Class XII’s first full day on our International seminar in Panama kicked off at the Radisson Hotel in Panama City, beginning with a self reflection exercise to ensure that we can embrace the experience and be fully present. Toby then led our class through a learning exercise called Barnga, a Euchre-like card game where each group playing has a different set of rules and no communication is allowed, as a way to help us appreicate the challenges of navigating new cultural experiences without the benefit of perfect verbal communication. This helped us truly understand the importance of cultural adaptability, acceptance, and most importantly, empathy as we embark on this journey.
The learning continued during the morning, as we met with Peter Olson, attache for the USDA Foreign Ag Service. Peter walked us through the USDA’s role in country, focused on US market promotion, market access for US commodities, local market intelligence for US Companies, and capacity building. Peter was followed by the Regional Director for the US Grains Council in Latin America – Marshall’s own Marri Tejada-Carrow! Marri walked us through her team’s responsibilities focused on Developing Markets, Enabling Trade, and Improving Lives within her scope of responsibility for US Corn, Barley, and Sorghum exports. Interestingly, Marri shared that agriculture in Panama makes up only a small portion of the total Panamanian economy, relying on imports to feed and power (via ethanol) the population. Unsurprisingly, the Panamanian economy is driven in large part by the presence of the Canal, which the class will tour in detail tomorrow. Two demonstrations of leadership that Marri shared in her comments:
- Understanding cultural norms in communication is critical to building powerful and long-lasting relationships; the traditional American approach to daily work is not necessarily shared by the locals!
- Leadership in a country where you are the guest does not look like railroading your own agenda through the local political machine – and this can sometimes take patience measured in years, not months, for the perfect opportunity to introduce new ideas.
U.S. Grains Council, Latin America Regional Director – Marri Tejada-Carrow, Panama and native Marshall, MN native and Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) – Peter Olson, Agricultural Attache, U.S.D.A. – provided orientation on import, export and agricultural product status in and out of Panama and global regions of Latin America.
Following our morning of learning, we boarded our new “bus home” for the next 10 days, led by our tour guide Jorge, for lunch at a local restaurant. The fresh fish was FANTASTIC! MARL XII then got a group photo at the famous, multi-colored PANAMA sign. Jorge informed us that we were lucky – if a cruise ship was in the area, this simple exercise could’ve taken an hour or more.
After lunch, we split into separate groups to experience either the Smithsonian Institution on Wildlife in Panama or a local museum celebrating regional biodiversity. Whether seeing sloths lounging in trees, frogs in varying states of “compromising positions,” or appreciating the local fauna, we were all exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel for a respite before the evening activity: a traditional Panamanian meal and dinner show filled with music and dancing, with some “audience participation” (thanks for showcasing your skills David, Kelly, Toby, Renee, and Turkey Jake).
From unplanned (and possibly staged) MARL “engagement” photos (old friends Kevin and Sagan), to iguanas dropping out of the sky onto Kate, to breaking back into our own bus at the end of the evening (thanks for volunteering to get yourself through that tiny window, Corey – and this is a story worth asking your MARL Class XII colleague about IN PERSON), Day 1 concludes with all of us tired, our cups full, and hope that the rest of the trip can live up to Day 1!
Corey “Our Hero” entering bus with help from class members to get all of us access thru an “open door!” Daily summary wrap up by Jason Robinson. MARL Class XII
DAY #3 from Panama
Today was an awesome day. The first stop…Panama Canal. We were able to see the last ship of the day entering the canal at approximate 8:30 a.m. EST. Panama is experiencing a drought and 3 steps have been taken by the Panama Canal authorities to conserve water.
- Only half of the ships are being allowed through the canal.
- Large ships will often times have one or two small boats go through at the same time – referred to as “tandem lifting.”
- Water is transferred between chambers (locks) as much as possible – reducing water consumption by 50% per lift.
Ships travel from the Pacific to the Caribbean in the morning and vice versa in the afternoon. The water level in the locks is raised or lowered to move the ship through the canal, all water is fresh and moved without any pumps, there are many channels for directing water for each lift of a vessel.
The original (ancient) canal was finished in 1914. The first ship to travel the length of the canal was on the same day as WWI broke out. A new canal was built near Panama City in 2007 to keep up with the shipping demand. The toughest part of building a new canal was the logistics. There were 35 different countries that participated in the building of the new canal. For example the new lock doors were built in Italy and had to be shipped to Panama.
