in quantity, and the perpetual difficulty of finding labor during the critical harvesting season, many of these growers will choose not to regenerate the traditional coffee-based agroforestry system on their farms or perhaps not to continue farming at all (Carro-Figueroa and Guptill, 1999).

The second group most impeded by structural constraints are those growers that are trying to develop ecologically sustainable systems on their farms. This sector is completely ineligible for many government benefits, including subsidies and insurance, because of their refusal to comply with Department of Agriculture recommendations for the use of agrochemicals and monocultural planting patterns (Carro-Figueroa and Guptill, 1999). By requiring that crops be planted in monoculture plots and in straight rows, the insurance eligibility criteria effectively disallow a host of critically important sustainable techniques including intercropping and contour planting which are key to preventing soil erosion and enhancing soil quality in hillside farms. Furthermore, a 1998 study conducted for the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative of the University of Puerto Rico’s Extension Service found that farmers engaged in sustainable production strategies reported that they lack access to organic inputs (such as manure or compost amendments), appropriate technological knowledge for sustainable agriculture in the tropics (such as weed control), credit and financing, and marketing channels that provide a fair return on the high-value of their products (Carro-Figueroa and Guptill, 1999). The sustainability of agriculture in Puerto Rico’s central region depends quite directly on how well concerned citizens in partnership with researchers can identify and ameliorate the structural problems of the agro-food sector.

Given the complex socioeconomic and historical context of small-scale and ecologically sound farming in the central region of Puerto Rico, the following key questions arise:

What are the forces shaping the structure of the agro-food system for communities of the central region?

How do these structures affect prospects for enhancing sustainability in those agricultural systems?

How can local communities respond to these changes and regenerate their agricultural sector on a sustainable model?

What is the role of “community” in formulating and achieving those goals?

In order to design a study that will address these questions, we propose to use the case of Barranquitas, PR to plan a research and education project based on a community partnership model for the regeneration of “structures of sustainability” for local farmers.

Barranquitas, which in 1992 was the leading agricultural producer of the central region, is typical of central region communities facing worsening structural conditions for agriculture. Twenty years earlier, farmers in Barranquitas made a successful transition from unprofitable tobacco production to coffee, food crops, livestock, and ornamentals for local and regional markets. However, recently released figures from the 1997 Census of Agriculture reveal a marked downturn in the local agricultural economy. Between 1992 and 1997, the number of farms declined 30 percent, the area of land harvested 49 percent, the market value of products sold 42 percent, and employment in agriculture 35 percent (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992 and 1997). Barranquitas is, nevertheless, well prepared to mobilize community cooperation and constructively address these worrying trends. In addition to possessing a strong agricultural identity and rich agricultural resources, Barranquitas also houses the newly established Agroecological, Cultural and Cooperative Institute (INACC: Instituto Agroecológico y Cultural Cooperativo), which seeks to “promote the comprehensive development of human beings and their cultural and spiritual enrichment” through educational work in agroecology and cooperativism. Barranquitas, then, is an ideal site in which to develop a participatory and replicable model of community agriculture development (CAD) interventions.

Literature Review

Community Agriculture Development
The approach of this planning process is based on recent social scientific work on local and regional development strategies in the changing global economy. The concept of Community Agriculture Development was originally framed by researchers in the Farming Alternatives Program at Cornell University, who define CAD as “a community-based partnership effort to help sustain existing farms and create opportunities for beginning farmers which develop the local economy, conserve natural resources, enhance the quality of life, and strengthen communities” (1994).

