March 2011


Greetings from the Daviess County Extension Office!

Our team is steadily matriculating back to Indiana. Ed and I arrived on Saturday evening at about 7:00 pm. I’ve got to admit, it was quite a shock. When we left Dallas on our connecting flight, it was 80 F with clear skies and warm sunshine. Two hours later, it was 32 F and cloudy.

My wife and kids met me at the airport. The feeling I got when I saw them for the first time in two weeks told me that the weather really didn’t matter. What mattered was that the job had been done and I was home!

There have been a few surprises that have accompanied the homecoming. I guess I didn’t realize how immersed we were into the culture. Once we left the airport, we went out to eat. Just prior to ordering, I caught myself translating my order into Spanish so I could tell the waitress what I wanted! Guess I won’t need to do that anymore. I’m also trying to adjust back to regular Midwestern Cuisine. Anyone know a good place to find mora, guayanaba, or kas?

I anticipate that things will settle back into a routine, as much as they ever do, in the next few days. Things are starting to get busy outside in this part of the state. So far, I have three farm visits lined up for tomorrow and one for this afternoon.

As we matriculate back to Indiana, and with our part of the job completed, it is time to start the process of passing the torch to the next group. I am anxious to see how their experiences will compare to ours and look forward to seeing them advance the work that has been initiated.

In the last few days, I’ve come to think of this project in terms of crop production. Years prior to our arrival, Purdue had the incredible foresight to establish a presence in Central America. As the personification of that presence, Tamara Benjamin had prepared among the APOT growers a firm seedbed. Our job was to plant the seeds of information and ideas into those well-prepared seed beds. As those seeds germinate, the results will be tended, watered, fertilized, and encouraged to grow by subsequent groups. If our efforts stay on track, all parties involved should reap a bountiful harvest.

It should come as no surprise that these projects don’t happen in a vacuum. Speaking for myself, the last two weeks would not have been possible without the backing of several people. First and foremost is my family, whose support and willingness to give me up for two weeks made the whole thing possible. Also, a big thanks goes out to my Area III co-workers who filled in and helped to answer client questions in my absence. Tamara Benjimen at CATIE and Jim Murren on campus did an absolutely amazing job of putting this project together and keeping us on track. I cannot recall ever having traveled with better company than Ed and J.W. The fact that they put up with me for two weeks speaks to the caliber of their character.

¡Hasta Luego!

Scott

Greetings from San Jose!  We arrived here yesterday.

We conducted workshops on two days this week.  Topics were varied, but mostly dealt with financial records, pricing, and marketing.  A short postharvest presentation was also given.

Based on the feedback we have received, our work here has been very successful.  One of the APOT ladies had some very kind words for us.  As a growers association, they have had numerous opportunities for workshops and trainings.  However, according to her, ours were the most useful and best presented that they have had.  Our work with APOT culminated in the members throwing a party for us on Wednesday evening.  My understanding is that this doesn’t happen very often.

We have had the opportunity on this trip to meet and interact with several growers.  One that stands out is a gentleman named Jorge.  He lives on a mountain top (with a GREAT view) and produces coffee, bananas, and goat milk cheese.  When discussing organic agriculture and other topics that are important to him, he declares that he is “romantico”.  The literal translation is “romantic”.  However, the term conveys that he is passionate about the subject and, when discussing it, is speaking out of his convictions and from his heart.

The term romantico applies any time the APOT group discusses their farms, their love of the land, and their desire to be good stewards of that land.  Jorge, for example, told us that he switched to organic agriculture because he wanted to be a better citizen of the Earth.  Growers talk about stewardship with the same reverence as the farmer down the road who just installed a new WASCOB to control drainage and run-off.  Go to the annual banquet of any soil and water conservation district in the state and you’ll hear the same “romantic” convictions.

Although we only left yesterday, being here in San Jose gives us the chance to look at the whole project with a little bit of hindsight.  We have had some solid accomplishments in the last two weeks.  We have gotten to know the APOT growers and have visited their farms and have spoken to them individually.  We have provided the farmers’ market with solid marketing information and the means to assess and improve their business.  We have given the APOT growers the tools to keep better financial records and to better assess their financial condition.  In short, we have done what we do best.  We’ve supplied relevant information and made a difference in peoples’ lives.  As icing on the cake, through Charlie Selby’s efforts (head of Daviess County Chamber of Commerce), we are coming home with a potential export deal on the table.  Not only does this help the growers in Costa Rica, but through value added processing, could very well translate into the creation of some jobs in Indiana!

I had the opportunity to participate in the living on the land series yesterday.  I’ve got to admit, it was really cool to do a one-hour GAPs session from 2,200 miles away.  It also gave me the chance to explain what a group of educators were doing at the bottom of the continent.  As I explained the program, I could hear a conviction that wasn’t there two weeks ago.  It was a conviction that our being here, our participation on the world stage (though small in scale), and our efforts to bring to the Costa Rican Farmers the extension service that we all too often take for granted back home resulted in a win for APOT, a win for Indiana, and a win for international understanding.

In short, we have pulled off the triple win!  By engaging a different culture in another country, International Extension has MADE A DIFFERENCE.

¡Que Romantico!

Scott

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The month of March is considered part of the dry season in Costa Rica.  We’ve found it interesting that it still rains many days during this “dry” season. A farmer that we visited in Cartago yesterday told us that it rains 13 months out of the year in Costa Rica.  (I suppose that the bright spot is that it rains a lesser amount when it rains in the dry season as compared to the rainy season!)

The farmer in Cartago grows cool season vegetables (ie. broccoli and lettuce).  The weather conditions there are much different in this high altitude area in comparison to Turrialba.  So, the cool season veggies are brought to the Turrialba market and bananas and other crops not grown in Cartago are brought up for their market.  The partnership works between the growers.

