Exploring Agritourism to Increase Agricultural Sustainability and Resilience in the Municipality of Utuado, Puerto Rico

Final report for LS20-339

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $300,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Grant Recipients: Troy University; University of Puerto Rico; Arizona State University
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Patrick Holladay
Troy University
Dr. Katja Brundiers
Arizona State University
Dr. Pablo Méndez-Lázaro
University of Puerto Rico
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Project Information


On May 2017, the Government of Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy and the US government assigned PROMESA (Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board) the new mechanism in charge of making financial decisions in the island. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico leaving catastrophic damage and high loss of life (Melin & Conte, 2018). One of the hardest hit areas was Utuado, a municipality in the Central Mountain area of Puerto Rico (Farinas, 2018). It took local authorities about 10 days to begin assisting the people of Utuado and it was 42 days before the first federal presence arrived to provide aid to the communities (Millman, 2017). Civil society organizations felt catalyzed into actions to advance social change. First among them was the Corporación de Servicios de Salud y Desarrollo Socio-económico del OTOAO (COSSAO), a registered non-profit, and community-based organization that pursued sustainable development in Utuado municipality since 2013. The experience of the Hurricane strengthened COSSAO’s determination to transform its seven member barrios in Utuado into self-reliant and sustainable communities. COSSAO built alliances with other civic organizations, academia, and private companies. Utilizing their own capital, the communities stabilized infrastructure, cleared debris, and constructed a community primary health center in four months with no external funds. 

Additionally, local farmers decided to rehabilitate hurricane-destroyed and abandoned farms. Many farms, each about 15-20 acres, have been abandoned, especially as young people and families with children moved away to look for better conditions. The goal is to improve the quality of life, agricultural sustainability and resilience to extreme weather events. One approach is through the development of sustainable agriculture that acts as a tourism destination, i.e. agritourism. Agritourism diversifies revenue for producers of agricultural commodities by allowing tourists to visit agricultural operations, enjoy local specialties, and interact with host farmers. By combining sustainable agriculture practices with high-quality, experiential tourism experiences, new enterprises and opportunities for community socioeconomic development and nature conservation will be created. The farmers here explicitly stated that they have a deep interest in agritourism.

The purpose of this research is to determine whether and how agritourism can improve the quality of life, socioeconomic development, agricultural sustainability and resilience in the municipality of Utuado, Puerto Rico. For beginning farms this could mean laying the groundwork for sustainable agricultural production and operations for agritourism. For established farms this could mean developing value-added products and services. Further, there will be strategies for agritourism development, creation of value-added products and services and most importantly, an emphasis on outreach activities and educational materials to share the insights gained from the research project with other farmers.

This systems research design involves farmers, community members and scholars in the process of co-creation of knowledge and adopts a transformative sustainability research methodology (Wiek et al. 2012). The whole system approach (social, economic, ecological) will strengthen strategies to transform unsustainable social, ecological, and economic dynamics into resilient systems, able not only to recover from shocks but bounce forward towards sustainable development goals (Walker & Salt, 2012).   

Project Objectives:

The overall objective of this collaborative research project is to determine whether and how agritourism can increase agricultural sustainability and resilience of the municipality of Utuado, Puerto Rico.

  1. To clarify how agritourism can contribute to agricultural sustainability and resilience
  2. To determine available farmer support for agritourism and how farmers can best access these resources
  3. To provide strategies for creating an agritourism destination
  4. To define the potential of agritourism to create value-added products and services
  5. To identify the ways in which these agritourism products and services can contribute to the sustainability of the community and vice-versa how existing community assets, such as the Primary School Educational Farm and the Health Clinic, can contribute farmers’ agritourism endeavors. 
  6. To conduct outreach activities and provide educational materials to share the insights gained from the research project with other farmers and collaborating community organizations in order to inform practical and evidence-supported action towards sustainability and resilience. To strive for creating co-benefits for the local community, specifically for vulnerable populations including children and the elderly, when researching approaches towards these primary objectives. 
  1. To strive for creating co-benefits for the local community, specifically for vulnerable populations including children and the elderly, when researching approaches towards these primary objectives.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Juan Biblioni - Producer
  • Luis Curbelo - Producer
  • Jesus Martes - Producer
  • Emanuel Perez - Producer
  • Dr. Javier Pérez Lafont (Educator)
  • Francisco Valentin - Technical Advisor
  • Evelyn Perez - Producer (Educator)
  • Max Perez - Producer (Educator)
  • Vidal Pabon - Producer
  • Jamie Reyes Morales - Producer
  • Madelyn Heredia Pabón - Producer
  • Carlos Casanas - Producer
  • Luis Perez Cintron - Producer


