Winter trip to Puerto Rico

The trip to Puerto Rico has been a wonderful experience for me. I was constantly surprised by the biodiversity and beauty of the nature when I visited a new place each time. I truly appreciate what Puerto Rico has been doing to conserve the nature in its primitive look. Since I was blessed to visit Puerto Rico, I want to share the blessing with people visiting our booth during the open house by showing them several videos and footages of what we did and saw in Puerto Rico. I am thinking of adding both fun and educational elements into those videos. Those videos can be split into nature and agriculture and present it like a walk through Puerto Rico as discussed in class. In each part of the video. There should be some historical background about the topic so as to help audience have a better picture. After watching the video, audience will be given quizzes that are related to climate change and agricultural problems related to Illinois and Puerto Rico. In order to accommodate to audience of different age, we can come out with two sets of questions, e.g. one for elementary school students and the other one for older students. At the end of the booth, I hope the audience will capture the beauty of Puerto Rico and become a bit more aware of global issues related to agricultural sustainability.


Farms in Puerto Rico

Visiting farms is one of the most exciting part of the journey for me. It is planned and designed to enhance our understanding about agricultural sustainability. During the second week of the trip, Dr. Rodriguez brought us to several coffee and fruit farms around the island.

The first farm we visited was Hacienda Buena Vista up in the mountain. It is no longer in operation but it is preserved as a historical site where people are welcomed to learn coffee production and agricultural conservation. During the trip, I learnt to distinguish coco trees and cacao trees and the mechanics involved in coffee production. Coffee beans are peeled off from the outer layers by a machine using friction, and are consequently grinded using the grinding machine powered by hydraulic power. The grinding machine was specially designed for the farm, and there is only one such machine in the world. To ensure ample water supply in the farm, water is channeled from mountain down to the farm with an elevation about a thousand feet. As we were climbing up to the high end of the farm, we came across a few small entries by the water channel, and the guide told us that those were designed for child slaves to get in and clear the roots and soil that clogged the water channel. Slaves were commonly involved in agriculture activities and provided cheap labor service during old time in Puerto Rico.  Enslavement is no longer exist today, but labor has become an expensive resource today.

On the visit of the second coffee farm—Café Gran Batey in Utuado, I learnt about more issues related to Puerto Rican agriculture. This farm is one of the major coffee producer for the local market. Different from Hacienda Buena Vista, it does not have large canopy of trees to provide shading for coffee trees, so the farm grows citrus trees next to coffee trees to create artificial shades. The purpose of the shade does not only reduce the extent of sunlight but lengthens the growth period for better quality coffee. When the coffee beans reap, the farm hires local workers to pick them. The owner of the farm told us that it is difficult to hire workers to pick coffee beans nowadays because local labors need less incentive to work with the unemployment welfare from the state. On average, those workers work for three to four hours a day in mornings. As compared to other parts of the U.S, agricultural industry in Puerto Rico is more dependent on human labors given the different types of crops grown and geographical challenges in Puerto Rico. Automation and large off-road machineries are not as applicable in fruit plantations as in flat corn fields. Unfortunately, less people among the younger generation are willing to work on farms, and the agricultural industry that thrived Puerto Rican economy is now in a decline. To help the agricultural industry be more efficient and economic, traditional agriculture that is labor intensive is expected to shift to machinery-led modern agriculture. Besides labor, agricultural activities are also highly depended on weather. Last year, the overall coffee production reached an all-time low  and fell short of the local coffee demand because of the off rain and dry season. Although agricultural engineering can help farmers in many ways, there is a limit when it comes to the nature. At the end of the trip, we sipped in a cup of coffee accompanied with a piece of pound cake in the mountain. It was an very enjoyable experience!

