The resurgence of the youth and the changing social status of agricultural work was the theme of the morning. Today was our chance to connect with students studying agriculture at the UPR and their professors. We ended the day with two very different experiences in coffee production that my colleague Josephine will get into in much more detail.
The UPR Utuado campus had a community feel that reminded me of my days at Penn State. There was music playing, students hanging out in groups between class, and professors giving lectures on their open lawn. The campus provides a two year agricultural program full of students from all walks of life. Many of them from the neighboring towns which was nice to see. We met the financier who couldn’t take the 9-5 office life, the US Army Veteran who wanted to learn an applicable skill, and the 18 year old with hopes of starting his own landscaping business. Decades ago the social implications of being a farmer were plagued with negative stereotypes that are no longer supported by the youth. Much like the increasing agricultural interests of the youth within the mainland US-the Puerto Rican youth are actively trying to change the status of agricultural work within a society that is becoming more urbanized. The detrimental role of urbanization from an agricultural perspective is related to its expansion onto the most nutrient rich soil (Grau et al 2003.) Nonetheless, the school plays an integral role in educating its students and the surrounding community of the strong Puerto Rican history of coffee and 21st century challenges in production. With that said, behind the concrete walls of Utuado’s classrooms and laboratories is the emerging presence of women in the agricultural field. Women like professor Mariangie Ramos Rodriguez who lectured on the importance of coffee to Puerto Rican biodiversity in the morning and effortlessly carried twins on her waist during lunch in the afternoon was a picturesque image of the balancing game that women play in the work force. Lastly, we ended the day at the UPR Utuado with an absolutely delicious meal of only locally produced and sustainable food composed of mainly delicious root vegetables and mixed greens. I really appreciated this meal because it symbolized the possibility of an attainable fresh source of food and nutrition for Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable populations.
The future of the UPR Utuado remains bright as the students and faculty are continuously working on new ways to promote their work and develop the program. Many students expressed the desire to work towards business planning and entrepreneurship. Interestingly, the gap between the older generation and the younger generation is not only in knowledge but in the financial ability to acquire land and invest in its development. I did not hear much about apprenticeship opportunities or internships but that may be because the questions asked did not lend to that information (though there is a possibility that the relationship does not exist at this time.) This may be because the means of developing such a relationship has not been established as of yet or maybe because of decreased interest outside of the academic setting. In my opinion the development of this relationship is integral to the development of a strong generation of farmers and entrepreneurs.