I traveled to Panama and Colombia as a part of the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) Program May 14th- 27th 2011 through the National FFA Organization and the U.S. Grains Foundation. Check out my very first blog posts and pictures from my trip!

You can check out my website from the trip here. Keep in mind that I did not edit my writing for this page and that I was writing for family. I’ll post some of the couple thousand pictures I have from that trip soon. :)


5.11.11 | Intro & Such

Hey everybody!  I decided that I am going to try to blog while I am gone on the I-CAL trip for the next two weeks.  I will be without a phone, but I will have access to the internet for some of the time I’m down there.  If you haven’t heard, I will be traveling to Panama and Colombia as a part of the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) Program which is put on through the National FFA Organization and the Grains Foundation (part of the U.S. Grains Council).  I’m really excited for this trip and want to have a way other than Facebook to share all of my experiences with everybody at home.  Stay posted for pictures and entries! :)  I leave this Saturday the 14th and return late Friday the 27th.]


5.14.11 | Orlando

So had to get up early this morning for the Illinois Ag in the Classroom 5K run/walk before I left for Florida. And then this afternoon I flew from Bloomington to Orlando and finally got  to Florida around 8 this time (I guess EST). And then we got a ride from the  airport to the hotel in a super fancy town car and now we’re staying in a fancy  hotel that’s adjacent to a mall which is pretty awesome.  Nothing really to  report today that’s ag related so check out the pictures :)


5.15.11 | Florida [Official Day 1]

Today was orientation day and we learned a lot about just general agriculture in Panama and Colombia and compared several industries to the U.S. and learned about the Free Trade Agreement.  Tomorrow we fly out to Panama City bright and early and then have a mini-orientation there with the U.S. Grains Council Representative.  Later in the day we get to tour around Panama City.
We went to Universal Studios for supper at Margaritaville and then everybody decided it would be fun to make them sing Happy Birthday to me (a day late) and get free dessert.  And then we roamed around and took pictures and managed to get lost getting back to the hotel.  Interesting adventure.


5.16.11 | Panama [Day 2]

I would like to start off by saying that Spanish keyboards are stupid and hindering my blogging abilities.  But other than that today has been great.  It started at about 4am Florida time and we left for the airport at around 5.30.  We get there and wait in line for a little longer than 2 hours because their online system was down and they had to check everyone in manually.  It was a long wait and we made it early enough to be towards the middle of the line (it was a REALLY long line).  And then we made it through security and onto the plane in time for another hour of waiting.  So a 1 hour delay and 3 hour flight later, here I am in Panama City.  Got through customs and then met up with our Panamanian tour guide for the week.  His name is Christopher and he knows pretty much anything you could possibly ask about Panama so far, which is good for us tourists.  We then checked into our hotel and dropped off our luggage and met up with Kurt Shultz, our U.S. Grains Council representative for Panama.  He pretty much runs the Latin America office here in Panama City.  And then we ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant and have gotten rained on several times today.  It’s really warm here and really, really humid, which is typical for the transition between the dry and rainy seasons.  And all this afternoon we have been touring around the city and taking pictures and seeing significant places that Christopher points out to us.  I have stories and pictures of everything to post yet, but the internet is being really slow and this keyboard is being really annoying, so those may have to wait til later this evening or tomorrow.  We start farm tours tomorrow, which I’m really excited for :)

(P.S.–facebook doesn’t believe me when I try logging on because I’m in a different location so I have pretty much been locked out for the time being…so I may or may not have access to facebook for a while)


5.19.11 | Panama [Day 2 Continued]

