Progress report for LS20-330

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $49,992.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Plenitud PR
Region: Southern
State: Puerto Rico
Principal Investigator:
Co-Investigators:
Bryan Brunner Montes
University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez
Owen Ingley
Plenitud PR
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Project Information

Abstract:

Plenitud PR is an organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating sustainability practices that promote a life in harmony with the environment. We carry out this mission through workshops, talks and community service across the island, and from our own farm and teaching center in Las Marías, Puerto Rico. We teach and demonstrate sustainability, permaculture and agroecology through such techniques as water runoff management practices for erosion prevention, agroforestry planting, compost systems, rainwater harvesting, intensive food planting and ecological bio-construction. We receive an average of 1,000 people a year who participate in workshops, internships, and 1-2 week apprenticeship programs, as well as volunteer programs and other educational activities. Our goal is to present viable sustainable alternatives to the many and increasing challenges faced by ordinary Puerto Ricans, such as climate change related natural disasters, economic uncertainty, and food insecurity. With the knowledge gained from our direct farm experience applying permaculture and agroecological practices, and through the experience gained in providing our educational programs, we have developed a 200 page agroecological manual, Siembra Boricua: Agricultura en Armonía con la Naturaleza (Translation: Manual for Agriculture in Harmony with the Natural Environment), complete with all the information and tools needed to produce food sustainably. This curriculum addresses the main challenges and key solutions through sustainable farming in a tropical climate, especially in Puerto Rico. 

Despite the pandemic, our collaboration with SSARE has given us the means to further address the region’s major food insecurity problem through intensive educational programs. This educational program has been based on the ¡Siembra Boricua! manual and we have equipped underserved beginning farmers with the tools needed to successfully and sustainably increase or begin local food production in Puerto Rico. 

Through this SSARE supported project, Plenitud PR is currently offering: (1) 140 hour intensive agroecological training program accessible to 15 beginning or transitioning farmers; (2) 220 hour mentorship program for 2 participants of the previous intensive agroecological training program; (2) 7-month paid agroecological internship opportunities focused on sustainable intensive commercial production systems; continued to distribute the Siembra Boricua manual to be used as official curriculum for agriculture education. In the summer months we will offer (1) internship on Nutrient Cycling and Agroforestry Systems Management; continue to develop new educational material to create sustainable and replicable programming for other small-scale farmers to use for many years to come.

Our educational objectives are designed not only to train future farmers in sustainable practices, but to generate sustainable, profitable programming that will allow this work to continue beyond the scope of this project. Plenitud PR first offers our intensive agroecological training to provide theory and experience of key sustainable practices applicable to our tropical context, followed by additional focused group program opportunities, including a mentorship and internship, to more thoroughly train future sustainable farm managers. We have also created outreach components to disseminate the material more widely, and to increase visibility for the program so that it can be profitable and sustainable for years to come. Combined with our intensive production model, this approach will generate sufficient income to repeat the program in the following years.

 

Project Objectives:

 

A primary goal for this SSARE-funded project is not only to provide high quality intensive education to beginning and transitioning farmers for the period of the initial project, but also to implement the education in a way that is self-sustaining and easily replicable. We are providing these trainings and opportunities for sustainable farmers as a yearly programmatic effort, and thus we have instituted several mechanisms to allow for a long shelf-life for both the materials and the educational programs we discuss below.