The CAD concept is based on the idea that despite the strength and ubiquity of the forces shaping economies and landscapes, local communities are not powerless and indeed can alter the direction of those forces to create more favorable situations. Whereas the old model for community development centered around the recruitment of outside employers through tax breaks and other public incentives, increasingly planners and other development practitioners are recognizing the importance of local entrepreneurship in the context of a more comprehensive understanding of the local economy (Perry, 1987). Social science has long understood that the structure of local economic sectors, including agriculture, is not the result of chance, but rather the concrete and interacting decisions made by citizens and policy-makers on local, state, and national levels (DuPuis, 1993; Gouveia, 1994). This line of inquiry has further shown that the presence of locally owned and operated enterprises has been shown to be associated with higher socioeconomic well-being in communities, and agriculture is no exception (Lyson and Gillespie, 1995; Mills and Ulmer, 1946; Tolbert et al, 1998; Torres, 1999).

However, community mobilization for mutual benefit is anything but simple. Concepts like “social capital” (Coleman, 1988; Putnam, 1993), “entrepreneurial social infrastructure” (Flora and Flora, 1993), and “civic engagement” (Tolbert et al, 1998) have been constructed to try to capture and analyze that property of a community or region that enables such collaboration and encourages norms of participation. Some have emphasized the role of trust and rational self-interest in undergirding collaborative relationships, while others have pointed to the role of local government and other institutions in enhancing the “embeddedness” of community dynamics in local and historical contexts (Warner, 1999; Flora 1998).

Our use of the CAD framework here favors the embeddedness approach, in which local economic structures are analyzed according to the social relations that give rise to and support those processes of production and exchange (Granovetter, 1985; Mingione, 1991). From this perspective, research itself is seen as a social process that has an impact on community dynamics, and researchers must be aware of that effect. Participatory approaches to research and setting of research agendas offer a means of enhancing community collaboration while ensuring relevant research work. Because we are at the planning stage of this research, we have identified Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) as the most useful and appropriate framework for achieving end-user involvement.

Participatory Rural Appraisal

Initially developed for developing country contexts, the techniques and theoretical underpinnings of various participatory approaches have more recently come to the attention of researchers working in the North (Dlott et al., 1994). Participatory Rural Appraisal is a framework for data collection and analysis that emphasizes the involvement of diverse stakeholders in identifying key questions, collecting the necessary information, and determining shared research priorities (Mukherjee, 1993). Thus, it goes beyond the “consultative” role given to rural people in approaches like Rapid Rural Appraisal to engage more fully the analytical interests of participants. There is no “recipe” for PRA. Rather the phrase represents a set of relatively rapid, but sound data collection techniques that enable the end-users of research to determine their collective needs in an informed and democratic way (Rocheleau, 1994). The emphasis in PRA is on utilizing a highly varied set of data collection techniques in order to achieve triangulation of information and to recognize and utilize diverse forms of knowledge (Cornwall et al., 1994). Common methods, such as secondary data collection and semi-structured interviewing are often mixed with newer approaches such as mapping exercises, farm livelihood analyses, community histories, or diagrams of ecological or social processes (Mukherjee, 1993; Rocheleau, 1994).

Like other participatory appraisal frameworks, PRA offers efficiency and meaningful end-user involvement, but introduces the risk of unreliable information or findings that are inadequate in scope for further planning (Rocheleau, 1994). In addition, a PRA process that is not followed by further action can leave community stakeholders with elevated expectations, disappointment, and distrust of outside collaborators (Rocheleau, 1994). Thus, the challenge of PRA is to maximize the reliability of information by triangulation (cross-checking data with different sources) and ensure that the process maintains a clear focus on planning for feasible future action (Mukherjee, 1993). Well-planned and carefully conducted, however, PRA can effectively point out needed directions for future research and action even under conditions of severe resource limitation.

Bibliographic Citations

Carro-Figueroa, Viviana and Amy E. Guptill. 1999. “Pioneros de la Sustentabilidad.” Informe preparado para la Iniciativa del Desarrollo de la Agricultura Sostenible del Servicio Extensión Agrícola de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.

Coleman, James S. 1988. “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.” American Journal of Sociology supplement. 94: s95-s120.

Concepción, Carmen M. 1993. “Environment and Industrialization in Puerto Rico: Disenfranchising the People.” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 36: 269-82.