Upon arrival in Panama City, we checked in at the hotel overlooking part of the Pacific Ocean.  We have a mini touring bus for the week and so our tour guide showed us around the city.  There is essentially an older part and a newer part.  The older part is where the poor class lives and where some of the churches from the ancient city were relocated.  The ancient city was the first settlement in Panama and was attacked by Captain Morgan in the early 1500s.  There is one structure still standing in the original location but that’s it.  The gold alter (pictures on the next page…maybe) is now in the San Jose church (I think that’s the name) and was actually painted black to protect it form Captain Morgan.  Apparently it was effective considering it’s now in a functioning church.  There was another church in the older part that the front wall was moved from the old city.  It has “calico bricks” that the cement was just mixed with different materials, which included ox blood and cow blood, in order to make the different colors.  The seven steps represented the seven seas and there was something significant about the wooden doors, but I didn’t catch that part.  Anyway, there is lots of restoration going on in this part of Panama City.  There are more stories and descriptions of the pictures on the next page as soon as I have time to get them uploaded.  The newer part of Panama City is very modern.  There are lots of tall and skinny buildings really close together, but Panama gets no earthquakes or tornadoes so they don’t have to worry about building so tall.  I think the tallest building is 85 stories.  Most of these buildings are either offices or apartments for the rich and a few are hotels.  One thing about the class structure in Panama City is that you are either really rich or really poor.  Our tour guide said that the average annual income for the poor is $1200-1500 a year and upwards of $200,000 a year if you are rich.  Speaking of rich, there is one family that owns a bunch of businesses and such in Panama.  The Mottas so far own the airline we flew to Panama on and one of the shipping companies we toured a few days ago.  Something I just remembered about the ancient part of the city—it is referred to as Casco Antiguo, “antique” and the older part of the city is called Panama La Vieja.  Many of the streets, plazas, buildings, the Panamanian currency, a brand of beer, and a town are all named after Balboa.  I think Balboa was the guy that was the first European to hike across Panama from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean or something like that.  The point is that they really like him here.  The Balboa currency is coins only and is no longer used in Panama.  The U.S. Dollar has been the currency for some time now.  There are old school buses that are owned by rich people and painted up and pretty much used as city buses by Panamanians.  They are called Rojo Diablos or “Red Devils” because they actually cause a number of injuries and deaths each year.  The Panamanian government is trying to phase out the Red Devils because of this and is introducing the more modern metro bus.  These are also much more fuel efficient.  Gasoline runs about $4.00/gallon and diesel is about $4.50/gallon (I don’t know how much prices fluctuate).  For Panamanians, the Red Devils are more popular because they only cost $0.50 to ride whereas the new metro buses cost $1.50, but I think that it is just something that they are going to have to get used to.  And the bus system is used quite a lot by the poorer class.  There is lots of traffic on the street with cars, but I think that the are mostly owned by the more well off.  Traffic and driving around here is just insane.  Red lights, stop signs and speed limits are pretty much just suggestions.  Even with all the crazy driving, I do have to say that traffic still flows pretty smoothly and quickly and there are relatively few accidents.  Alright, so more about the weather.  I mentioned before that Panama has no tornadoes or earthquakes.  The seasons here are dry and rainy.  The rainy season last around nine months beginning in May.  The dry season is just really hot and dry, obviously.  Right now is the beginning of the rainy season, so the weather has been very warm, humid and rainy.  The average daily rainfall during the rainy season is about 1 inch.  Rain here is very sporadic.  There are no storm systems or rain patterns.  It could be sunny and dry one minute, raining the next, and then dry and sunny again.  Umbrellas are a necessity here (well for us, everyone else just goes about their business like it’s not even raining).

For lunch the first day, we ate at a restaurant along the canal that was outside.  Actually, all the restaurants have been outdoors so far.  Anyway, I had sea bass or Corvina, which is very popular in Panama.  It was pretty good, but I prefer my fish smothered in tartar sauce.  Afterwards, we visited the local fish market.  This particular market was built about a month ago.  We visited on a Monday, which is their off day, so there wasn’t much activity.  But essentially different families or groups catch the fish and sell it in their stalls.  Vendors pay $90/month for their stall.  There are pictures and a more detailed description on the next page.  The smell was very, very, very strong.

Here are a few interesting facts about Panama:

*There are a lot of things and places named after Balboa

*Panama uses U.S. currency

*Much of the language is Spanish and may people know at least some English.  TV includes a lot of American shows and many words and phrases in English are used.  The tour guide likes to call it “Spanglish”

*There are 3.5 million people living in Panama.  Of that, 2.2 million live in the cities along the canal

*Only a rainy season and a dry season

*Only place in the world where you can see the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean and set over the Atlantic

*It’s about 80 km between the Pacific and Atlantic along the canal


5.19.11 | Panama [Day 3]

We began our morning learning more about the U.S. Grains Council’s role in Panama/the Latin America region.  For those of you who don’t know, the U.S. Grains Council represents corn, sorghum and barley grown in the United States.  There are 10 international offices and the one in Panama is the newest.  They focus on introducing the U.S. grain to the respective market.