Locomotives are hooked to the ships with steering cables to keep the vessel from hitting the walls. We observed a ship proceed through the Mira Flores Locks today with about 12 inches of clearance on the left and the right side of the vessel and the lock concrete walls. The lock doors are now operated by computers, previously they were operated by human powered levers. There are no water pumps on the Panama Canal – everything is operated by gravity. Each vessel moving through the locks has assistance from locomotives “Mules” (cause in many canal systems – a mule “they animal” was providing power to move cargo on boats thru the water.
Before a ship enters the first lock a Panama Canal Pilot is taken to the ship to steer the vessel through the locks. The crew remains on board and follows the pilots direction.
The Panama Canal is one of the most well-known places in the world. A popular stop on the lake were islands that are home to monkeys. Yes, the monkeys on the islands are pleased with the popularity of the region. The one below is a Howler monkey – did you know that they are the loudest terrestrial animals in the western hemisphere. Born with blond fur, males turn black as they mature. Can you determine the gender of this one we spotted?
After our canal visit and the IMAX movie narrated by Morgan Freemen, we ventured to Lake Gatun. We got into small boats and were given a tour of Lake Gatun. Many large ships passed by us. Lake Gatun is man-made and was created by damming up the Chargas River. There are still 7 native tribes in Panama that are keepers of the land. They are self-governing and protect the rain forests.
Nancy Miller – contributing blogger – MARL Class XII
Chagres River in Panama revealed to us many secrets this afternoon. The source of much fresh water for the Panama Canal system
MARL class, after their adventures at the Panama Canal and a quick lunch, headed to “Old Town” Panama where we were able to experience the history and culture of historic Panama. MARL class experienced a variety of churches, shops, restaurants, and businesses.
A tour of the community garden and old town from Tino was next. His efforts allow area children the ability to partake in a community garden. This reaches far beyond the community garden as he is able to help provide the children with meals and other basic necessities.
MARL class wrapped up their evening with a meal together at Costa Blanca. Tomorrow MARL Class will head to Penonome to a pineapple farm and an egg farm! The adventure continues!
Ali Bouta – contributing blogger – MARL Class XII
Day #4 – Departing from Panama City – – –
From Traffic Standstill to Agricultural Marvels –
Last night’s view – pretty cosmopolitan city.
Day four of our Panamanian adventure didn’t follow the anticipated script, initiating with a slow traverse through a 2-hour traffic standstill due to a protest. Our guide, Jorge, suggested the protestors might be retired police officers advocating for increased pension checks. Despite the delay, as we finally hit the road, our journey transformed into a captivating exploration of Panama’s infrastructure and agricultural wonders. The day’s pinnacle was witnessing the construction of a multi-billion-dollar metro train system designed ingeniously to traverse both above ground and under the canal. This showcased a substantial investment in the country’s transportation future, an ambitious move given the apparent need for observed road repairs during our journey.
Difficulty leaving town the morning… Protesting in the streets – stopped traffic – sat for two plus hours – in traffic, appreciated air conditioning…
Our initial destination was the expansive pineapple plantation, covering an impressive 400 hectares. This wasn’t merely a pineapple haven; it unfolded as a thriving ecosystem featuring an array of crops, including limes, passion fruits, mangoes, cassava, mandarins, and various other edible fruits. What set this place apart was the harmonious coexistence of cultivation and wildlife, with hills and small lakes enhancing the landscape. As we explored the plantation, our fascination extended beyond rows of pineapples to the vibrant display of flowers and tropical plants. Heliconia, bougainvillea, hibiscus, and other exotic plants, typically found as interior decor in the Midwest of the United States, thrived in their natural habitat. Amidst this diversity, a noteworthy addition was a restaurant on the plantation where we savored traditional dishes. The menu featured fried rice with chicken and raisins and chicken, accompanied by freshly squeezed pineapple juice.
MARL is blooming in many unique ways during the International Seminar… Scott Schoper displays the Bird Flower and Katie Covino additional color, shape and texture.
On to the Pineapple education and tasting opportunity…
Through the farms we explored, an abundance of crops unfolded. In the first plantation, we encountered a diverse array:
– Cassava (Caribbean Yuca): Regenerating from a stick, cassava thrives in the fertile Panamanian soil. It is described as tasting like a potato, adding a local flair to Panamanian cuisine.
– Dragon Fruit Cactus (Pitaya): Set to bloom in April, these cacti added a unique touch to the plantation.
– Limes, Mandarins, Soursop: Each fruit boasts distinct flavors and economic value. The Noriegas lime variety, with its edible bumpy skin, added a local touch.
– Passion Fruit Vines: Vineyard-like in appearance, showcasing the natural beauty of Panama’s flora.
– Coffee Trees: Yielding robust and bitter beans, ideal for a strong espresso or americano.
– Square Plantains: A staple in many Panamanian dishes, occupying a central place in the plantation.