  1. Currently providing 140-hour intensive agroecological apprenticeships to (15) new farmers. Until  the present moment we have offered 6 workshops and three practice days (a total of 45 hours). The workshops have been a combination of virtual ones in which theory is covered and hands on ones offered at Plenitud PR farm and UPR, Mayagüez Campus farm where students plant and manage a 5,000ft^2 plot. 
  2. Currently providing a 220-hour intensive long-term professional mentorship to (2) selected participants from the previous apprenticeship to receive extra and personalized training on how to not just be sustainable producers, but how to run their own business as well. The program started in November and the participants are more than halfway done with the mentorship. Both of the mentees have begun their productions at their plots and farms, applying the lessons and skills developed in the mentorships. Also, they are now assisting the team instructing at the apprenticeship. 
  3. Currently providing employment for (2) individuals for a paid 7-month agroecological internship focused on intensive production systems. The two interns have been participating for more than 4 months and have experienced the production and marketing from seeding to delivery. They are also assisting in implementing the curriculum for the mentees. 
  4. Will provide (1) new internship position named Nutrient Cycling and Agroforestry Systems Management. This intern, in contrast with the other two that are focused on intensive production, will center on activities that support production systems such as building thermal and static compost systems, practices to increase soil fertility, production and management of green-manure and biomass production, and agro-forestry management (including pruning and propagation of leguminous trees). We plan on starting this internship during the summer. 
  5. Currently testing and distributing the Manual, “Siembra Boricua: Manual de Agricultura en Armonía con la Naturaleza” (Translation: Manual for Agriculture in Harmony with the Natural Environment) with the new farmers in the educational programs.
  6. Currently developing new educational material, for use in educational initiatives described above and in future years. The completion of this objective will ensure that our curricula is fully replicable (with continuous quality improvement), thus facilitating sustainability of this program for many future years of sustainable agriculture training at Plenitud. These materials will also allow us to easily share content with the general public, from commercial farmers to backyard gardeners and local consumers. As a result, we will be further enabled to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable agriculture and to continue reviving farm to table culture in Puerto Rico, increasing public support and demand for sustainably farmed goods and produce. (See education and Outreach description below)

Other Complementary Goals Accomplished:

– Sell produce as a means of income to maintain profitability of the project and be able to test and show viability of small scale sustainable operation. This will give it more credibility when proposed to rising farmers. 

– Use the high-tunnel production system, as well as our agro-forestry systems, agroponics, and other productive systems of the farm, as living laboratories for testing sustainable practices (part of revision and development of the educational curriculum in our agroecology manual) such as: worm composting, organic fertilizers, pest control, soil amendments, etc. 

– Revised and developed curriculum on sustainable agriculture, paving the way for future workshop series to be offered more effectively and with less cost to the organization.

 

To show one of our interns in action.
“Our intern Daimer Castro, harvesting tomatoes”
This picture shows the interns and mentees learning together.
” Intern Magalis with mentees Pedro and Angelica harvesting at Clementine- our living laboratory”
“Harvest of green onions”

“Preparing gardening beds”

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Kamil Geronimo (Educator)
  • Lizzette Gonzalez (Educator)
  • Rebekah Sanchez Cruz (Educator)
  • Ian Pagán - Producer (Educator)

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

This project has used an experiential learning and horizontal educational approach. The apprenticeships, mentorship and internships participants are learning to develop their farming skills as well as innovative sustainable practices through immersion at our teaching center. This immersion and empowerment in the field allows them to see the results of the application of these practices and gives them the confidence to apply them as well. 

The project has also been organized utilizing the strategy of training the participants in a deliberate order. This plan of action allows for the participants to have the opportunity to practice skills for a few months and then share them with others that are being trained. 

For example, the (2) interns after a few months of their internship are helping lead the participants from the mentorship. The interns are imparting the lessons learned in their experience to the new mentees. Now after a few months of experience, the mentees with the support of the project leaders and interns are playing a teacher assistant role in the intensive agro-ecological apprenticeships to the new students. This strategy empowers the students to have more conviction in what they are learning as they teach it to others.

 

Educational & Outreach Activities

24 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
40 On-farm demonstrations
2 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Tours
7 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

91 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

Describe the activities indicated above as well as outreach in progress (e.g. newsletter, journal articles, upcoming presentations, etc.).