Afterwards, we visited the Miraflores locks on the canal.  We arrived just in time to see a ship move through the lock.  There was also a museum all about the canal, which overviewed the history, the environment, and the planned expansions of the canal.  I’m going to give a little history about the canal so feel free to skip down a paragraph if you would rather read about the next adventure of the day.  So the French began the canal in 1880, but they were unable to complete it because of lack of finances, Malaria, and Yellow Fever.  In 1903 the United States influenced Panama’s independence from Colombia and then negotiated an agreement for the construction of the canal.  The canal opened on August 15th, 1914.  The United States actually managed the canal until 1990, when operation of the canal was turned over to Panama according to the treaty negotiated in 1977.  The Panama Canal is managed by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).   The canal is 80 kilometers long and it takes ships approximately 8-10 hours to cross between the Atlantic and Pacific.  It would take 18-21 days to travel around the tip of South America, so the canal saves millions of dollars with every ship utilizing it.  The canal has two locks.  The Miraflores lock is near the Pacific mouth.  Because of the topography of the canal, ships must be raised 26 meters above sea level and then lowered back down to sea level using the two sets of locks.  Panama is currently expanding the canal and adding a third lock to each of the two sets.  This will allow ships with as many as 12,000 containers to pass through.  Right now only ships carrying a maximum of 4,000 containers may pass.  The expansion will be complete by 2014, when the 100th year of operations is marked.  The expansion will double the canal’s current capacity.

Later we were able to tour a company that owns a dock along the canal with six berths for ships to load and unload containers, so it’s a fairly large dock.  They handle all kinds of products including cars, machinery and food imports and exports.  The container unloaders are able to unload containers at the rate of 32-34 containers per hour.  See the pictures section for more about this tour.

While we were in the province of Colon, we visited the one and only grain elevator in Panama.  They operate out of a facility that was built by the U.S. army to handle coal in the 1920s.  Right now they are able to handle all of the grain and grain products shipped into Panama for the livestock industry, which is mostly poultry.  There are only two silos available for storage.  Storage here is actually a big problem because of the humidity and heat, so grain cannot be stored for as long as in the United States.  There are plans for this facility to expand in the near future, coinciding with the expansion of the canal.  Some of the products they handle include corn, soybeans, soybean meal, and DDGS.  All are shipped loose in the hulls of the ships and “clams” are used to remove the grain.  This is a private company and most of the shareholders are members of the poultry industry.  Cargill recently sold all of their shares.  The business only handles the logistics of storing grain for the shippers and the buyers.  They only see two ships each month.  While we were meeting with the managers of the grain elevator, we were served delicious empanadas with meat filling and some kind of fruit filling.  They are similar to tarts and they were absolutely delicious :)

After driving for about an hour and a half, we finally arrived back in Panama City.  We went to another outdoor restaurant for supper in the city and then walked around for a bit before returning to the hotel.


5.19.11 | Panama [Day 4]

Okay so I am getting lazy and am just going to use the blog post that me and my partner, Jarvis, wrote for the official I-CAL blog yesterday.  Here it is:

Les enviamos una hola de Santa Clara, Panama! (We send you our greetings from Santa Clara, Panama!) Today we had the amazing opportunity to tour some small scale agricultural producers here in inland Panama.  Our first visit was to a small scale coffee producer. We had the chance to see firsthand how coffee is produced and processed. Did you know that the coffee bean isn’t actually a bean? It is the seed from a coffee cherry! In this region coffee is the main cash crop. This particular farm markets their finished product to locals as natural and organic. A struggle that they have is marketing their product outside of their local community. One of the issues that they have is getting their product to the city to market due to the transportation restraints and distance from the concentrated population. They have however expanded their operations to de-hull, grind, and toast their coffee and offer these same services to other local coffee producers. By doing so they are able to sell their product for a higher premium and make 400 % greater profit. Farming organically is important to this farm because they are interested in protecting the environmental conditions of the Panamanian Watershed, and their soil. It was interesting to see how they are self-sustainable because they mix their own organic fertilizer using what is available to them. Their mixture contains rice husks, coffee hulls, chicken/cow/horse manure, yeast, kitchen compost and molasses to feed the yeast for the fermentation process. It amazed all of us that they mixed this fertilizer by hand and it took them almost three weeks to completely mix it, and we thought our chores on the farm were tough! They also harvest all of their coffee by hand and then dry it on large tarps in the sun, which is no easy task in this humid climate! The way to tell if the coffee bean his been sufficiently dried is that the coffee bean turns from white to brown. In 1990, a group of small producers joined together and formed the UCC. The UCC is a local coffee growers association which is made up of twelve communities that share ideas and resources. One of the producers that we visited today is the current vice president of the UCC.