Our journey also introduced us to local wildlife, from sloths to Caymans in the water and turtles. The diverse flora, featuring Heliconia with its chocolate-like scent, vividly portrayed Panama’s rich biodiversity.
Pollo Agricultura – Chicken or the Egg…
Our journey continued to a poultry farm, providing captivating insights into poultry and agriculture. The visit to a certified salmonella-free farm emphasized cleanliness and egg safety, with Respeggct.com shedding light on their commitment to eliminating chick culling. The farm’s efficiency was evident as it incubated an impressive 9600 eggs that morning.
Upon returning to our hotel, we indulged in traditional Panamanian chicken and beef empanadas before exploring local stores and a grocery, comparing prices, and discovering new flavors.
Day four, despite its slow start, transformed into an enriching experience, offering a glimpse into the intersection of infrastructure development and sustainable agriculture in this vibrant Central American country. Furthermore, what stood out during our agricultural exploration in Panama was the growing trend of incorporating agrotourism methods into farming practices. Farmers are diversifying income streams, aiming for sustainability during slower seasons. The pineapple plantation we initially visited, spanning an impressive 400 hectares, boasted its own hills and small lakes where cultivation and wildlife coexist harmoniously.
Contributing bloggers today – Kristy Mach, Nathan Hanel, Maria Kalyvaki, Scott Schoper & Kevin Kruize
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” – Aristotle
MARL cohort is working on self-awareness, self reflection and self-regulation.
Day #5 in the heart of Panama
In case you were wondering, the roosters in Panama say, “coocoodacoo,” baby chicks say “pillo pillo,” and the phrases “chick magnet” and “a good egg” don’t translate.” (I was told that you could complement a man on his good eggs, but only if you’re intimate with him.)
Panama day 5 began at Finca Don Lapo, a diversified farm that primarily produces eggs but also has a variety of livestock for agritourism. Rafael, the second generation farmer at Huevos Don Lapo, showed us two of the layer barns. Each flock of Isa Browns spends 16 weeks in a brooder barn before moving to the next building, where their 18,000 eggs are collected by hand three times a day. Most are sold through a combination of resale and direct sales, both locally and in Panama City.
The farm uses spent rice hulls for bedding and hand blends its own feed, mostly a corn and soybean mix that comes from the United States. Calia, the farm manager, explained that the ration also includes vitamins to help with yolk color and achieve better egg quality.
After many standard attempts at rodent control failed, Rafael says that the farm has had success managing them with snakes (!). He assured us that their diet is rich enough in mouse protein to keep them away from the eggs and chickens. None of the MARL members seemed keen on trying this out at home.
Avian flu is less of a concern in Panama, possibly due to the hot and sunny climate. This is fortunate, as Rafael anticipated that there would likely be no government assistance available in the event of an outbreak. Still, the farm practices biosecurity and treats their flock with some antibiotics to safeguard against intestinal viruses.
Aside from livestock production, One of the most relatable topics Rafael discussed with us was the challenge of multigenerational farm succession. He and his siblings were encouraged to get an education and study abroad, which certainly provided them opportunities but may have kept many from returning to the business. He said he is always looking for ways to attract more of his family (immediate and extended) back to the business. Agritourism is one way they are trying to diversify (the farm has a variety of birds, unique poultry, cows, sheep, iguanas, rabbits, and deer), and Rafael continues to try modernizing their operation using computer technology.
Our chickens might sing different songs, but our farmers have many of the same dreams and challenges!
Friday afternoon we made our way to an agriculture school where students can enroll starting at age 14. They can receive their high school certification in 3 years or continue on to receive technical training for 5 years. Students are able to live at the school and for a fee of $60/month this includes room and board. This allows students from all over Panama to enroll in the school. Currently, 176 students are enrolled. To become a student, they have a 2 week “bootcamp” period to make sure the students know they want to have a career in agriculture. They must know how to use a machete and basic skills like how to drive a tractor. This period weeds out the students who do not want to be there. While the school is currently run by the government, they are in the process of transitioning into a more private school so all the funds from sale of products produced on the farm can go back to the school. Students have the opportunity to learn skills from dairy farming, goat farming (milk goats), pigs, beef and many crops.
Once the school transitions to an independent school, the plan is to offer more technical training as well as traditional farming training to allow students to understand they do not need to have lots of land to have animals or crops available to feed their own families. The more technical training can allow students to be more employable in larger sections of agriculture. As a previous high school agricultural educator, it was great to see opportunities for young people to learn skills in a hands on setting and the similarities as well as differences between US and Panama.
The heat was intense here today. The setting sun on the beach was delightful…
Share more with you on the weekend… MARL International Seminar continues….