Materials and methods:

The overall objective of this collaborative research project is to determine whether and how agritourism can increase agricultural sustainability and resilience of the municipality of Utuado, Puerto Rico. 

To accomplish the seven objectives, we draw on the “transformative sustainability research approach” developed by Wiek et al. (2012). This approach involves four major research steps. All four steps are conducted through collaborative and participatory research activities, involving the participating farmers and—depending on the research objective—other local experts including community entrepreneurs, community members, representatives of COSSAO's initiatives, and representatives of government and non-governmental organizations.  The participatory research approach will be designed in a way that it allows for peer-learning and capacity building throughout the project.

The first step conducts a systematic analysis of the current state of the system to identify the key drivers of the agricultural system in relation to  ongoing local tourism and community development efforts and their current outcomes. A sustainability assessment allows determination to what extent the agricultural system and related tourism and community initiatives are meeting sustainable development objectives, including those related to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a framework to achieve a better and more sustainable future that were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and intended to be achieved by the year 2030. For example, “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” (SDG #8), “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.” (SDG #15), and SDG #3 “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all and at all ages.” (SDG#3).  

The second step develops a systematic and sustainable vision for agritourism in the community. This vision is informed by guiding sustainable development principles. The outcomes of these two research steps provide the reference points for the third step. 

This third step conducts research on strategies that have the potential to transform the current state towards the sustainable vision for agritourism in the community. 

The fourth research steps encompasses implementation of the key elements of the strategy prototypes as pilot projects to test and evaluate their effectiveness.  

To focus each of the four steps on the themes related to agritourism (including sustainable farming and agroecology, eco-friendly and socially responsible tourism, as well as community development and well-being) we incorporate two additional concepts in each step. These concepts are complementary. The first is a set of methods that allow to evaluate and design sustainable agricultural systems. It is called the Framework for the Evaluation of Natural Resource Management Systems Incorporating Sustainability Indicators (in Spanish: Marco para la Evaluación de Sistemas de Manejo de recursos naturales incorporando Indicadores de Sustentabilidad, MESMIS). MESMIS was developed specifically for sustainable development projects for small farmers and local contexts, ranging from the farm level to the village level in Latin America as has been successfully tested over recent years. It helps to build an integral understanding of the opportunities and constraints for the sustainability of the socio-ecological systems that are forged by the intersection of environmental processes and socio-economic conditions. Second, it is a flexible concept that can be adapted to the different levels of information and technical skills that are available locally. Lastly, it proposes a process of participatory evaluation that emphasizes group dynamics and continuous feedback from the evaluating team. (http://www.mesmis.unam.mx/)

The second additional concept is the “One Health” concept, a worldwide strategy for fostering collaborations and integrated considerations of all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment. Individual and community health depends on healthy ecosystems and management of hazards as well as animal health. The concept of “One  Health” clarifies the relationship between agritourism and community development (http://www.onehealthinitiative.com).

Step 1: Current State Analysis and Sustainability Assessment  

Contributes to: 

Research objective #1: To clarify how agritourism contributes to agricultural sustainability and resilience. 

Research objective #2: To determine available farmer support for agritourism.  