Café Gran Batey in Utuado

Café Gran Batey in Utuad


After learning about coffee production, we had a chance to study nutrient loss in plantain farm and visit the packaging factory in Matex fruit farm. In the plantain field, Dr. Perez who is an Agricultural and Biological Engineering professor in the Mayaguez University introduced us the method to detect the nitrogen concentration in the soil and air. The purpose of the project he is leading is aimed to help plantain farmers find the most sustainable recipe for the plants and surroundings. From this experience, I realized the importance of agricultural and biological engineering in the society as it helps to solve and improve the most primary and fundamental industry in the world — agricultural industry. After watching the demonstration of collecting air samples, we headed to the package factory in the farm. All the plantains are consumed locally but fruits like mangoes and Spanish lemons are exported to other parts of America and European countries for higher profits. The farm also installed a lot of solar panels were installed with the help of government funding, such action promotes sustainability and reduces electricity bill in operation. From the farm manager, we learnt that the farm has been operating for twenty seven years, but it took five to ten years to start making profits. It really takes a lot of capital and determination to start up a farm. Agricultural industry is primary but it is not necessarily lucrative. Regardless, I hope more young people will step into agriculture with more help and encouragement from the state and the older generation.

Dr. Perez demonstrating air sample collection in Matex

Dr. Perez demonstrating air sample collection in Matex

Blog Post 1 Things I See in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a predominated part of the United States but it has so many differences by itself. It is an island located between the Caribbean and North Atlantic Ocean. Beyond sea sides and beaches, it has ranges of mountains that elevate as high as 4390 feet. In the middle of the island, there are dry lands with cactus. The distinct features of the landscape in Puerto Rico give it a biodiversity that is far way beyond the range I expected.

On the second day of the trip, we visited the El Yunque National Forest in northeastern Puerto Rico. It is a well preserved area with a number of trails from where the beauty of flora and fauna can be appreciated. I was picturing trudging through muddy soils and getting bites from tropical insects like what happened to me in Malaysian rainforest, but the elevation of the El Yunque forest made the entire trip refreshing and enjoyable. Constant and ample rainfall in the forest insures the growth of tropical plants all year round and the existence of several waterfalls. After walking down the trails for about twenty minutes, we came to a prevalent sight of a waterfall and small ponds. In the forest, I did not see many signs introducing the types of trees, but did see many boards to remind people to ponder upon the importance of nature preservation. It was a wonderful picture of people and the nature living in harmony. Though there was a large volume of people swimming and having fun in the pool, they were unanimous about keeping the area clean after enjoying what nature has to offer.


One most commonly found fauna in the forest is coqui. It is a type of neotropical frog known to Puerto Rico. These frogs are well protected in Puerto Rico, but face extinction in other tropical regions. A Puerto Rican salesperson shared about how she was used to hear coqui croaking while sleeping. After she moved to Chicago, she could not fall asleep in silent nights without hearing coqui croaking, so her mother had to put the phone near the yard and let her hear coqui sound before she went to sleep. Coqui has be an important part of Puerto Rican life. The story of the salesperson amazed me by thinking about how close Puerto Ricans are living with the nature.

Three days later, we went back to Fajardo from Mayaguez and lived in Casa Cubuy Ecolodge hidden on the other side of the El Yunque National Forest. It was disappointing that the ecolodge was not as grand as a resort I imagined, but the view from the porch in my room was a surprise in disguise. Ranges of mountains surrounded the ecolodge, everything was almost still, and the effect of the dimming sunlight made the scene look like one from a painting. At night, we walked down a less constructed track. I sat down to lean on a big rock at the bottom of the waterfall and quietly meditated on the beauty of the starry night sky while listening to the cacophony of coquis. The beauty of the scene is indescribable until one truly experiences it oneself. I lifted up my phone camera and tried to keep record of what I was seeing and hearing, while it was an incredible photo, the camera was not able to capture its true beauty. I was wondering how many places like this are left in the world to let us truly appreciate the beauty of nature. The work of man is incomparable to that of the nature. Sleeping with coqui croaking and water gushing down rocks is a rare enjoyment that can’t be found in many parts of the world. With the speed of urbanization, more and more people are looking for natural and undeveloped sites to keep away from man-made noises. The ecolodge is a demonstration of green tourism that the future tourism is diverting to.



Lia~ Test Post

Hi, I am Lia. I am a freshman majoring in agricultural and biological engineering. I am glad to be part of the ABE 199 class and excited to be here in Puerto Rico experiencing the richness of the ecosystem. I hope to see myself fully involved in the class and get to learn as much as can from the trip. I am pretty adaptive and international. I can contribute my ideas whenever it is needed for the project. If the poster booth needs to present some models and posters, I can help with the design and making process. Looking forward to many days in Puerto Rico!IMG_9529