Agriculture in Puerto Rico – A Brief Analysis

Agriculture in Puerto Rico, although not a major part of the nation’s GDP, still holds an important aspect of the island’s culture and history. A variety of crops are grown in Puerto Rico, including rice, sugar cane, coffee, and corn. However, there is currently a debate as to whether or not agricultural production on the island should be increased or reduced. Some believe that the island’s GDP would increase with a boost in agricultural production, but others think that Puerto Rico would fare better by investing in something else. As always in agriculture, there are both costs and benefits to producing crops, especially on such a small, isolated island with only a limited amount of arable land.

One of the main problems with agriculture in Puerto Rico is that the island nation is too small, and therefore unable to produce enough quantity of crops to compete with other, larger nations on an international scale. Another reason that Puerto Rico is unable to compete is because unlike the United States, where gigantic, corporate farms are the norm, many of Puerto Rico’s farms are smaller, family owned operations. In the lecture given at the Puerto Rican university, we were told that the majority of food crops have been historically been produced by farmers who own plots less than three cuerdas. This small size means that although the value of the goods produced is most likely quite high, the quantity is minimal, which puts Puerto Rico at a disadvantage in the international market.

Another, somewhat related problem with agriculture in Puerto Rico is that farming may take away land that could be better used for another purpose. Since land on the island is limited, every farm comes with a sacrifice. Tourism is one of the island’s major industries, and a strong argument could be made that Puerto Rico would receive more revenue by investing in tourism insead of agriculture. Currently, roughly a quarter of Puerto Rico’s land is divided into over 13,000 farms. Many of the farmlands are located in areas that could potentially become tourist attractions, with locations near beaches, rainforests, or other scenic areas. In addition, not all of Puerto Rico’s soil is best suited to grow many of the agricultural crops that farmers plant on their plots. In many areas on the island, there is very high soil salinity, which makes many plants struggle to prosper. In order to optimize yields, many farmers use heavy amounts of fertilizer, which can damage the soil and nearby watersheds. Because of these problems with the soil and farmlands, some people have suggested that Puerto Rico should focus less on farming, and instead turn to other methods of revenue such as tourism.

However, there are also many arguments that can be made in favor of increasing agricultural production in Puerto Rico. Currently, over eighty percent of food consumed in Puerto Rico comes from imports. The island is heavily dependent on imports to supply food to its population. This causes many potential problems. Import costs will drive the prices of food items up, and make many items much more expensive than they would be if they were locally grown. Also, by the time a lot of the imported food reaches the island, it is no longer fresh because of lengthy shipping times. Also, hurricanes are a common threat to Puerto Rico, which can make food deliveries difficult during hurricane season and drive the food prices on the island up even higher. By cutting back on imports and producing more crops on the island, Puerto Rico would be able to cut back on expensive import costs and enjoy fresher, higher quality food.

In addition, increasing the size of Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector would boost the economy and provide more jobs to the population. Although at this time, less than two percent of Puerto Rico’s workforce is employed in an agricultural job, increasing the number and the size of the island’s farmlands would create many more available jobs. This would boost the economy, which has been struggling for many years now, and boost the nation’s GDP. It would also decrease the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico, which could in turn create more revenue for businesses on the island as more people would have extra spending money.

In summary, there are many arguments that can be made both in favor of and against increasing agriculture in Puerto Rico. Some experts believe that since Puerto Rico is unable to compete on an international scale, the island would prosper more by investing in other areas that it excels in, such as tourism. Others say that promoting agriculture will provide fresher, less expensive food, more jobs, and an economic boost. No matter which side a person stands on, it is inarguable that farming has a historical significance in Puerto Rico that will never go away. Agriculture is part of the island’s culture, and will most likely remain so forever.  

Many of Puerto Rico’s farms have historical significance, including this sugar plantation that the class toured.