Cornwall, Andrea, Irene Guijt and Alice Welbourn. 1994. “Extending the Horizons of Agricultural Research and Extension: Methodological Challenges.” Agriculture and Human Values, 11 (2&3): 38-57.

Dlott, Jeff W. Miguel A. Altieri, and Mas Masumoto. 1994. “Exploring the Theory and Practice of Participatory Research in US Sustainable Agriculture: A Case Study in Insect Pest Management.” Agriculture and Human Values, 11 (2&3): 126-139.

DuPuis, E. Melanie. 1993. “Subnational State Institutions and the Organization of Agricultural Resource Use: The Case of the Dairy Industry.” Rural Sociology, 58: 440-60.

Farming Alternatives Program. 1994. Community Agriculture Development: Profiles of 32 Initiatives in New York State. Farming Alternatives Program, Department of Rural Sociology, Cornell University.

Financial Times. 1999. “Hurricane-Hit Sector will Bounce Back.” By Pascal Fletcher, March 11, 1999. London: The Financial Times Limited.

Flora, Cornelia B. and Jan L. Flora. 1993. “Entrepreneurial Social Infrastructure: A Necessary Ingredient.” Annals of the American Academy, 529: 48-58.

Flora, Jan L. 1998. “Social Capital and Communities of Place. Rural Sociology, 63: 481-506.

Gouveia, Lourdes. 1994. “Global Strategies and Local Linkages: The Case of the U.S. Meatpacking Industry.” Pp. 125-148 in Bonanno, Alessandro et al (eds.) From Columbus to ConAgra: The Globalization of Agriculture and Food. Lawrence, KS: The University Press of Kansas.

Granovetter, Mark. 1985. “Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness.” American Journal of Sociology, 91: 481-510.

Lyson, Thomas A. and Gilbert W. Gillespie Jr. 1995. “Producing More Milk on Fewer Farms: Neoclassical and Neostructural Explanations for Changes in the Dairy Industry.” Rural Sociology, 60: 493-504.

Mingione, Enzo. 1991. Fragmented Societies: A Sociology of Economic Life Beyond the Market Paradigm. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Mukherjee, Neela. 1993. Participatory Rural Appraisal: Methodology and Applications. New Dehli: Concept Publishing Co.

Perry, Stewart. 1987. Communities on the Way: Rebuilding Local Economies in the United States and Canada. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Rocheleau, Dianne E.1994. “Participatory Research and the Race to Save the Planet: Questions, Critique, and Lessons from the Field.” Agriculture and Human Values, 11 (2&3): 4-25.

Tolbert, Charles M. Thomas A. Lyson, and Michael Irwin. 1998. “Local Capitalism, Civic Engagement, and Socioeconomic Well-being.” Social Forces, 77: 401-28.

Torres, Robert J. 1999. An Analysis of the Economic, Social and Agricultural Correlates of “New Agriculture” in New York State at the Town Level. Unpublished Masters Thesis, Cornell University.

Warner, Mildred. 1999. “Social Capital Construction and the Role of the Local State.” Rural Sociology, 64: 373-93.

Weisskoff, Richard. 1985. Factories and Food Stamps: The Puerto Rican Model of Development. Johns Hopkins Press.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Carmen Milagros Alicea-Zayas
  • Jose E. Carro-Anzalotta
  • Ramon G. Colon-Lopez
  • Amy Guptill
  • Ramon L. Martinez

Research

Materials and methods:

The research project which we are designing originally entailed the formation of community partnerships–representing diverse institutions–and community stakeholders working in collaboration with multidisciplinary academic teams to implement the CAD model. The planning work for this took place over four phases: (1) formation of a working group; (2) Participatory Rural Appraisal analysis and preliminary research design; (3) education, outreach, and feedback; and (4) final research design. The working group’s primary function was to determine the structural problems facing local agriculture and priorities for research through the PRA approach. This information is being incorporated into a food system profile of Barranquitas, based on secondary sources and interviews with key informants knowledgeable of the local food system dynamics. Approximately 12 informants (leaders, farmers, retailers and supermarket managers) knowledgeable of conventional and alternative food system dynamics were interviewed to complement the information obtained from secondary sources. A small survey of consumers sponsoring a Farmer’s Market inaugurated this year in Barranquitas, was also carried out to complement the profile’s data and to assess the market’s future perspectives. The survey took place during the Festival del Apio(celeriac harvest festival), an annual food, music and crafts celebration of one of the region’s specialty crops.