We were also able to meet the area Peace Corp Volunteer, Jim O’Neil. Jim grew up in the United States and has been in Panama since last July. He helps out local farmers by teaching them new sustainable methods of agriculture. He also showed us his humble living conditions and his own personal sustainable garden. His best friend Canella, was over joyed to have new friends to play fetch with.

After several hours spent in a bus and one movie later we ended up in Santa Clara Panama where we had the chance to meet with Jesus Armenteros. Jesus is a UC Davis graduate and owns a small poultry operation. Even though his primary focus is pasture feed broilers, Jesus also farms other commodities as well.  He has 150 laying hens, 3 acres of yams, 1 acre of tomatoes, a few beets and beans, hogs, African sheep, and a lot of different varieties of fruit trees. He markets all of his products to local restaurants and the Jewish community as organic and humane to receive a higher premium. Most of us had the opportunity to sample the infamous cashew fruit, and local mango. The cashew fruit is highly deceiving because before the cashew nut is properly processed it is toxic to humans. Upon eating the fruit itself, which is non-toxic, you found that your mouth immediately goes dry even though juice gushes everywhere when you bite into it!

We finished our day by walking across the beach to make it to our dinner reservations where we were able to eat some authentic Panamanian food. Our hotel for the next two nights resides on the beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We give you permission to be jealous! Stay tuned for what adventures the I-CAL team will experience tomorrow!


5.20.11 | Panama [Day 5]

So Thursday the I-CAL team had the opportunity to go out for breakfast.  And of course we ended up at McDonalds’s–why would you possibly think that we would go somewhere more authentic?  They offered most of the same breakfast menu as in the U.S. but obviously everything was listed in Spanish.  After our delicious breakfast, we traveled to the biggest agricultural business in Panama.  They are made up of eight different companies and produce sugar, rice, fruits, feed, cattle, seafood, and also have research facilities to improve seed, which they then sell.  Just to give you an idea of the scale of this company, they have 3,000 permanent employees, 2,000 seasonal employees, and utilize 60,000 hectares of land for all eight enterprises.  An interesting fact is that the company actually transports the workers because of the lack of public transportation in the area they are located in.  While there, we were able to tour the shrimp farm.  Each pond is about four to five hectares and 1.2 meters deep and filled with salt water.  This farm is very close to the ocean so salt water is easily pumped into a reservior pond and then used as needed.  The shrimp are fed every day at 8 am and 2 pm.  They eat soy, wheat and fish meal, kelp or squid meal, and a mix of vitamins and minerals.  Did you know that shrimp are carnivorous?  There are approximately eight to ten shrimp per square meter of water.  Each shrimp cycle lasts for 150 to 220 days, depending on the targeted size.  When ready for harvest, laborors go out to the pond at night when the temperature has tapored off some, there is a higher tide, and the shrimp can be attracted to the surface with artificial lighting.  We toured just after the last cycle had been harvested and processed.  After seeing the shrimp, we moved on and were able to tour the rice mill.  And then we toured a sheep farm.  The highlight of dinner was definitely the “normal people” ketchup at the Panamanian restaurant.  The ketchup at all the other restaurants has a different flavor than what we are used to. It reminds me of the ketchup you can get at the fair.  We spent our last night at the beach yesterday.  That’s all I’ve got for this day, so be sure to check out the pictures if I have the opportunity to post any :)

*for reference– 1 hectare (ha) = 10,000 square meters


5.21.11 | Panama [Day 6]