An Adventure in El Yunque

My whole life I’ve been rather adventurous. I grew up in a NW suburb or Chicago, but my family owns a large piece of land in Serena, Illinois. This area is full of hardwoods and open plains that I’ve been exploring my whole life alongside my siblings and cousins. From hunting and fishing to week long camping trips and making our own zipline, we’ve done it all on this special plot of land. The adventures I experienced there sparked my interest in traveling the world to discover the millions of other thrills that were out there just waiting for me. I’ve traveled a good amount with my family and friends, but every place is very unique in its own way. I’ve now added Puerto Rico to my list of adventures, and it has definitely been one of the best yet. I’ve really enjoyed every day here in on the island, and it’s difficult for me to pick out my favorite. However, the most unique and thrilling day had to be our hike through El Yunque, the only National Forest in the National Park system.
The day started off when we met for breakfast in the hotel lobby. We were served many native fruits such as mango and papaya which I really enjoyed. Soon after we began out descent down the mountain in search of the waterfalls that were said to run down the side of the nearest mountain. The terrain itself was not too challenging to maneuver around, but the slick rocks and mud led to many dangerous falls throughout the group. Only a mere ten or fifteen minutes into the hike, we began to hear a large waterfall. Once we reached the water it was a breathtaking view, as the water crashed among the rocks and rushed down the mountain. While the sight itself was very beautiful, there was nowhere to swim, so we moved on downstream to find a new water hole.
As we traveled across the rocks moving further downstream, it was a lot more dangerous than before. Each rock was a challenge in itself as they were slick from the recent rain. One wrong move could have led to a brutal injury in the middle of nowhere. As a group we helped each other over, through, and around each obstacle until we had finally found what we had been searching for, a calm pool of water. As we each began to jump in, the water was much colder than I had anticipated. Chills ran through my bones and I felt numb after a mere couple seconds as I swam through the clear water. It was rather easy to look past this though, as the scenic views around us were some of the most beautiful I had ever seen. Upstream there was a beautiful waterfall that fell into the area we swam in, providing our pool with fresh water. Above us were hundreds of trees of all shapes and sizes, providing us with some shade from the beating Puerto Rican sun.
Another aspect of the rain forest that puzzles me is the weather. One minute the sky can be bright blue without a cloud in sight, and just a couple minutes later it can be storming so badly you may think you were caught in a hurricane. This very situation occurred as we were enjoying our time swimming around the water hole. All of the sudden we heard some bustling wind and then soon after came an absolute downpour. We decided to stay in the water and wait out the quick storm, as it was like a scene out of a movie. It was freezing and my whole body was numb, but it was an adventure I may never get the opportunity to experience again.

Lagoon or Rice?

This is a map of where the lagoon would end up being. It also shows how much would be taken over by different amounts of rain

When you think of engineering, I can almost guarantee that your mind does not go directly to education. That is unless you are thinking of the schooling required to become one. The same goes for systems thinking. When I heard the definition of systems thinking presented in ABE 100 as well as ABE 199, my mind immediately made the connection to engineering. Systems thinking is an approach to “complicated” problems that cannot be easily solved like “complex” problems by looking at the inner workings. One example we were given in class of complex versus complicated was looking at a clock and a huge crowd of people. With a clock, you can look inside and see hundreds of gears all turning to keep track of the time. It is something that a person can trace through and at least get the gist of what is going on to get to the actual time telling. The clock is a complex there can be many parts that look so busy, but in the end, we can eventually deduce what is going on. The clock also has almost no outside “variables” acting on it. At first glance I did not think of the people as a system at all, but when you think of it as a type of flow diagram, each person is imputing and outputting huge amounts of actions and reactions that in turn cause a reaction from another person creating a huge chain it is easy to see that these people are in fact in a system. A complicated system to be more specific. This is classified as a complicated system because of the way that we cannot just figure out the system by looking at it. It is always changing. People make their own decisions and that alone creates a sort of chaos that makes the system hard to understand and even harder to predict.
This is where systems thinking comes in. The process of systems thinking can be applied to almost any problem. It is a process that I believe would greatly benefit from creating a SMART goal or goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. Smart goals are a great way to begin a system thinking project because of the way they play so well with the main attribute of systems thinking, measuring success. Measuring success is what we learned as possibly the most important part of systems thinking because how can you really tell if something is successful if you had no measurement benchmarks in the first place?
One great example of a complex problem faced not only in Puerto Rico, but also in Illinois and nearly everywhere else in the world is that of deforestation and habitat destruction. Also in Puerto Rico they face the challenge of what land to keep devoted to agriculture and what land to revert back. I think that the debate between what portions to keep agricultural and what to revert to natural is very interesting. As we learned at the Hacienda, Puerto Rico has a very attainable, specific, measurable, time-oriented goal to revert thirty-three percent of its land back to the natural environment by 2033. This is a great example of something that is completely measurable and time-oriented, but the major problem with this is where do you draw the line with agricultural land to be reverted back?
Our friend Professor Perez, introduced it with the rice problem. While he was somewhat focused on soil salinity and sodium content, he was also concerned with loosing parts of his production land to a project to bring back the natural lagoon. He figured out all kinds of proof behind the adverse effects bringing back the lagoon and how much farmland would be lost. This is a huge and complicated systems thinking problem because there are so many people involved and so many inputs into the system from the natural inputs and effects of the natural or agricultural land. Some of the measures for the quality of land after are effects on the oceans and bays from agricultural run-off which is something that Dr. Perez has already started working on, while other measures would be the satisfaction of the people around the areas of natural restoration versus. This is measure is slightly less tangible, but could be determined by the reception of the people via survey.
Overall, the benchmarks created by systems thinking will serve as great tools to measure the way that the different types of land restoration and usage effect the environment and by using the measures it will make it much easier to see how and where it is best to aim the thirty-three percent of natural land versus the necessary land for agricultural production for food crops. This will make the process of restoring the land much more effective because with the help of scientists like Dr. Perez we can research where it is best to implement restoration efforts.