Methods to achieve objective #1 and #2: 

  • Systems-analysis using stakeholder interviews and focus groups will be employed to identify drivers and effects of the agricultural system in relation to tourism and community development initiatives.  Special attention will be given to determine available farmer support for agritourism, in particular support for minority and limited-income farmers. The MESMIS concept provides useful resources to carry out this step in a participatory manner. It suggests five general attributes to analyze socio-ecological systems from a farmer and community perspective (productivity, stability, reliability and resilience, adaptability, equity, and self-reliance). For each of these attributes it offers a set of system strengths and weaknesses and related indicators that have been used in previous case studies and can be adapted to analyze the interlinked environmental, social and economic aspects. Examples of these groups of indicators include e.g., returns efficiency, biodiversity, distribution of cost-benefit, participation, capability for change and innovation, and self-organizing behaviors. The resulting community-based current-state systems map will be further detailed using evidence generated from accompanying desk research. 
  • We will use a survey-based questionnaire administered to community residents to assess community resilience through a Confirmatory Factor Analysis. A Confirmatory Factor Analysis helps assess the fit between observed data and an a priori conceptualized, theoretically grounded model that specifies the hypothesized causal relations between latent factors and their observed indicator variables. This Confirmatory Factor Analysis will use a scale to measure community resilience. This scale was developed by the PI of this project and tested in similar projects in the Commonwealth of Dominica, Sarapiqui River watershed in Costa Rica, Dana Biosphere Reserve in Jordan, Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark in northern Vietnam and DaNang in central Vietnam (e.g. Holladay & Powell, 2013; Powell, et al., 2018).
  • A sustainability assessment will appraise to what extent key sustainable development goals are being developed. To facilitate this, the research team will create an initial appraisal and discuss and refine it using community-based focus groups. 

Participating cooperating partners will be involved in these objectives. This step will involve the participating farmers in order to understand their farm operations within the local and broader regional context. It will also involve the participating project partners, i.e., representatives of COSSAO as and representatives from the University of Puerto Rico-Utuado’s Sustainable Agriculture Department. Additionally, experts from local and regional tourism and agricultural organizations will be invited to participate in the focus groups. 

Step 2: Systemic and sustainable vision for agritourism in the community 

Research objective # 1: To clarify how agritourism could contribute to agricultural sustainability and resilience. 

Research objective # 2: To determine how farmers can best access available farmer support for agritourism. 

Methods to achieve objective #1 and #2: 

  • Community-based visioning exercise using focus groups. There are two inputs for the community-based visioning exercise. First, the research team will research case studies of agritourism and community resilience in the South of the USA and the Caribbean to identify evidence-supported practices for and outcomes of sustainable agritourism for farmers and the community. An example of peer-reviewed case study is “Bright Spots: Seeds of a Good Anthropocene,” featuring sustainability solutions emerging from agroecology and tourism (Bennett et al., 2016) 
  • Special attention will be given to review successful practices for minority and limited-income farmers accessing available support for agritourism, especially considering the barriers and discrimination which these farmers have endured in the past. Second, we will look at the results from the sustainability assessment (above). The sustainability assessment provides value judgment of the current management systems and thus provides suggestions for a future-oriented improvement of the socio-environmental state of the system. The latter will also inform the visioning exercise. The resulting community-based future systems map will be further detailed using evidence generated from accompanying desk research. 
  • Against the backdrop of this community-based vision, we will work with participating farmers one-on-one using a narrative method, helping them craft a vision for their farms.

Step 3: Strategies to towards sustainable agritourism in the community 

Research objective #3: To provide strategies for creating an agritourism destination.

Research objective # 4: To define the potential of agritourism to create value-added products and services. 

Methods to achieve objective #3 and #4: 

  • To identify strategies for objectives #3 and #4 we combine stakeholder interviews and desk research to carry out the following activities: 
  • Tourism asset mapping to identify tourism assets appropriate for local sustainable agritourism development; we will conduct a survey and semi-structured interviews with local, regional, state-wide and international experts.
  • Market analysis of value-added products and services, conducting a survey and semi-structured interviews with farmers and experts along the food value chain (e.g., suppliers, producers, distributors, retailers, consumers).

