This week has gone by so fast; it’s my last day in Colombia. It has been an awesome opportunity, where I have learned about myself, the Colombian government, culture, nutrition views, entrepreneurship, and where partnerships can begin.
I made my last trip to the University of San Buenaventura. Today, the outreach office offered a gardening workshop to the members of the San Jorge community.
Professor Luis Alberto Gonzalez gave a presentation to the group about the importance of gardening. He demonstrated different techniques used in urban areas, where space and nutrient rich soils are limited.
The professor had been working with his class on growing different crops on raised gardens on campus. The students were all ready to give their presentations and provide details on how to care for the plants that were going to be given to the community members.
At the end of the presentation, the youths were able to select a plant to take home, care for, and use in dishes.
It was a great way to end the day on a subject I am so passionate about. The youths were excited to get home and plant. I was able share information on nutrients that were found in the plants they had selected. As soon as I walked away, I could hear them sharing the information with other peers who had gotten a different plant. It was an amazing feeling!
Today I got to visit la Universidad de San Buenaventura Cali, where Ginna received her degree. I could see Ginna’s pride while she gave me the tour, along with a colleague. The campus was environmentally friendly; it was surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes.
I had the opportunity to present to a group of 30 Agro-Industrial Engineering students. I spoke about the University of Connecticut, its outreach programs, and 4-H. Many students expressed interest in starting 4-H in Colombia and the positive impact it would have on the youth.
I also met with Claudia Gutierrez, the director of the Agro-Industrial Engineering program. Claudia gave me an introduction to the department and its outreach programs in indigenous areas. She expressed great interest in collaboration with UConn Extension.
I got to go to San Jorge, today, using public transportation. It was very exhilarating; you felt every shift on the transmission of the 15-passenger truck. There was a driver and a spotter; the spotter looked to make sure you were totally off the bus before telling the driver to keep on moving, and the bus never really stopped. I had never jumped off a moving vehicle before—if my mom could only see me now.
Johnnie was waiting for us at the bus stop to give Ginna and me a detailed tour of the community. He showed me where the brick company was working and where they were still excavating. There were many brick companies in the community, which have now gone, since there is limited nutrient rich soil left.
Families have constructed their homes in this community. Most homes are made of bricks with wood roofs, while others are made of wood and tin roofs.
Doña Nelly and Erminia are working with the other women to produce more of the bracelets. They have chosen patterns and colors to work on as a group. For the ladies that need training, they learn by doing and little instruction, I was awestruck with the rapidness with which they worked and got the patterns down. I enjoyed the conversations I had with the ladies; listening to their stories and seeing their positive attitudes towards life made me have a moment of reflection.
Ginna works as mentor to entrepreneur students at ICESI University. Every year ICESI hosts a competition for entrepreneurs to showcase their businesses’ plans. The winner has the opportunity to showcase his or her business at the national level. The presentations I viewed were very impressive; all of the business plans and concepts were exciting and new to Colombia.
I also had the opportunity to visit the Central Cafeteria at ICESI. A private company is contracted by ICESI University to be in charge of the cafeteria. The company employs 25 men and women who serve more than 600 plates in two shifts. Their workday begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. It was impressive to see the small size of the working space versus the amount of dishes produced.
After being in the kitchen, Ginna and I walked over to the Health Department, where I met with Ruby Casteñano, a nutritionist. Space was used very wisely in this office; there was a section for oral health, nutrition, sexually transmitted disease, and maternity, to name a few.
During this visit, I wanted to focus on the challenges being faced by the country and the types of nutrition education being offered to the public. I learned that there is a 23% rate of obesity in infancy, 10% low birth weight, and 89% of malnutrition. It was interesting to hear about the different initiatives in schools, food safety, and healthy lifestyles.
“El Tren de los Alimentos” (food train), is the tool used to educate the public on the food groups, as well as the amount of foods that should be consumed from each group, and it shows variety.
As we walked to our next destination we spotted a Chontaduro street vender. I have never seen such fruit, so I decided to have a taste. The skin was peeled; salt and honey were added. I did not know what to expect, but it was really good! It was a combination of the texture of sweet potato and yellow potato. I can actually have it as a snack anytime of day.
By Joe Bonelli, Associate Extension Educator In-Residence
UConn Extension hosted Ginna Rodriguez, a visiting Fellow from Columbia at the request of UConn Global Training and Development Institute (GTDI). Ginna is from the Universidad Javeriana and Universidad ICESI in Columbia and was at UConn participating in the Economic Empowerment Program at the GTDI. UConn Extension was asked to host Ginna based on her interest in working in agriculture with a focus on training women and young people to boost the economy in her region of Cauca and Nariño.