Discovering Diversity

The United States of America is home to a multifold of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures. The cultural diversity of the U.S is something in which their citizens pride themselves in. Being born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, I have had the opportunity to be exposed to a plethora of different cultures. Over the course of this trip, I have noticed that my exposure to cultural diversity is not the same as the citizens of Puerto Rico, hence my world view is much different.

Geographically speaking, the United States is obviously much larger than Puerto Rico. Therefore, the population is much higher and the each region of the country adapts their own culture. I think it is important to note that everyone experiences cultural diversity in different ways in the United States. For example, I grew up in one of the largest and most diverse cities in the country. My high school was filled with people with differing races, religious beliefs, and world views. In contrast, some of my peers who are traveling abroad with us grew up in small towns, where there was a distinct and overwhelming uniform cultural identity. I think it is arguable that a Puerto Rican’s exposure to cultural diversity does not greatly differ from one side of the island to another. I do, however, believe that Puerto Ricans (in some areas) are exposed to more international tourists.

As agricultural and biological engineers, American agriculture is a huge part of our identity, especially in the Midwest. Because my family owns a home in rural Wisconsin, I have been exposed to some aspects of rural life. As an American, when I think of a “rural” area, I primarily think of large areas of farmland covered with corn and soybeans, maybe even some livestock in the surrounding areas. I quickly noticed that “rural America” was not exactly like rural Puerto. In Puerto Rico like most places, most of the population resides in urban areas. However, the majority of their farmland in which I would consider “rural” resided in the mountains. It is evident that the United States rural cultural identity differed very much from Puerto Rico.

More commonly, cultural identity is associated with race and country of origin. While on the Island, I noticed that although everyone lived in Puerto Rican, some did not appear as if they came from Puerto Rican or Hispanic descent, yet they appeared to be natives to the Island. From research I discovered that Non-Hispanic cultural diversity in Puerto Rico and the basic foundation of Puerto Rican culture began with the mixture of Spanish, Taino, and African culture in the 16th century. It was in the early 19th century that Puerto Rican culture became more diversified with the arrival of hundreds of families from Non-Hispanic countries like Germany, Ireland, Corsica, and France. This came about because of the concessions made by the Real Cedula de Gracias de 1815 which allowed European Catholics to settle in the island with land allotments in the interior of the island with the intent that they would pay taxes in support of the Catholic Church.  There are also many people with non-Hispanic last names because European immigrants settled in Puerto Rico and intermarried with native Puerto Ricans.

Painting showing Puerto Rico’s cultural diversity

Racial and Cultural Diversity in my home city (Chicago)

Much of the cultural diversity in Puerto Rico was sparked by the Catholic Church, making most of the people of the Island Catholic as opposed to the United States where there are many different religions. As an American, it is evident that my worldview is slightly broader than someone from Puerto Rico. Aside from a few exceptions, Puerto Rico has a very distinct national culture, as opposed to the United States where it is more of a mixed, unconventional culture