Today we started bright and early with breakfast at a local Panamanian diner with a representative of the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MIDA).  After breakfast, we went to a vocation ag school and talked to some of the students and toured the facilities.  The school is on 200 hectares of land, of which 30 will be used as a demonstration farm in the near future.  The use a lot of national resources and the Ministry of Ag to educate students about agriculture while helping out local farmers  We then presented local farmers with a bag of genetically improved rice seed developed by the Ministry of Ag.  There was lots of media with us all day, mostly because the rice thing was a pretty big deal I guess.  The national radio and national televison stations actually interviewed some of the members of our group, which was pretty neat.
Later we went to a citrus processing facility, where they make aobut 12,000 gallons of orange juice per day for eight months of the year.  This farm is owned by an American who moved to Panama.  In addition to oranges, he also has sheep, cattle, and lemons.  All of his products are sold directly to local restaurants and supermarkets with the exception of oranges, some of which are exported to Europe.  He is working on expanding production to include a greater varitey of fruits and vegetables, partially because of the “Yellow Dragon” disease that is killing off all of the orange trees in Panama.  Soon orange juice will be a luxury item, even as soon as three years from now.  The owner is very environmentally friendly, growing everything organically to protect the watershed and composting or feeding orange peels to animals after juicing.
Our last farm visit of the day was to an iguana farm.  The iguanas are all sold as pets.  Each pen has only one male and the rest are female.  Females lay about 90 eggs every February and those eggs hatch in late April.  The iguanas eat chicken feed and grasses and leaves.  The farmer was very excited to have us visit and had everyone sign his guestbook and write down where we were from.
We drove back to Panama City after the iguanas.  We ate very American tonight, but will make up for it tomorrow when we go to a Panamanian dance dinner theatre type thing.  We also get to go zip lining through the rainforest and shopping tomorrow morning :)


5.21.11 | Panama [Day 7]

Today was just a fun touristy sort of day.  We went zip lining in the rainforest this morning, which was really awesome and about 100 times less scary than a roller coaster.  Then we ate at a restauant called the Octopus Garden that looked out over the Atlantic.  We also visited Portobello, which is the site of an early Panamanian fortress destroyed by Captain Morgan before he destroyed the old Panama City.  Afterwards we headed back to Panama City.  The ride took an hour longer than planned because of an accident on the highway.  We went to a market once we finally arrived back in the city.  This evening we went to a more cultural location for supper.  We ate and watched traditional Panamanian dance routines.  Tomorrow morning we leave Panama and fly to Cali, Colombia.  My goal for the trip is to take 1,000 pictures and I only have 470 more to go before Friday so expect lots of pictures posted :)  Be sure to check out the official I-CAL blog, too :)


5.26.11 | Colombia [Day 8]

Sunday morning we flew from Panama City to Cali, Colombia to begin the second half of the I-CAL adventure.  We checked into this amazing hotel that was just plain awesome.  It was outside with a mall on the lower two floors.  Cali is the largest city in Colombia.  Th city is bordered by mountains and has seven rivers flowing through it.  We toured Cali Sunday afternoon and saw “El Cato del Rio” which is a giant cat statue by one of the rivers.  There´s a cat statue garden behind it, too.  Then we went to the top of a mountain that had a giant statue of Jesus on top.  I don´t remember any significance of the statue but it is similar to the one in Brazil. We then drove through San Antonio, which is a really old preserved part of Cali.  There we visited a church and then some people went crate sledding down the hill next door.  The evening was concluded wih dinner at a restaurant that featured all dishes served on top of a plantain.  It sort of reminded me of that book, “Everything on a Waffle”.  Anyways, some observations about Colombia:
*driving is much smoother, but there are still no enforced rules
*there are a lot of people that ride around on bicycles and motorcycles
*stop signs are labeled “Pare” versus “Alto” in Panama
*Cali is less Americanized than Panama City


5.26.11 | Colombia [Day 9]

Monday morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at our hotel before heading to the CIAT research center.  It houses the world´s largest seed bank, both preserving and improving species through research.  Pictures will explain more.  That evening we went to a somewhat local salsa dancing club for a bit of Colombian culture, which was really fun.


5.26.11 | Colombia [Day 10]

I cheated again….

Que dice el cerdo (What does a pig say)? Oink Oink. (ha ha).

Today we visited a local swine producer who raises hogs from farrow to finish outside of Cali, Colombia. Everyone was delighted when we were each handed a pair of blue coveralls, plastic booties and a hair net before entering the facility.

Paradise Farms, the swine operation, is locally owned and operated. A featured technology of the operation is the process used to convert animal waste into compost and heat.

The owner is a member of the Colombian Pork Checkoff and a past president of the Colombian Pork Producers Association. The checkoff program was started in 1994 and now helps members by offering trainings to producers and spending time lobbying to the government.

It was interesting to be able to see the entire process from farrow to the final marketed product in a tropical environment. Paradise Farms is a very profitable and productive business, some production highlights include:

• 5% mortality rate
• 90% conception rate
• Average of 11 piglets/litter
• Each sow will average 28 piglets/year

Upon leaving the swine operation, we made our way to an open-air Colombian produce and meat market. All fresh foods are domestically produced. Did you know that Colombia is home to 1100 different fruits? Many of these fruits were exotic to us, and we even were able to sample a few.