The results of the whole process and of the profile has been shared with the community in three educational activities carried out during the year. All activities took place in collaboration with the Agricultural Extension Service and the INACC. The first one, designed to share with the general public the results to date of the food system profile, was held during the Festival del Apio celebration. The second one, a seminar targeted to farmers and agricultural professionals active in the central region, focused on alternative marketing strategies for small and mid-sized farmers. It took place in the community center of one of Barranquitas rural wards. The last educational activity, a one day workshop on agroecology and sustainable farming targeted to the youth of the community, took place at the INACC project facilities. This is a 13 acre farm, still in its pilot organic-farming development phase, in which hands-on workshops are being offered to the general public and to students from mainland U.S. interested in sustainable farming in the tropics. At present we are in the final stage of the project, incorporating into a proposal draft the results and recommendations emerging from this whole process.

Research results and discussion:
1. Formation of the Working Group.

The idea of convening a broad community working group which would meet periodically and directly participate in the appraisal of the obstacles facing the sustainability of agriculture in the municipality, was perceived as impractical by the Extension and INACC collaborators of the project when we first met to coordinate our efforts. It was agreed that a more productive approach to meeting the project’s objectives was to recruit 10-12 participants of the community networks active in Barranquitas and surrounding central region communities, to act as an “Advisory Committee” to the project. Furthermore, it was recommended that the principal investigators—providing leadership to the year’s efforts—should try to attend the meetings of some of these networks/organizations, present them with the project’s agenda for the year, and recruit their support as informal collaborators of the project. We concluded that this approach would be followed, targeting four groups active in community work in Barranquitas and/or surrounding municipios: (1) the group of organizers of the yearly Festival del Apio in Barranquitas, (2) the group organizing a monthly Farmer’s Market in Barranquitas (3) the network of collaborators of the INACC, and (4) the network of collaborators with the Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Orgánica, whose members are from Orocovis, Barranquitas, Jayuya and other central region municipalities. Thus, the objective of forming a “working group” that could direct the year’s research efforts and serve as sounding board for the suggestions brought about by the researchers, was met both by the formation of an advisory board to the project and by the incorporation of the researchers in the meetings of community organizations.

2. Participatory Rural Appraisal and Preliminary Research Design

The PRA approach had to be modified to reflect the new roles attributed to the advisory board and to incorporate the feedback received by the targeted community organizations. Historical accounts on the development of agriculture in Barranquitas were combined with the analysis of census statistics to provide the background for the food system profile in progress. Interviews with farmers and community leaders showed that one of the most important obstacles to the development of agriculture, perceived by producers and leaders alike, is the lack of new marketing channels for farm produce, particularly at peak harvesting time. A monthly local Farmer’s Market was organized this year to address this problem. During the Festival del Apio a short survey of 43 consumers sponsoring the market was performed. A summary of the survey results is provided in Appendix 2. In brief, the survey showed that most of the buyers in the festival resided outside of Barranquitas, usually bought their fresh vegetables and fruits in the supermarket, look for freshness and quality when making their buying decisions, and were willing to support a Farmer’s Market like the one in Barranquitas because they strongly believed in supporting local agricultural initiatives. The food system profile is now being written and will be published this year. Suggestions for a future CAD project were received during the educational activities and advisory board meetings, and will also be incorporated in the final project proposal.