Research objective #5: To identify the ways in which these agritourism products and services can contribute to the sustainability of the community and vice-versa, as well as how existing community assets, such as the Primary School Educational Farm and the Health Clinic, can contribute to farmers' agritourism endeavors.   

  • Define a agritourism pilot project for each participating farm. Planning backward from the vision for their farms (developed in step 2), we will use a series of workshops involving participating farmers to identify a pilot project for their farm and determine the steps to implement this pilot project for years 2 and 3 as well as a way to monitor and evaluate the processes. We will use desk research from successful case studies to inform the development of the pilots. The deliverable of this step is a strategy for the development of businesses, operations and management.

Research objective #6: To conduct outreach activities and provide educational materials to share the insights gained from the research project with other farmers and collaborating community organizations in order to inform practical and evidence-supported action towards sustainability and resilience. 

Methods to achieve objective #6:

  • Co-create educational materials (e.g. videos/films, audio, manuals, guides) 
  • Conduct small focused educational sessions using the materials to verify how successful they are, improve the approach and determine participation rates.  
  • Define how many will be educated and the makeup of the audience to be educated 

Research objective #7: To co-create benefits for the local community, specifically for vulnerable populations including children and the elderly, when researching approaches towards these primary objectives.  

Method to achieve objective #7:

  • Establish advisory committee that represents the interests and needs of the most vulnerable people in the region, including the children younger than eight years and the elderly older than 80 years. Members of the advisory committee participate in the formative evaluation and advise the research team on specifying the research strategies so that they account for determining the feasibility of the agritourism in the region and its impact/contribution to the well-being on the whole community. 
Research results and discussion:
  1. A resident attitude study is being performed. All results are not in but 284 emails were collected from Puerto Rican residents who attended one of our agritourism fairs, focus groups, or meetings. The four-variable survey instrument using Likert scales is being distributed via email. The survey instrument measures resident perceptions of social, economic, institutional and environmental resiliencies. A Confirmatory Factor Analysis will measure community resilience and by extension agritourism resilience from an agricultural systems approach.
  2. A visitor study was conducted through Qualtrics. A 20-item survey instrument was distributed to U.S. citizens that had visited Puerto Rico and participated in an agritourism activity. The survey provided 211 usable out of 327 submitted for a response rate of 65%. Data provided information on visitor activities, agricultural experiences, value-added purchases, educational activities, places visited (regionally), tourism providers, and perceptions of risks (e.g. hurricanes). These data are being used in developing a comprehensive marketing plan and within individual farms (e.g. mitigation strategies).
  3. Two focus groups were conducted. One in 2020 with 15 farmers and one in 2023 with 25 farmers. These data provide insight into farmer perceptions of business opportunities, new revenue streams, knowledge sharing, community building, infrastructure improvements, regulations, marketing, branding, image and labor.
  4. An Agritourism Fair was held in 2021 and in 2022 that was hosted by our main partner, COSSAO, and our cooperating farmers. Both fairs featured up to 50 vendors/participants and between 500-1000 attendees. Both fairs were audited by our research team members in real-time. Auditing provided insight into improvements needed in event organization, speakers/workshops during the event, volunteer coordination, security, food/vendor management, participant surveys, stakeholder coordination, visitor experience and recommendations for sustainability.  The creation of a sustainable events guidebook was an output. 
  5. A comprehensive marketing plan was developed. The objective of this marketing and branding plan is to promote and develop agritourism. The plan aims to leverage the region's natural and agricultural assets, address infrastructure challenges, capitalize on opportunities, showcase local products, and emphasize the community's values and identity. The target audience for the agritourism initiative will include domestic and international tourists interested in experiencing the region's natural beauty, agricultural heritage, and local products. Additionally, efforts should be made to engage the local community and encourage their participation and support.
    1.  Strategies:
      • Education and Awareness:
        • Conduct educational outreach programs to familiarize the community with the concept and benefits of agritourism.
        • Organize workshops and training sessions to equip farmers with the knowledge and skills necessary for successful agritourism ventures.
        • Collaborate with local schools and colleges to incorporate agricultural education and farm visits into the curriculum.
      • Infrastructure Development:
        • Advocate for improved road infrastructure and access to the communities, ensuring convenient transportation for tourists and farmers.
        • Promote the development of warehouses and facilities to support the storage, processing, and distribution of local products.
        • Collaborate with government agencies and organizations to secure funding and resources for infrastructure improvements.
      • Branding and Promotion:
        • Develop a compelling brand identity for agritourism in the central mountains, emphasizing the region's natural beauty, agricultural heritage, and authentic experiences.
        • Create a visually appealing logo and marketing materials that reflect the image of "green life with a great diversity of products."
        • Utilize various marketing channels, including social media, websites, local tourism offices, and traditional advertising, to promote the agritourism offerings and attract visitors.
      • Product Development:
        • Support farmers in diversifying and enhancing their local product offerings to meet the demands and preferences of tourists.
        • Encourage the production and promotion of high-quality coffee, fruits, cocoa, meats, and other agricultural products.
        • Explore the development of on-farm experiences, such as nature tours, agricultural workshops, farm-to-table dining, and hands-on activities.
      • Community Engagement:
        • Foster collaboration among local farmers, businesses, and community organizations to collectively develop and promote agritourism in the region.
        • Encourage farmers to open their farms for visits, tours, and activities, promoting interaction between visitors and the local community.
        • Establish partnerships with local restaurants, hotels, and other tourism-related businesses to create packages and experiences that showcase the region's agritourism offerings.
      • Sustainability and Stewardship:
        • Promote sustainable farming practices, organic agriculture, and environmental conservation among farmers and visitors.
        • Provide workshops and training on topics such as solar energy, sustainability, and responsible farming methods.
        • Encourage farmers to serve as examples and mentors, sharing their knowledge and experiences with others in the community.
      • Collaboration with Existing Efforts:
        • Collaborate with existing agritourism efforts in the community, building on their experiences and resources.
        • Work with local organizations and initiatives focused on infrastructure improvement, conservation, and education to enhance the overall agritourism development.
  6. A visual-spatial inventory of agritourism assets was conducted. Three steps led to the spatial representation: inventorying tourism assets, visualizing these assets through Google Maps, and exploring their contribution to a region-wide, systematic sustainable agritourism development strategy, using the functionalities of ArcGIS Storymap.
  7. In 2021 and in 2023 on-site farm visits were made to cooperating farms. There were four farms in 2021 and ten farms in 2023. A visitor readiness and agritourism asset assessment was conducted on each farm. In addition, each farmer was interviewed about their farm, agritourism development, business/marketing, community cooperation, risk management, resilience and sustainability. Farm assessments and interview data were developed into strategic initiatives for each individual farm. In addition, all data were refined into a SWOT analysis to examine the network of farms from a systems view. 

Below is a compiled SWOT analysis from the two site visits completed in 2021 and 2023.


  • There are a diversity of offerings across the different farms
  • The 4 (original) participating farmers serve as models and motivators
  • Juan’s farming experience that he can offer has much potential
  • Tito and COSSAO have a strong community leadership and presence locally
  • There is diversity of partners on the project team, including five universities
  • There is an innate human need, which has surfaced even more now, to desire time spent in nature (Utuado is rich in it’s natural offerings)
  • Social-capital
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Hospitality/friendly
  • Working on consistency in branding products 
  • Properties have lots of potential for tourism/access to nature 
  • Value added products 
  • Partnership among participants 
  • Great stories/histories around farms


  • Government-related:
    • Roads and infrastructure, wayfinding and signage, wifi and signal are lacking in this region
    • There is a lack of support from government departments of agricultura (agriculture), carretera (road infrastructure), desarollo (business), and turismo (tourism)
    • There is difficulty obtaining permits to include the use of natural resources, such as water bodies, in experiential offerings. 
  • Entrepreneurship: 
    • There are insufficient places to eat; food trucks are open Friday - Sunday, and there are no options for weekdays
    • There is a small workforce for farms
    • There is low connectivity among farmers
    • There are incomplete tourism plans for each site (4 farmers)
    • Low availability of both internal/personal and external funding 
    • No developed business plans for each farm. 
  • There is a need for more people and human resources on the COSSAO project as it has a very wide scope
  • Lack of training 
  • Difficulty navigating regulatory environment 
  • Lack of financial opportunities 
  • Insurance 
  • Lack of teaching experience