The Pursuit of Happiness

In the world today, I think it’s so important to be as cultured as possible. The term cultured is often hard to define as it can mean so many different things. In this instance, I think it’s easiest to describe it as having exposure to many different cultures and using that exposure to better understand how the world works and how it affects the lifestyles of people around the world. For me personally, I think this trip played a big role in my understanding of the culture in Puerto Rico and understanding the different way of life here.
One of the things that has exposed me greatly to the culture here in PR has been the music. In America, music plays a large role. We have plenty of festivals like Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Summerfest, etc.. I believe that here in PR, it plays a much larger role in pulling people together. In America, everyone has their favorite type of music and they usually only listen to that genre, but here while people listen to whichever type of music is their favorite, they also are no stranger to interacting with any type of music they hear. In the majority of the places we have gone, we have seen plenty of different types of music being played. No matter what type it is, people are never afraid to dance and laugh and sing along with it. We’ve heard karaoke sang by people that are clearly no beyonce but they do it because they love the music. I don’t know how many nights there have been where I am trying to make a phone call and it seems almost impossible because of all the music that’s playing around where were staying. There is always some type of music playing no matter where we are. It’s almost enlightening to see everyone being connected through it. Even with everything going on in the world, there’s no problem just taking a few moments to dance around and hum to the beat of a song.
I’ve also seen this same thing when it comes to street musicians. The majority of the musicians we saw were in San Juan and, unlike in the states, passersby don’t fear making eye contact with the performers or taking a moment to stop and take in the music.
I think seeing this in a great way for me to become more cultured and better acquaint me with the different way of life here. I now have a better respect for music and its ability to connect people.
Along with the music, I think the speed that everything is done here is generally much slower than what we’re used to back home. In the states, it seems that everything is always moving fast, at restaurants, the key is to get the food to the table as fast as possible. On roads, everyone speeds to get to their destination. It’s the norm to go at least 5 mph over the speed limit. With technology, people always want the fastest internet and they want to constantly be connected. On the island of Puerto Rico, this constant rushing isn’t the case. The service of any restaurant other than a fast food chain, tends to be much slower. This in turn also affects how fast you eat and you spend more time savoring the food than scarfing it down. It’s almost as if the consumption of the food is more of an experience than a chore. The void which is the stomach doesn’t have to be filled, but tamed. In terms of the roads, the speed limits here are much slower than back at home. We’ve seen many 35 mph limits here whereas at home, it’s not uncommon to see a 50-55 mph limit on the same type of road. It’s more about getting to the destination safely and comfortably than as fast as possible. Granted, the lower speeds may relate to the low quality of the roads but we’ll say that’s beside the point for the time being. Finally, when it comes to technology and things like internet connection, having the fastest wi-fi and most up to date phones is not the priority. It seems that many people here are more concerned with enjoying life and letting it happen at the speed it happens as opposed to trying to speed everything up. The people here recognize that speed and rushing doesn’t always make everything better. I can’t tell you how many complaints I’ve heard from my fellow travelers regarding how slow the internet is. At home, we’re so used to having things load instantly and having what we want at our fingertips; sharing a constant connection to everyone we know and the things we want to know. But being here and observing all of these different idiosyncrasies, I am forced to learn the new customs and live and abide by them. I’m not saying that I hate having to make the change from what I’m used to. In fact, it’s almost enlightening. Sitting here writing this, the internet problems have led us all to be more social with one another. Dr. R is playing dominoes with Kai, Alisha, and Ariel. Bridget is strumming a guitar quietly in the other room. Living with the slower pace here has taught me to better enjoy the time that I spend and take in more of what this beautiful country has to offer. In addition, the music here and observing how the people interact with it has shown to me its connective capabilities. It can completely eliminate the language barrier too. Sure, we don’t all speak Spanish, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still feel a beat and bop our heads to some music.
Even with the short amount of time that we’ve spent here, I feel that I’ve grown by leaps and bounds culturally. I’ve lived in and observed the way of life here and am now able to fully understand it. People don’t have to speak the same language to communicate and they don’t always have to live life at the will of two hands that rotate in a circle. It’s a louder life here, a slower one, but a happier one.

Day Trip to La Playa Sucia

During the past week, I have had numerous experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life. It has been amazing to get to experience Puerto Rican culture and their ways of life, while at the same time, learning how to solve environmental problems in the future. So far, my favorite part of the trip was when we went to Playa Sucia (“dirty beach”). Before we left, our professor explained that there would also be about 10 miles of hiking trails. Therefore, we could hike as much or as little as we pleased. I have always enjoyed hiking and viewing the incredible biodiversity along the way. So naturally, I expected to do a fair share of hiking along with enjoying the beach. However, little did I know, we would be hiking up a series of massive, breathtaking cliffs.