3. Identification of Potential Partner Communities

Through the course of the project we found that potential partner communities are of two types. First, communities that share similar production and marketing conditions would be good candidates for a productive research partnership. One example would be the U.S. Virgin Islands which are also highly dependent on food imports and where the agricultural use of land faces competition from other uses. The Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of the Virgin Islands recently began implementing a model small farm that integrates aquaculture, vegetable, tree fruit, and small livestock production (with funding from IFAFS in partnership with the University of Guam). Future work in regenerating agro-food systems may dovetail with the outreach phase of that project and provide a basis for inter-island collaboration. Other examples of similar communities may be found in the mountainous areas of southern Appalachia, where production and marketing conditions preclude large-scale commodity production for undifferentiated markets.

Second, we found that there is perhaps more potential in partnering with communities in the Northeast U.S. where Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean immigrants are concentrated. For that reason we invited the president of a community development association in Philadelphia (part of a Puerto Rican community) to participate in one of our outreach events (described below). This is a case where the regional structure of the SARE program works against the geography of the Puerto Rican Diaspora and potential partnerships for linking production, processing, and marketing on terms that benefit producers, consumers, and the environment.

4. Identification of Criteria for Evaluating Impact

This objective was not effectively addressed in our work. When the “working group” plan fell away in favor of an advisory committee, there was not time available with the group to discuss how to measure the impact of community agriculture development efforts.

5. Education, Outreach and Feedback

The project’s principal investigators presented the preliminary results of their study to the community by participating at the “Festival del Apio” with a poster summarizing results and activities. During the two days of the festival (May 5 and 6) we hosted a table with the poster and literature on the community organizations which had been our collaborators during the year. Following the suggestions of the advisory board, it was decided that rather than conducting a seminar on the same topic, the project should organize an activity on alternative marketing strategies, and bring external resources that could contribute with their knowledge and experience to the enhancement of current community activities. Under the title “Alternative Marketing Strategies for Small and Mid-sized Farmers” this seminar was held on July 5. Among other local speakers, the president of the Norris Square Civic Association of Philadelphia, PA—a community organization hosting a weekly market in a neighborhood with a strong Puerto Rican presence—was invited to the seminar and talked about their experience with the market and with importing Puerto Rican produce directly. The following day she met with local farmers trying to promote the processing and marketing of “dulce de chayote” (a local dessert), to assess the possibilities of marketing this produce in Philadelphia. The last educational activity of the project was targeted to the youth sector of the community. On August 30 a one day workshop on Agroecology and Sustainable Farming was held in the facilities of the INACC by the farmer in charge of the agricultural component of that project. Twenty-three 4-H members from Barranquitas and Naranjito attended the activity.

6. Final Proposal

The culmination of the project entails the preparation of the final research design and a formal proposal based on both the informational outcomes of the PRA process and the data gathered throughout the evaluation process of all activities. The results of the food system profile and of the discussions with the project’s advisory board suggest that the success of any future community agriculture initiative will be associated to the development of a strong educational component to increase awareness of the characteristics of the local food system, the benefits that the community can derive from a stronger agricultural sector, and the alternatives now being forged to facilitate these processes.

During this year we gathered part of the information needed to structure this educational effort in Barranquitas. However, the food retailing segment of the Puerto Rican food system is restructuring very rapidly. Following similar trends occuring for some years now in the U.S., food megastores such as Wal-Mart, Sam’s and Cosco are entering the island, and they have additionally bought the majority of shares of the island’s two largest supermarket chains, which until now were locally owned. Local farm leaders in Barranquitas are concerned that these changes will further affect their already limited marketing options. On the consumer side, the introduction last year of a debit card mechanism for distributing food stamps funds in Puerto Rico (they were formerly distributed in cash), is likely to affect the performance of direct marketing initiatives, because over 60 percent of Barranquitas population receive these funds. Emerging farmer’s markets and other fledgling marketing initiatives must become more stable, acquire the technologies needed to process the new food debit cards, and/or devise new ways to attract other types of customers to their stands. Thus, the removal of obstacles for the development of a more sustainable agriculture in central region localities still needs a more thorough study of these very recent changes, including consumer purchasing habits and their knowledge of the current system’s impacts on local economies. Such data would serve as a base for devising concrete action projects and programs to improve the position of local farmers and other food-related operations, particularly those incorporating sustainable principles into their operations.