  • COSSAOs desire to create an office/agency for agricultural start-ups 
    • There is an opportunity for 4 farmers to serve as models and examples to other regional farms through Huda’s CE project (i.e. training community for farmers)
    • There is an opportunity here for collaboration with higher level institutions such as ASU
  • COSSAO: wants to increase social media and online presence, creating a movement, and tapping into local media and news outlets
  • Community education for sustainability, disaster preparation, local economy
  • Risk management for farm visits, and monitoring and evaluation 
  • Tapping into the full potential of each of the partners on the team
  • Available local labor to assist in project completion among farms
  • Potential for merchandising as a source of revenue and marketing
  • Alternative energy + water
  • Labor equipment sharing
  • Economic activities like farmers markets


  • Hazards, leading to disasters
    • e.g., Weather events
    • COVID-19
  • Licensing and permits
  • Succession planning for the leadership of COSSAO, which currently lacks resilience due to the hierarchical structure
  • An issue of generativity -- no transition from the older to the younger generation
  • Technical infrastructure: 
    • Wifi, 
    • Reliable power
    • Access to renewable energy alternatives
  • Lack of workforce
  • Low farm wages 
  • Lack of reliable municipal utilities 
  • Lack of financial support from the government 
  • Middle men in supply chain
  • Supply chain, materials, costs  
Participation Summary
40 Farmers participating in research


Educational approach:

We mainly used workshops, meetings and informal gatherings among farmers/cooperators to learn and disseminate information. We also used co-creation strategies among researchers and participants to learn/develop marketing, products and services. Additionally, handouts, posters and informational documents were created that were distributed (or shown) at meetings, annual agritourism fairs, and in one of our main cooperators agricultural education center.

Educational & Outreach Activities

14 Consultations
8 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 Journal articles
4 On-farm demonstrations
10 Published press articles, newsletters
14 Tours
14 Webinars / talks / presentations
8 Workshop field days
14 Other educational activities: We conducted semi-regular meetings via Zoom with all of our project collaborators and stakeholders invited. In the meetings were talk about progress, disseminate project information, have discussion and plan activities.

One team member created a literature review analyzing agritourism event practices and sustainable development. The literature provides educational materials and resources for sustainable event planning for the agritourism events as well as any other events relating to agritourism development in the region.

We held to agritourism fairs (one is being developed now for a third year of continuity). A community event that seeks to connect tourists with agricultural producers in the COSSAO area, with the aim of promoting the attributes of the mountain, improving our quality of life and the social well-being of our communities. This was a networking opportunity for participating farms and an event that encourages agritourism on a local and national level.

One team member organized two community-focused farm tours that were focused on local families learning about their local agricultural system.

Sustainable Practices for Fairs and Events Guide and materials were created. These provided educational materials and guidelines to share information on best practices in sustainability within agritourism development.

We developed a review and recommendations for disaster preparedness and mitigation strategies for each partnering farm. This report provides strategies for creating an agritourism site that is disaster resilient to ensure its sustainability into the future. It also provides educational materials to inform methods and strategies to create more disaster resilient crops and agricultural techniques.

We connected our farmers and communities with the Puerto Rico Community Preparedness and Resiliency Initiatives sponsored by the Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico & Educational Development. The desired long-term outcome is to support efforts toward self- empowerment within neighborhoods identifying and designing viable solutions to hurricane related challenges specific to the local context and one of the anchor organizations was COSSAO.

Our main local partner, COSSAO, also with the organization Pro Café that adopted the local school and began a coffee plant educational program.