The drive to the beach was pleasantly brief. When we arrived, I was shocked to see that the so-called “beach” looked a lot more like a bay or inlet. It was not the type of beach that I had in mind. As we walked along the water’s edge looking for a shady spot to unpack, someone spotted a hermit crab crawling across the sand towards the water. This fascinated me because, before this, I had never seen a crab in the wild. While we observed it, our professor informed us that hermit crabs do not form their own shells. Instead, they inhabit the empty shells of other organisms such as snails and mollusks. When the crabs grow too big for their shells, they are forced to molt it (which greatly increases their vulnerability) and migrate to a new one. After we were finished studying the crab, we dropped our beach equipment in a shady cove and hopped in the sky-blue water. Despite its calm and beautiful appearance, the water was initially cold and filled with sizeable waves. After we adjusted to the temperature, we could venture deep into the water. The beauty of the bay greatly impressed me. The sun was shining so bright and was so high in the sky that it appeared to be directly above our heads. The water was a beautiful aqua while the sky was a deep navy. It seemed like heaven on Earth. Therefore, it was very hard to imagine that at that same moment, there were many places in the world that were cold, overcast, cloudy, and simply unpleasant (including my hometown). I simply did not want that moment of beauty and tranquility to cease.

When we were done with the water a few of us spent time in the sand. We started out building a sand castle, but later we made a small pool. Our goal was for the waves to crash onto the beach and fill the pool with water. We even built a small canal in the sand to make this process more feasible. Although this was a fun, simple activity, it reminded me a lot about the water crisis that exists in many parts of the developing world. It made me realize that people around the world desperately need others to create systems that can transport scarce resources. This moment opened my mind to the numerous career opportunities that exist in environmental science/engineering.

My favorite part of the beach was the hiking. However, this was no ordinary trek along the coast. Not only was there no forest, but the entire hike involved going up a series of rocky cliffs that seemingly led to a lighthouse. This reminded me more of a high adventure only seen in the movies. In the beginning of the hike, we walked along a rocky coast at ground level. As we were walking, someone pointed out group a sea urchins near the coast. Unfortunately, just as I was about to snap a photo, a gigantic wave came out of nowhere and nearly swept my phone out of my hand. That was the last time I got near the water to take a picture! As we trekked along, we saw even more wildlife including eels, lizards, iguanas, and pelicans. Gradually, we climbed higher and higher. A few of my peers asked me to take pictures of them standing on the edge of the cliffs, but my fear of cliffs would not allow me to go closer than 10 feet from the edge. At this moment, it was hard to imagine that we were in Puerto Rico. The rugged, rocky coast reminded me more of the Atlantic coast of Maine. Although the crashing waves seemed violent, the scene was spectacular. I had never seen anything like it before. When I looked down at the beach, it no longer seemed like a bay because I could see the vast ocean from the top of the cliff. My mind was at peace.

When we got back to the beach, I noticed some exotic-looking birds near our beach clothes. Previously, we learned that there were 16 species of birds that are endemic to Puerto Rico. The bird in front of me looked like one of those. It was black with orange on its shoulders and a slender body. I photographed it and found out it was a yellow-shouldered blackbird. It was very cool to get the chance to photograph an animal found nowhere else in the world. Before the exploitation of forest materials and other natural resources, there were many more endemic species to the island. It is my career goal to properly manage natural ecosystems to maintain high levels of biodiversity all over the world.

As the day progressed, I went on to climb more cliffs and take in more vistas of Playa Sucia’s remarkable landscape. This was my favorite excursion because I have a tremendous appreciation for nature. Unfortunately, natural areas are quickly disappearing due to our increasing consumption of natural capital. Due to this trip to the beach, I was given the opportunity to get to know some of my peers better. I greatly look forward to having many more amazing experiences during the rest of my stay in Puerto Rico.

The Ins and Outs of my Experience

Upon arriving to the beautiful land of Puerto Rico, I did not feel any real impact or wow factor. Having been to Puerto Rico a few times before, I had already seen the beautiful beaches, mountains and rainforest that the land has to offer. The culture in Puerto Rico was not surprising or different to me since I come from a Hispanic background. While hanging around the bars by our apartment in Boquerón, Cabo Rojo, I realized that the music that was being played was very familiar to me. Songs that I grew up listening to such as Suavemente by Elvis Crespo was played. I sang and danced along with the locals while my peers looked at me with fascination. While passing the bars, I would hear familiar music and start to dance where I stood. I liked hanging around this one specific bar because it was the only one playing bachata. Bachata is a form of Hispanic dance that is usually found within the states and is my favorite style to dance to. Surprisingly enough, one of my male peers wanted to learn the dance. Step by step, I showed him how to do it. Within in minutes he was able to follow along with me doing the simple steps of “side, side, hit”.