Currently, we are still drafting a proposal that incorporates these local concerns with those of potential partner communities in the U.S. who have either experienced similar restructuring processes and are, as in here, in search of alternatives, or have managed to successfully implement community agricultural development initiatives to strengthen the position of local agriculture.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Carro-Figueroa, Vivian and Guptill, Amy. “El Perfil Agroalimentario de Barranquitas.” (Barranquitas Profile – In progress)

Carro-Figueroa, Vivian and Guptill, Amy. 2001. “Desarrollo agrícola comunitario en Barranquitas”. Poster presentation in the 4th Festival del Apio, Barranquitas, Puerto Rico,
May 5-6.

Carro-Figueroa, Vivian and Guptill, Amy. 2001. “Estrategias alternativas de mercadeo para pequeños y medianos agricultores”. Presentation in the seminar on direct marketing alternatives for small and mid-sized farmers, Barranquitas PR, July 5.

Guptill, Amy and Carro-Figueroa, Vivian. 2001. “La situación agrícola de Barranquitas, PR”. Profile handout distributed in the direct marketing alternatives seminar, July 5.

Carro-Figueroa, Vivian and Guptill, Amy. 2001. “Results: Mini-Survey of Consumers at the Barranquitas Farmers Market, May 5-6”.

Evaluation results of alternative marketing seminar

The half-day seminar covered the following topics:

-Alternative marketing strategies for small and mid sized farmers.

-New marketing policies implemented by the local Department of Agriculture

-The Norris Square Civic Association Community Market in Philadelphia: analysis of an experience with direct crop imports from Puerto Rico, and future perspectives

Although close to 70 persons attended this seminar, only 31 returned the evaluation form provided. Items explored using a four point scale included the workshop’s organization, the clarity of the presentations, opportunities provided for making questions or further discussing the topics presented, and the audience’s perceptions on the relevance of the information presented for those seeking to diversify their marketing strategies. Three final open-ended questions explored which of the topics presented was more interesting to the audience, suggestions for improving this type of activity, and suggestions on other topics that they would like to be researched and presented in similar seminars, field days, or workshops.

Results of the objective questions in the evaluation form show that the audience was quite satisfied with the seminar presentations and with the general organization of the activity. More than two thirds of those who filled the forms rated as excellent the content of the seminar and the way the information was presented, and believed that all topics covered contributed to the central theme of the activity. Fifty-five percent also gave an excellent rating to the seminar in terms of providing new information to the audience. Opinion was somewhat more divided on the item exploring if the information provided was sufficient for the participant to begin implementing an alternative marketing strategy. Forty-two percent rated the seminar as excellent in this respect, while 52% believed it had been good.

The open ended questions results showed that 50% of the audience found the Norris Square presentation as the more interesting one offered during the day. In terms of suggestions for improving this type of activity, very few were offered. One person suggested finding a better location for future activities, with more space, and isolation from outside noises. Another one suggested that more information should be provided on the questions that were raised during the discussion session. In terms of topics for future seminars or workshops the following suggestions were offered:

-How to improve the prices farmers get for their products

-How to obtain seeds for diversifying their farms

-Low-cost technologies to improve farm efficiency

-Export markets for the region’s crops

-Processing and packaging of agricultural products, and how to channel their production excedents to the planned government’s processing plants

-Conduct a study on the different products that are being marketed locally and their available amounts. Publish this information in the local newspaper.

