An Agro-Ecological Incubator and Educational Programs for Beginner Farmers in Western Puerto Rico

Project Overview

LS22-385
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $50,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Grant Recipients: Plenitud PR; Voz Activa; Pueblo Crítico
Region: Southern
State: Puerto Rico
Principal Investigator:
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Bryan Brunner
Agricultural Experiment Station

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: mentoring
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, quality of life, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    In Puerto Rico, over 90% of food is imported. Furthermore, the last Puerto Rico Agriculture Census (2018) shows that the average age of farmers in our mountainous region is 60+, with most farmers utilizing conventional farming practices that degrade soil quality, increase erosion, and limit biodiversity. There is a need for a new generation of growers that can increase food security in Puerto Rico, create new livelihoods, and improve the health and quality of life for our communities. However, the complexity of the current social, political and economic climate limits opportunities to acquire resources, support and education investments to move forward. Challenges have been exacerbated by the devastation of farms and infrastructure caused by hurricanes in 2017, earthquakes in 2020, and the Covid-19 related economic crisis. The urgency and need is even greater in the marginalized and impoverished communities of the central western mountain region where Plenitud PR is located. Plenitud PR proposes a project that offers an alternative strategic model through the strengthening and expansion of experiential education training and one-on-one programs in agroecology for participants local to the central region. The team of talented agronomists, investigators, and educators involved have led educational programs impacting more than 600 aspiring/beginner farmers over the last 10 years, and have distributed over 3,000 copies of a unique Spanish-language sustainable agriculture book that serves as an educational tool for farmers and home gardeners in the tropics. 

    Last year’s project evaluation demonstrated that: 

    1. Small-scale sustainable farmers need more intensive mentoring, marketing resources and opportunities in order to successfully launch profitable microbusinesses.
    2. Consumers need more awareness on the importance of supporting local sustainable farmers and Food Access and Literacy (FAL). 

     The proposed project includes not only a second iteration of our previous year’s educational programming (5-month apprenticeship program impacting 15-20 beginner farmers, a 6-month mentorship program to impact 1-2 participants, and a 7-month internship program impacting 1-2 beginner farmers), but it will also be expanded to include an Agroecological Incubator for Small Businesses for 4 limited-resource and/or women farmers. In this program they will acquire additional market gardening training and efficiency tools; they will also gain more technical and legal support at their production sites. This year we will also provide stipends and resources for  small sustainable farmers to discuss needs and collaboration opportunities and get additional technical support. 

    Additionally, we will expand our outreach efforts with educational material for both farmers and consumers; we will revise and expand our current educational materials based on feedback from course participants on agricultural practices, crop planning and maintenance tools as well as develop FAL content to increase sales for farmers in the region. We will also further test and distribute the improved second edition of our Spanish-language sustainable agriculture manual. 

    Through the proposed project, Plenitud PR seeks to deepen impact on beginning farmers through programs that will increase their success and profitability, and through a multi-pronged educational and marketing campaign increasing consumer demand for local produce to advance sustainable agriculture in the region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1.Offer a 2 part 260-hr. Market Gardening Incubation experience, with the technical assistance of Voz Activa partners, to start up small scale market garden businesses or improve existing operations for 4 limited - resource and/or women farmers who have previously completed our sustainable agriculture training or are partner beginner farmers. They will participate of incubation sessions with a stipend to:

    • Prepare a full crop plan and business plan with professional assistance
    • Receive technical assistance in design and infrastructure development
    • Receive the basic tools and materials to begin production
    • Receive marketing support and access to the Plenitud PR food hub as an initial or additional sales channel
    • Receive financial and legal support

    2. Distribute and test the improved second edition of our spanish sustainable agriculture book titled: !Siembra Boricua!: Manual de agricultura en armonía con la naturaleza. In the last 2 years, we tested the first edition of this book and received positive feedback on the need for this tool and its effectiveness. After making the necessary improvements, we are currently completing the second edition and will be testing its effectiveness at supporting farmers in their sustainable agriculture practices. Program participants will receive a copy as part of their curriculum and evaluate the content.

    3. Test and train beginning farmers with key small scale farm tools that maximize efficiency and economic viability.  These training will be included in our educational programing and offered in special workshops for partner farmers and beginner farmers of our incubation program. Tools will include:

    • Two wheel tractor with implements (rotary plow, power harrow and flail mower) for easier and sustainable soil preparation.
    • Broadforks for more sustainable soil preparation
    • Silage tarps used for efficient weed control
    • Precision seeders for quicker planting and seed saving
    • Stir-up hoes for quicker and ergonomic weeding
    • Crop planning templates to simplify planning and organization and intensify small growing spaces for profitability.  

    4.Small Sustainable Farmer Collaboration Program - Incentivise 4 small scale farmer meet ups with at least 5 participants to initiate dialogue and collaboration. This will be facilitated by Pueblo Crítico, who are professionals facilitating open dialogue, in order to identify needs and opportunities sharing resources and costs. We will also reserve funding to catalyze collaborative projects generated from the dialogues and/or technical or legal support needed to advance their efforts. Farmers will receive a stipend for every gathering attended. We will also organize volunteer hours at each farm during the course of the grant to support labor and deepen relationships with the farming community. 

    With external funding we will also continue our previous year’s objectives:

    1. Develop Food Access and Literacy (FAL) content to increase sales for farmers in the region and improve previously created educational material based on feedback from course participants on agricultural practices, crop planning and maintenance tools.
    2. Continue our educational programing which includes our apprenticeship, mentorship and internship (Intensive Agroecology training). 
    3. Continue advancing the Plenitud PR farm operation which serves as our main laboratory and educational tool. 

    These lead and will support the new objectives to further sustainable agriculture in Puerto Rico.

    SSARE Grant 2022 Timeline

    SSARE Grant 2022 Budget:Matching

    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.