Another element that I found of similar of back home was the style of houses, but the houses I’m talking about are the ones found in Mexico. With the gates outside and colorful houses, it looked like I was in any neighborhood in Mexico. The atmosphere felt familiar and the people spoke the same language that I was used to. Spanish is such a common language especially in Latin American countries or some Caribbean islands. The cultures in each area are vaguely similar so I did not have a hard time adjusting to the life here in Puerto Rico. When the locals found that I could speak Spanish, their whole demeanor changed. It went from nonchalant to engaged and friendly.

Although a lot of aspects felt familiar to me during my stay in Puerto Rico, there was some things that were new. For example, during our stay in Cabo Rojo, the holiday of Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) occurred. At night the streets of the downtown area was congested with people for all walks of life and all ages. Music filled the streets and atmosphere was joyful. Streets were blocked and people partied in the streets. Having the opportunity to experience that, for personally, I’ve never celebrated that holiday, was very special to me.

On another note of positivity, a certain event became a repetitive experience that surprised me. I quickly realized that I was the only one of my peers that could speak Spanish somewhat fluently. Because this, my classmates would ask me to translate things all the time but I didn’t mind. I was happy to help. There were numerous occasions where I would order food for people or ask questions in Spanish. One of my friends here on the trip, has asked me numerous times to stand by her side while I help her order food. By doing this simple act that I have no trouble doing, I feel appreciated and useful. It has made me look at my life differently because even though I had an advantage over my peers, I used my knowledge to help people. I want to continue learning the language in order to further help other individuals and feel more at home within the people of my culture.

While exploring the downtown area by our apartment in Cabo Rojo, some of my friends and I stopped to eat a few ostras (oysters).

While exploring the downtown area by our apartment in Cabo Rojo, some of my friends and I stopped to eat a few ostras (oysters).

While meeting Dr. Rodriguez's parents, the whole crew used our Spanish speaking skills to order our food.

While meeting Dr. Rodriguez’s parents, the whole crew used our Spanish speaking skills to order our food.


“Drain the Swamp?!”

Today, I decided to look into the debate over the Lajas valley. To give some background on this one agricultural problem, of Puerto Rico’s many, we need to look at its history, its present, and what may end up happening one day. For most of Puerto Rico’s history, the Lajas Valley was a sort of seasonal wetland that could not be used for agriculture. It pretty much just sat and took up space. In the late 1950’s the Puerto Rican government drained the swamp and made the area available for agricultural use. There have been some salty shenanigans along the way.

Unfortunately, because this land in Lajas was submerged in water during the seasonal rains, it would flood so much that it would connect with the ocean, leading to soil and water tables with high concentrations of salt. This is incidentally bad for most forms of agriculture in that it induces wilting and poor growth of pants resulting in poor yields. The farmers tried to alleviate the problem by drawing water from wells in the area, but because the wetland had been connecting the land to the sea there for a long time, the water tables contain high levels of salt as well. This only hurt the farm land more. This cycle of self-deprecation has led to two main possible solutions. One, to return the Lajas valley to its origins as a seasonal wetland, and use it to generate revenue via tourism. The other, to use rice patties to flush the salty soil so that in a few years the Lajas valley could be used for any type of agriculture.

The first option to use tourism is technically viable, but I personally would not recommend it because tourism is such a fickle business. Not to mention that the Lajas valley is quite a distance from any other area that already has tourists. This means that if people wanted to see the wetlands they would need to make a special trip, and find a place to stay. Currently, there is just not the infrastructure in the area for that to be possible. It is admirable to hope that people would want to see the wetlands, but they are, as previously stated, a seasonal oddity. This means that even if the tourist base is there to see the area, the wetlands would not be present for viewing for large portions of the year.