Evaluation of youth workshop

Evaluation by organizers and participants in the youth workshop on agro-ecology and sustainable farming, held at the INACC’s project facilities on Aug. 30, 2001

This one-day activity, targeted to 4-H youth from Barranquitas and Naranjito, was planned with two principal objectives in mind: to introduce the youth of the community to the INACC’s project farm, goals and organic farming principles, and to carry out a hands-on workshop on some of the topics covered in the talks of the day. These included the preparation of a compost pile and the planning and planting of an organic garden. During the activity, a brief talk was also offered on the objectives of the current SARE planning project. The poster summarizing the profile results, prepared for the Festival del Apio, was also exhibited in the meeting area.

The age range of the 23 youth attending the workshop was from 7 to 18 years old. This relatively diverse age distribution was both a challenge and an asset for Pedro Colon, the principal facilitator of the workshop. While Pedro had ample experience with workshops for adults, mainly from non-farm backgrounds, addressing kids with little knowledge of sustainable principles but having been around a farm for all their lives, was a new experience for him. Given the group’s diversity, the evaluation of the activity was carried orally and no written forms were distributed. In general, the younger kids were the ones who found the written materials distributed and the activities devised for the day, as more interesting and exciting. For the six or seven older kids present, who had had previous experiences with making compost and preparing an organic garden, what was more interesting was finding out that such a farm existed in Barranquitas, so close to their neighborhood. And while they were skeptical about the possibility of applying some of the techniques discussed in their parent’s farms, they were excited about the possibility of visiting Pedro in another occasion to monitor the farm’s development, and offered to help with some of the more labor intensive tasks planned for the farm’s near future. In summary, all the project’s collaborators believe that although certain adjustments must be made to guarantee the effectiveness of future activities involving the youth of the community, the workshop was able to meet its objectives and offered important insights for the organizers on how to integrate this segment of the population into any future development project.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

One direct impact of the project to date has been that associated with the workshop on alternative marketing strategies on July 5th. Over 70 farmers participated, and the evaluation forms indicate that they found it useful, especially the presentation by Patricia DeCarlo, President of the Norris Square Civic Association of Philadelphia, PA. (See section on Publications/Outreach for a summary of the evaluation results, which indicate that participants found the event useful and informative.)

A second contribution of the project was the consumer survey conducted at the farmers’ market in conjunction with the celeriac harvest festival, May 5-6, 2001. The survey yielded information useful to the market organizers. Many of the survey respondents, especially those that patronize market plazas and small local grocers, indicated that freshness and quality are important to them in shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. Many also expressed a desire to support Puerto Rican farming. Useful suggestions made by respondents included: to increase the variety of products available, to emphasize local farming in promoting the market, and to publicize available products and prices before the market.

A third indirect outcome of the project is that staff members of the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture have begun the process of bringing the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program to Puerto Rico. Although in the initial meetings of the project this was mentioned as a possibility once the local market became more stable, because the program requires insular legislation to take effect, no step was immediately taken to implement it. But a Department of Agriculture staff member who works specifically on farmers markets and other direct marketing schemes, learned about the program when he attended the alternative marketing workshop where Patricia DeCarlo mentioned the FMNP as an important part of their success in Philadelphia. On his initiative, the Department is currently seeking to bring the program to the island to help support fledgling markets.

Farmer Adoption

Not applicable. Our work is not addressed at farm-level practices, but rather producers organized into groups and other community institutions in support of agriculture. In this area, our work is too preliminary to have resulted in new initiatives or collaborations to date.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

  1. Research on recent restructuring trends in the retail food system of Puerto Rico and its consequences for central region’s farmers and other food related operations.

    Research on the consequences for direct marketing operations of the changes in the mechanisms for distribution of food stamps funds.

    Research of consumer purchasing habits and knowledge of the current system’s impact on local economies.

    Research and training on working models of community agriculture development

    Research to evaluate the progress and impact of existing initiatives, promoting collaboration among initiatives

    Training in alternative marketing practices

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.