Participation Summary:

30 Farmers participated
10 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

  • We have monthly meetings with our main partners. We also had pre-project meetings with our main NGO partner to plan this project.
  • We had a virtual annual meeting in 2021 with over 80 registered attendees. We had presentations from the Caribbean Climate Hub, Puerto Rico Department of Agitourism, Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, the co-PI's and graduate students working on this grant.
  • We are currently working on the 2022 annual meeting, which will be virtual and have a number of presenters.
  • We conducted field visits to four farms in the Utuado region. These are all farmer cooperators. We conducted interviews, tourism asset assessments and learned about what all the farms offered in terms of both agriculture and visitation.

ArcGIS Story Map to showcase agritourism initiative’s work

  • Developing the ArcGIS Story Map to be used as an online platform to inform about what the initiative is and the various projects that are a part of it. 
  • This platform will help the initiative reach a wider audience, provide a resource for community members/farmers, and enable reflection on the initiative’s progress. 

Farmer cooperative business training program / Comunidad de Aprendizaje: Agroturismo para Agricultores 

  • Collaborated on pedagogical insights for how to further develop each session and created various activities for the farmer training.  
  • The training program is geared towards existing farmers wishing to deepen and expand their skill sets and business as well as a way to attract younger, local farmers to the profession and stay and support their community. 

Resource guide (manuscript draft) Agritourism events’ contribution to sustainable development. 

  • Conducted a literature review to examine the research question: How can individual events, like an Agritourism Fair, help with building a sustainable agritourism initiative and be a catalyst for long-term sustainable development?
  • The literature review has generated the development of a manuscript to summarize the findings and key insights that can contribute to the community’s sustainability and resilience. 

Sustainable events guide for agritourism fair 

  • Compiled best practices into a sustainable events guide for the agritourism fair.
  • The guide was used to encourage the sustainable management of the fair as well as make a contribution to the long term sustainability of the community and region. 
  • This generated more awareness of and engagement in the local agritourism economy as well as an increased awareness of everyday sustainable practices. 

  1. Developed a quantitative farmer survey
  2. Developed in-depth semi-structured interview guide for stakeholder interviews
  3. Developed a farmer agritourism readiness assessment worksheet
  4. Community-based Visioning activity using interactive software called MURAL 
  5. Google Maps with agritourism offerings and assets in the three municipalities spanning our project
  6. ArcGIS Story-Map - foundation to tell, record, and share the story of this project, including the spatial information about agritourism assets
  7. Updated Puerto Rico Tourism Company inventory on agritourism assets
  • We visited 4 farms in August 2022.
  • We visited 10 farms in August 2023.
  • We had two local tours of famer cooperator farms/facilities. One to Amasar, our breadfruit farm and artisan food producer. The other to the Institute of Permaculture.
  1. 1 video (7 minutes long) promoting the agritourism project 
  2. 1 podcast with Patrick Holladay & Brennan Washington 
  3. Javier Perez - University of Puerto Rico - Utuado spoke about agribusiness.
  4. Nilda Luhring Gonzalez - Puerto Rico Tourism Company spoke about agritourism and certification
  5. Patrick Holladay - Troy University spoke about agritourism
  6. Pablo Mendeze Lazaro - University of Puerto Rico - San Juan & Katja Brundiers - Arizona State Univesity spoke about the assets inventory
  7. Presentations from our farmer cooperators Jesus Martes & Juan Biblioni about best practices and agritourism initiatives
  8. We will had 6 presentations at our annual (virtual meeting) April 26-27 about agribusiness, agritourism, certification, marketing, best practices and SSARE resources (Paul Vincelli)
  9. During both the 2022 Agritourism Fair and the 2021 Agritourism Fair that we helped develop we had presentations about this project, presentations from every farmer cooperator about their farms, and the progress COSSAO has made with their agricultural system and agritourism development. 
  • June 15, 2020 Hacienda Rullan, Tetuan, 31 participants came to an agritourism informational meeting. From those 15 farmers filled out a survey about agritourism
  • Did not do more of these because of Covid-19.
  • We visited four farms in 2021 and ten farms in 2023.
  • We held the first ever Agritourism Fair in Utuado/Jayuya. The fair was a 2-day event in November 2021 and was attended by nearly 1000 people. The fair included 15 farmer vendors, 15 artisan vendors and live entertainment as well as booths for information on a number of agricultural and agritoursim programs. 
  • In 2022, we held the second Agritourism Fair. The fair included 20+ farmer vendors, 15 artisan vendors and live entertainment as well as booths for information on a number of agricultural and agritoursim programs. It was attended by over 1000 people. 
  • The 30 is an estimate based on the number who filled out a surveys or email sign-up sheets on our field days and fairs. Of those, our official farmer collaborators were included.
  • This is an estimate based on our farmer collaborators along with agritourism academics and practitioners.