Let’s talk about other partnerships which are growing because of our work here.  The last two days have been fascinating because we continue to learn more about agricultural systems that are completly different from farms in the corn belt.  Both the farmer from Cartago and an APOT grower we visited today are focused on effectively utilizing resources available to them.  They develop fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers from organic sources as well as follow inter-cropping practices.  We’ve really been thinking and talking a lot about our resources in Indiana, as a result.

In today’s workshop Scott and J.W. both shared information from a survey and their own experiences to help out the APOT cooperative members to improve their farmer’s market.  You really could see the wheels turning as the growers listened and chatted with the guys today…..It’s great to see a partnership at work!

Ed

Okay, I admit, I haven’t posted anything in a few days.  However, we’re all still here and doing well.

As I sit here watching it get dark outside, it is hard to believe that week two has begun and we are already on the backside of this adventure.

Overall, things are going extremely well.  Last week’s workshop, and a personal visit to each attendee’s farm for some one-on-one time, has really gone a long way towards winning acceptance and trust.  The growers really seem to appreciate that we would come all the way down here to help them.  So much so that I hear they are throwing us a party prior to our departure this week.  My understanding is that this doesn’t happen very often.

One of the neatest things about our trip down here is that we have been able to witness and take part in extension at its best.  Last week’s workshop was amazing.  Once we presented the information, the participants initiated a round-table discussion.  My understanding is that it may have been the most civil discussion they have had in a while. In the end, they took what we gave them as a base and developed a survey to assess what their customers thought of their local farmers’ market.  Giving people the information, stepping back, and allowing them to make their own informed decisions – it works down here too!

As I mentioned before, we are visiting individual farms in an effort to get to know each grower.  The growers really seem to appreciate this.  My understanding is that many of their trainings in the past have consisted of an invited speaker blowing into town, delivering a short blast of information concerning what they should do, and departing.  Guess they didn’t realize that this time they were dealing with PURDUE EXTENSION.  We live to assist with implementation, to work one-on-one, to get personal, and to get our hands dirty!

 One interesting comment made at last week’s workshop involved the lack of extension in Costa Rica.  A participant lamented that one of the biggest problems they have is a lack of information.  While Tamara and the other CATIE people have done an amazing job in working with the growers, there still isn’t extension here as we know it.  The growers were very impressed that in Indiana there was an “extencionisto” in every county.  The gentleman’s comment got me to thinking.  Given the thirst for, and lack of, available information among the growers down here, what would Indiana look like, and how different would our agriculture be, if extension didn’t exist?  I really can’t answer that question, except to say that I shudder at the possibilities.

The weekend was good for all of us.  On Friday night we attended an arts festival in Turrialba.  We, and a couple thousand other people, showed up to listen to a salsa band and celebrate the history and art of the region that includes Turrialba and neighboring Sequirres.  Imagine our surprise when, as the show was about to begin, the President of Costa Rica stepped out on the stage for an unannounced appearance!  For me, the weekend was rounded out by a day spent at Tamara’s making cheese and chocolate and riding horses up and down the mountains.

Guess I better wrap this up and get some sleep.  We are doing workshops over the next two days.  Based on what we saw last week, I think we are all eagerly anticipating two more days of definite and obvious impact.  Should be fun!

Scott

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Chirp . . . tweet . . . chirp . . . tweet.  Okay, I’m awake, mostly.

 So began our first day of the adventure.  After a long travel day, all of us slept very well our first night in Turrialba.  The Costa Ricans do many things well.  Morning is one of them.  With the windows open, I awoke to a temperature in the neighborhood of 60-65 degrees, a light breeze moving through the room, and birds chirping outside.  Not a bad way to start the week!  From there, I progressed outside to find clear skies and warm sunshine.

Thus far, this week has been filled with adventures.  Going into Turrialba and exploring, visiting local farms, getting to know some of the APOT farmers, presenting a workshop, and working with the farmers market have consumed our time this week.  A couple of us also had an adventure spotlighting caymans.  More about that later, as for now, let’s just say that spotlighting whitetails will never again be anything more than dull and lightly amusing.

 As many know, I had the good fortune to be raised on a watermelon farm in Southwestern Indiana.  Due to the nature of the business, I was afforded many opportunities from a young age to interact with people of different backgrounds and ethnicities.

 So what does this have to do with Costa Rica?  Well, from a very early age, my parents were very careful to teach me a very important concept; folks is folks.  Clearly stated, regardless of skin color, nationality, ethnicity, or position, people are people.  I have been reminded of the lessons of my childhood all this week.  Our work here has reinforced for me the idea that folks are the same pretty much where ever you find them.  Especially farm folk!

 Many of the stories we have heard from small indigenous farmers this week could be easily transplanted to the Midwest or anywhere else in the world.  For me, one of the really positive things coming out of this change in duty station is the reminder that Mom and Dad were right.  Folks is folks, in spite of the fact that there are differences in languages, locations, climates, and crops.  The similarities that we share as farm folk infinitely outnumber our differences.

More and more, I am coming to realize that if our similarities outnumber our differences, and we face a similar set of problems in our respective locations, then it makes perfect sense that we should take advantage of every opportunity to exchange information and work together to solve common problems.  This is the real value of participation in agriculture on an international scale.  While I would hope that we are able to assist the APOT farmers in solving their problems, I also know that I will be returning to Daviess County in a week or so armed with a plethora of new ideas that can immediately be put to use in helping my clientele.  It seems that every time I work outside the country, I always return with more information than I left with.  From all indications, it appears that this time will be no different!

Scott

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