I personally would go for the agricultural route involving rice. This route would not only produce food that does not need to be imported, but also heal the soil. In my opinion, this is a win-win situation with almost guaranteed benefits for all parties involved. Of course, some people are skeptical of taking the agricultural route because it has not lived up to expectations in the past fifty or so years. The rice however, has not been attempted thus far, and it seems to be living up to its predicted results. In the near future, the fields could be viable for more diverse and productive crops. The Lajas valley must only go through this mildly productive period to attain its full potential as a fertile area free of its salty nemesis.

Obviously, I favor the current use of the land that has an assured outcome with small profits over regressing in hopes that tourism will spike and enrich the economy when the “solution” is seasonal. Not to mention that this would mean that if flooding the valley does not work it would effectively ensure that that land could not be used again unless someone wants to invest heavily to drain it again. I just personally see small progress as a better option than the risk of losing the ability to use the land entirely.

This shows how well the rice flourishes even in the salty soil, showing that it is a viable crop even in these harsh conditions

This shows how well the rice flourishes even in the salty soil, showing that it is a viable crop even in these harsh conditions

This image shows just how much land would be affected if the wetlands were flooded again

This image shows just how much land would be affected if the wetlands were flooded again

Day Late

Well I’ll begin this with a disclaimer: this wasn’t by any means my favorite part of the trip but it had my favorite outcome. It was the day before we left, and I leisurely woke up at twelve in the morning. I got up made myself a bit of breakfast, went upstairs and began watching some Netflix much similar to a normal winter break morning. As I waited for the show to load I checked my phone only to see that I had about five missed calls, and many texts asking me where I was. As it turned out it was not the day before the trip but it was the day that we left and I our flight had departed a few hours ago. I immediately turned to a state of incredible rage, I was so upset. How could I have been so dumb? What if I wouldn’t be able to go? How might our professor feel about my horrible mistake? Even if I would be able to find a way to meet up woth our group, how much would it cost and how long would it take me to get over there? I punched my bed out of anger for about a whole minute, and then tried to find a way to get out of my predicament.

I ran upstairs and me and my mom went on a flight finding site and we were somehow able to find a flight to Puerto Rico leaving at 10:40 that night. I felt so lucky that we could find flight considering that it was the middle of the winter break and everyone is looking for someplace war to go for vacation, not to mention it was direct and only two hundred bucks. I instantly sighed of relief, I was going to be able to make it to Puerto Rico. I then remembered that I had a doctors appointment that day at 4:00 and needed to get all ready for the trip before then. It usually takes me a long time to pack because I have to always check a few times to make sure I have everything, since as you may have guessed sometimes I am not very organized. I frantically began to pack as fast as I could praying that I remembered everything. I also had to find some time to fit in the chores I had to do that day. This as you could imagine was a pretty stressful few hours, and I did end up forgetting a few things most importantly my phone charger and my book. I eventually finished packing, went to my doctors appointment and got back in time to polish off some stuff and leave my house when I was planning to. I knew that since I was going on an international flight I had to arrive at the airport three hours early and allow an hour for the train ride there.

I left for the train only to realize that the handle of the suitcase that I was using wouldn’t extend at all, so I had to roll it using the handle attached to it, and had to walk around crouched over at a forty five degree angle, just my luck. When I got on the train I decided to spend the time waiting for the O’Hare stop (the last one) figuring out my handle situation, because it wold have really sucked to have wheeled it around the immense airport so uncomfortably. I began kicking my suitcase as hard as I could, hoping that it would somehow come loose meanwhile everyone on the train was staring at me out of bewilderment. Eventually it finally finally came loose and stood up and looked around the train car in triumph.

I got to the airport and much to my surprise I was able to make it past check in and security in less than twenty minutes and found myself with a bit less than three hours to kill. I indulged in not one but two of Rick Bayless’s famous tortas at at the Frontera restaurant. I waited at the terminal for the remaining two hours hoping that I wouldn’t fall asleep and miss the flight. We boarded, and I found my way to my seat and a sat next to this couple. When they began talking to me, I thought to myself “come on, all I want to do is just go to sleep.” Usually I am a pretty social person and don’t mind engaging in conversation with complete strangers, but it was a very long day for me. We ended up actually having a really great conversation, the man’s name was Ricardo and he was from Italy, and his wife was Kristin and was from California. They lived together in Puerto Rico with their two kids. Ricardo was a Biology professor at the University, and was very intrigued when I told him the purpose of our trip. He told me a lot about the country, the ecosystem and its environmental state. They also talked to me about their kids and I told them a bit about my childhood. They had me write down suggestions that they had for places to see and restaurants to go to. We talked for about an hour until it got late and they decided to go to sleep; they gave me their contact information in case I ever needed anything or had any questions.