Learning Outcomes

8 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • Marketing, branding and image for an agritourism destination.

  • Building local partnerships

  • Network development and cooperative initiatives. For example, farmers we work with who have campsites are working with farms that do not yet but have agricultural tours and natural resources (e.g. waterfall) to visit to create tour packages.

  • Grant writing and resource development

  • Developing new value-added products and merchandising to visitors

  • Consumer interests, service quality and hosting visitors

Project Outcomes

8 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
6 Grants received that built upon this project
6 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Over the past three years, our interdisciplinary research team has worked diligently to fulfill the objectives of a $300,000 grant aimed at advancing agricultural sustainability through the development of agritourism in Utuado and surrounding municipalities in Puerto Rico. Our concerted efforts and strategic outcomes resulting from numerous research activities, community engagements, educational programs, and infrastructure assessments, culminating in a robust framework for ongoing sustainable agritourism development.

Our project was founded on a strong team organization structure, employing tools like Google Drive for effective collaboration across diverse teams. These teams conducted in-depth market analyses, sustainability assessments, and agritourism documentation, while also focusing on knowledge dissemination through presentations and educational materials.

A key to our approach was direct community involvement through surveys, interviews, farm visits and focus groups. We surveyed over 200 tourists about agritourism preferences in Puerto Rico, over 200 local stakeholders about their perceptions of agritourism, resilience and sustainability, had 14 farm visits that included interviews with farmers and help two focus groups with participation from 45 local farmers. This engagement informed our understanding of local perceptions of agritourism and sustainability. The COSSAO property at Tetuan emerged as a pivotal hub in our "hub and spoke" system for regional agritourism, connecting local farmers to broader markets and fostering economic resilience. All of these data are also informing marketing and continued agritourism development with our collaborators and partners. Our research, coupled with on-ground field visits and assessments, informed agritourism development in the region and as an agricultural system. This included a detailed analysis of post-Hurricane María agricultural challenges and opportunities.

Educational efforts were included sessions on agritourism certification and agroeconomics, improving life quality and socioeconomic development. Notable achievements included advancing agritourism-related events for sustainable development, and individual farm assessments to enhance visitor readiness. Community meetings at Hacienda Rullán and other locales fostered brainstorming and ideation, leading to practical initiatives like agritourism tours and the development of a Sustainable Practices guide for events. Moreover, the two annual Agritourism Fairs effectively connected tourists with agricultural producers, enhancing market access for local farmers and artisans.

We also created a spatial representation of regional agritourism networks, identifying potential growth areas and fostering connections between gastronomy, accommodations, farms, and attractions. Additionally, a comprehensive marketing plan is being completed to enhance the visibility of this agritourism destination.

Our project also included on-farm pilot projects funded through the grant. There were eight of these in total. Projects included farm infrastructure, coffee and vanilla bean drying systems, building an area for a food truck, hiring a consultant to identify flora and fauna, marketing, and signage.

  • Expand the reach of educational programs to encompass more farmers and stakeholders.
  • Continue to develop and refine disaster management strategies for agritourism sites.
  • Enhance marketing efforts to promote Utuado and our farmer network as a premier agritourism destination.
  • Foster further community-based research to continuously adapt to the evolving needs of agritourism and agricultural sustainability.

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    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.