In addition to Ginna, the Fellows Program also included visitors from Costa Rica, Peru and Panama. The other Fellows spent time with Hartford Food Systems, Wholesome Wave, CBIA, Kenai Sports, University of Hartford Entrepreneurial Center and Rhode Island School of Design.
Ginna spent 8 days traveling throughout Connecticut learning about many of our Extension programs. On April 22nd, Ginna and I visited the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Norwich. She talked with Ron Clark, FSA Loan Officer, about FSA loans and other programs that are available to farmers. We also visited Blue Slope Country Museum in Lebanon. This is an agricultural museum with many artifacts from the nineteenth century. Then on April 25th, we visited with Jon Jaffee at Farm Credit East. Jon reviewed their many programs and services available to farmers. We also attended Rhode Island’s version of Ag Day at the Capital in Providence.
On April 23rd Ginna spent the day with Bonnie Burr visiting with Extension community partners in Hartford and went to the Capitol where they talked about how small businesses and volunteer advocates educate elected officials to try to secure greater funding to support economic viability and growth initiatives. Bonnie introduced Ginna to the Governor (see photo). Ginna also had the chance to observe and participate with Wanda Hamilton and Rineicha Otero as they were training 4-H teens to be project leaders for 4-H Fitness and Nutrition (FANS) programs. One outcome to this visit was arranging to have Rineicha’s Connecticut teens Skype with Ginna’s teens in Columbia to create international dialogue on teen leadership and community development activities.
Ginna with Governor Malloy
Ginna spent April 24th with German Cutz. They visited Youth Internet Masters’ students (YIM) in Stamford, Bridgeport and Danbury. In Stamford, students shared their experiences learning webpage design through a UConn Extension program. In Bridgeport Ginna visited a YIM student who is volunteering his time teaching technology to parents at a middle school. In Danbury, Ginna met with students who own their business. Students shared how learning webpage design has helped them advertise their own business and build their web site. Ginna also met with a Youth Development Educator from Extension to learn more about 4-H and with a nutritionist who talked about her family and nutrition programs for low income families.
On April 26th, Ginna accompanied Jiff Martin to the CT River Academy in East Hartford where the students (Grades 9-12) were participating in a school-wide conversation about food politics and justice. The students had all seen the new documentary, Food Stamped, and were invited through focus groups to have a discussion about what’s wrong with our food system, what needs to change, and what sort of commitment can they personally make to change our food system. Jiff facilitated student discussions, and then everyone in the school participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for their new school garden. Jiff and Ginna also visited the Good Shepherd Community Garden in Hartford.
On April 29th, Ginna and Joyce Meader visited a variety of educational facilities and private farms to discover the learning opportunities for local citizens. At UConn’s dairy barn they met a Manchester Community College student doing a video on dairy cow comfort. They also toured the agriculture education facility at the E.O. Smith High School. Then they traveled to Spring Manor Farm, run by the UConn EcoHouse students to visit a greenhouse for vegetables and a hen house for egg production. Their last visit was to a free-range swine farm in Eastford.
Ginna traveled to Avery Point to see our beautiful coast on April 30th. She joined Nancy Balcom, Tessa Getchis and Anoushka Concepcion in a meeting for shell fishermen held jointly with the CT Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Aquaculture. New time-temperature requirements to protect against Vibrio parahaemolyticus in oysters during summer months and a new Sea Grant initiative for a statewide shellfish management plan were the main topics. The day ended with a delicious dinner at Flanders Fish Market.
Jude Boucher provided Ginna with an overview of hydroponics on May 1st. Jude went through part of a presentation he used for the bedding plant meeting this winter, which showed all types of season extension methods and different growing techniques in high tunnels and greenhouses, including low-tech and high tech hydroponic systems. They also visited Jimmy Futtner and Bob Handle, vegetable growers in East Hartford, to conduct part of a soil compaction and organic matter survey between conventional-tillage growers and those using deep zone tillage, a form of reduced-tillage. Jude and Ginna dropped the soil samples off at the UConn Soil Lab where Ginna toured the lab and talked with Dawn Pettinelli, the lab manager, about the mission and function of the lab. Finally, they went to the Plant Science Research Farm where Ginna got to see different field preparation machinery, including a Zone Builder, and a field with strips prepared using conventional-till and reduced tillage. They also toured one of the greenhouses, where she helped to thin the seedling flats for the All-America Selections trial garden this summer.
Ginna’s visit was a cooperative and successful effort. I would like to thank everyone for contributing. We’re looking forward to continuing our collaboration with Ginna.