  1. Factsheets – The team has published what we call “Consejitos de Siembra” translated as “Planting Tips”. These planting tips highlighted topics discussed in the previous weeks “¡Siembra Borciua!” Lives (On farm virtual demonstrations). In total, (21) tips on how to care for your garden, manage pests, create and maintain compost, among many more topics, have been shared on our social media platforms, having an outreach to over 22,000 people. We also publish two agriculture-focused posts a week that can be focused on a variety of topics including: the current activities going on at the farm, updates about the intensive agriculture course, or ways to incorporate fresh harvests into nutritious meals. These are in addition to frequent farm and agriculture updates on our Facebook and Instagram stories. 
  2. Farm planning educational tools – We have so far created (3) excel sheets with equations included that help beginning farmers create a crop plan and estimate costs and incomes. The sheets also help visualize the map of the farm and how it constantly changes in the biointensive rotations. One of the tools helps to create a maintenance plan and keep up recording. These are currently being used by interns and mentees as they practice in our farm operation and practice in the assigned plot they are taking the lead on.
  3. Newsletters – The team has published 2 educational articles on our blog focusing on agriculture, “Caring for a Raised Garden Bed” and “Gardening as Therapy.” Our community is notified of blog publications through emails, reaching around 5,000 people, and on our social media, reaching around 22,000. 
  4. On Farm Demonstrations (Virtual) – as a response to the pandemic the team has offered 40  virtual on farm demonstrations.  Every Thursday from April to December of 2020, we have been presenting in Instagram, Facebook and Youtube a live on-farm demonstration following the curriculum of the book, ¡Siembra Boricua!: Manual de Agricultura en Armonía con la Naturaleza. The demonstrations present theory as well as the step-by-step on how to implement sustainable practices on the farm. This program is reaching farmers, educators and the general public. From January 2021 until the present, the onsite demonstrations are being done 3 times a month. Each on-site teaching demonstration reaches in average, a total of 117 viewers in Youtube and 1,200 views through our social media platforms. Link to Youtube playlist of previously recorded demonstrations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IZEthylmtQ&list=PL5rlnawWpUe1gsbKZBCSKLkIhOWAR7TDb&index=1  

  5.Tours- The team gave 1 virtual farm tour to over 35 people from the general public interested in learning more about growing their own food and becoming more sustainable. Through the virtual tour, participants learned different strategies to produce food sustainably as well as how to cook it. Since the recording was made public on our Youtube channel on March 24th, 2021, it has an additional 283 views.

6.Webinars, Talks and Presentations – The team has presented the following:

  • (3) Webinars in collaboration with the non-profit Para La Naturaleza directed to farmers in PR, with on average 303 participants for each. Para La Natrueleza serves to conserve the natural environment in Puerto Rico and promotes sustainability education for the general public. Their webinars with Plenitud PR are accessible on their Facebook page and continue to impact people. On average, 3,830 people have watched these educational webinars. You can access the webinars here:   
  • (4) Virtual talks directed to (50) future farmers in Puerto Rico that are students from agricultural based high schools. In these talks we discussed how the sustainable agriculture program in Plenitud PR initiated,  answered the questions that students had after watching our educational videos and virtual on-farm demonstrations, discussed what a career in agriculture looks like from education to producing food for the community, and conventional agriculture and the necessity and possibility of transitioning to sustainable practices.

FUTURE ACTIVITIES:

 

Learning Outcomes

91 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

77 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
2 Grants received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

This project has affected agricultural sustainability in several ways. First of all, the foundation of the project is providing a living and viable model of a sustainable farm. This model serves to show in action and numbers how much this methodology can produce and serve to sustain farmers and give them quality of life. It also serves as a classroom as students get to practice the skills that are applied in the farm as part of their learning process. In other words, this project also contributes to sustainability as it trains new farmers in ecological agriculture which means in the near future there will be more and more farms using sustainable practices. One of the topics we cover in the courses is how conventional farming results in an excessive amount of gas emissions which studies show can be significantly reduced by applying organic matter to the soil among other soil protection practices. (https://grain.org/article/entries/4357-food-and-climate-change-the-forgotten-link). This means that as conscious sustainable farmers increase, greenhouse gas emissions will decrease. 

This project is also benefiting more than 5  farmers providing them with a salary while they are training and learning better practices. The education that they are receiving will benefit them economically as well since they will depend less on expenses from buying chemical fertilizers.  In the long term, their farms will have soils that will improve as time goes by, increasing fertility and production as they apply the farming techniques that they are learning.

 

Recommendations:

We are very grateful for the opportunity to have an impact together to underserved farmers in this region of Puerto Rico. 

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.