The plane landed and I walked through the airport to claim my baggage. My bag was the first one to come out considering how early I arrived at the airport. I called a cab at the cab station and it came pretty quickly. My cab driver was really nice and told me about everything that we passed on the way to the hotel. Once we got there I got out of the car, looked through my bag for a minute to find my phone to call Dr Rodriguez to let me in. He picked up and said he would change and come down. I waited for like ten minutes and then got a call from him saying that he was outside; I was at the wrong hotel, just my luck, again. Fortunately the right hotel was only a couple blocks away and we were able to find each other pretty quickly. By this time it was about 5:30 in the morning so I had time to take a little nap before we got up. However I couldn’t sleep at all because I was so happy and excited that I was able to get to Puerto Rico after all.

Agricultural Systems Lead to Both Costs and Benefits

Just a couple hundred years ago agriculture dominated Puerto Rico’s economy. In 1930, sugar itself accounted for over 30% of the economic activity passing through the tropical island. High prices of sugar throughout the world markets, as well as countless large private investments of capital, led Puerto Rico to become an international power in the sugar trade. Although, sugar was not the only crop being produced, as coffee and tobacco production also thrived. These three crops combined to employ about 43% of the work force in 1940. However, the same agriculture dominance is no longer present on the island. Currently, agriculture makes up only 0.8% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and employs a mere 1.6% of the work force. On the other hand, Illinois is currently one of the leading competitors in agriculture in the United States. Around 74,000 farms cover nearly 24 million acres of farmland, or about 75% of the total land area in Illinois. As agriculture is a growing portion of both Illinois’ and Puerto Rico’s economy, we must consider both the costs and benefits of the food systems on both economic and natural systems.
Although it is obvious that Puerto Rican agriculture has been declining for many years, there is hope for the future that it can start to benefit the economy in a more positive manner. Recent technology is allowing farmers to increase their yields and defeat the many pesticides hurting their crops. One example of this that we witnessed was while visiting the Café Gran Batey coffee plantation. Insects have recently taken over many of the coffee beans produced, and are obviously hurting the profitability of hundreds of coffee farmers. To combat this, coffee producers use a pesticide to try and diminish the amount of beans that the insects are able to destroy.
In Illinois, the benefits of the current agriculture system are much more apparent. The agriculture sector alone generates nearly $19 Billion each year to boost the state’s economy. Corn accounts for over half of this total, whole soybeans and dairy also play large roles. Adding to these astonishing numbers, billions of more revenue is collected through ag-related fields, such as manufacturing and agriculture real estate. Much of this success can be connected to the “prime soil” that Illinois is rich with. This soil, combined with a steady climate, will allow Illinois to continue its dominance in the agricultural field for many years to come.
While it is exciting that Puerto Rican agriculture is making a comeback, it can also have many drawbacks. It is obvious why many citizens want to increase the amount of production across the island in the future, as around 84% of the current food intake is imported from overseas. However, adding more agriculture would likely decrease other aspects that are currently fueling the economy, especially tourism. To increase the food production, large amounts of area would need to be converted into farmland. While this seems as if it is a trivial problem due to the massive amounts of forest area currently on the island, much of this area is on hilly terrain where it is nearly impossible to farm many crops. Some of the current land used for tourism would need to be converted into farmable property, lowering the revenue that is currently created in this booming sector of the current economy.
There are not many costs to the extremely valuable agriculture production in Illinois; however, some may point out that the massive amounts of chemical usage are damaging the ecosystem. Many fertilizers and pesticides can be dangerous to the water system, animals, and even humans if used improperly. For example, the chemical runoff has affected many of the lakes rivers and streams, causing harm to hundreds of aquatic species. As solutions to these problems continue to be produced, the agriculture fields in both Puerto Rico and Illinois are both heading in very positive directions.

The sun sets over a large cornfield in Serena, Illinois. The prime soil in these areas of the state lead agriculture to dominate the state's economy.

The sun sets over a large cornfield in Serena, Illinois. The prime soil in these areas of the state lead agriculture to dominate the state’s economy.

These citrus trees in Puerto Rico provide shade for one of the nations most profitable crops, coffee.

These citrus trees in Puerto Rico provide shade for one of the nations most profitable crops, coffee.