It was a different experience for us to see the fresh meat market as well with meat hanging in the open air. The market allowed us to experience how the majority of local, small scale producers sell their products.

After a quick outdoor lunch and the opportunity to take a look at the neighboring nursery, we visited a local tropical fruit orchard. The most unique fruit we learned about was the Atamoya fruit, which is a new hybrid fruit created from the Naon and the Chirimoya fruits.

Atamoya is a very sweet and expensive fruit because the tree doesn’t begin producing fruit until three to four years of age. This orchard is the only Atamoya producer in the world, giving them competitive advantage in Colombian markets.

Mangos, macadamia nuts and guanabanas are also found in the orchard. The guanabana fruit is about the size of a football, green and covered in spikes. We ended the tour by seeing how macadamia nuts are cleaned, sorted and dried on location.

We finished the day with a relaxing BBQ dinner as tomorrow will be a very early wake-up call when we fly to Medellin, Colombia.

Jarvis Pace – Utah State University
Gracie Weinzierl – Illinois State University


5.26.11 | Colombia [Day 11]

Wednesday morning we flew to Medellin, the second largest city in Colombia.  We had the earliest wake up call yet for the trip an left the hotel at 4:45 for a 7 am flight.  Unlike the last two airport experiences, Jaime had someone check us in and then check our luggage, giving us time to grab donuts and hot chocolate before heading through security.  The ride was only 50 minutes and then there was a 45 minute drive into the city and then to our hotel.  We enjoyed a delicious hot breakfast at the hotel but it´s the only good thing anyone has to say about it.  Pretty much there´s no free wifi and it´s really expensive to buy the password, our luggage was supposed to be delivered to our rooms during the day and it obviously wasn´t, and the beds are not very soft.  Oh, we can´t get back into our safe after we locked our passports inside.  Other than this, Medellin has been great.  The city is nestled in the mountains and it is really cool to look at from above, especially at night.

We visited a cooperative called Colanta and were able to tour their slaughterhouse and meat processing plant (it was under sanitation so we didn’t get to see anything in action unfortunately), a local member who owned a dairy farm, a store for members that sold supplies and such at lower prices (sort of like a Farm and Fleet), and a cheese and milk factory.  Colanta also has a line of grocery stores, so they handle everything from feed to market for their members.  There are 10,000 members and 5,000 employees, so they make a big impact in the area.  They really focus on helping out the small producers who range from owning 3 to 450 cows.  Colanta processes 2.3 million liters of milk every day out of the 17 million liters a day national total.  All dairy cows are grass fed on their mountainside pastures and most are hand milked twice per day.  Colanta provides community storage tanks for the milk and own milk trucks that transport the milk to the processing plant every 4 milkings (48 hours).  Members also benefit from veterinary services and milk analysis as well as the discount feed and supply store.  Milk products produced are “Yogur” (ther brand of yogurt drink, which they are planning on marketing in the United States), cheese, cream ceese, milk powder, and milk.  The milk is sold in refrigerated bags that last 2 or 3 days once opened and in boxes, which can be stored in warm temperatures for a long time.

Besides the dairy sector, Colanta also has a meat sector. These plants slaughter pigs, cattle and calves at the rate of 90,000 pigs/year and 51,000 cows/year.  During the presentation, they emphasized Colombia’s need for imported feed grains.  Colombia imports from Brazil, Argentina, Chile and the United States.  Colanta actually processes their own feed, which is sold to members in their stores.

There will be more details about each of the tours once I get pictures posted.


5.27.11 | Colombia [Day 12]

On the final day in Colombia, we visited a swine and poultry slaughter-house, an avocado sorting plant, several small carpenter/furniture shops, a flower farm, and a Colombian shop for souveneirs.  Unfortunately, picutures were not allowed at today’s slaughter-houses, but I did get to see the swine one in action (part of the poultry plant broke down).  Just to warn you, the next two paragraphs are going to discuss slaughter-houses in more detail, so feel free to skip down.

So the pig processing plant was called Supercerdo and is able to process 400 hogs per day.  Pretty much they stun the incoming hog with gas, hook it up to the conveyer, finish killing them by slitting their throats and letting them bleed out, boil the carcass and send them through a tumbler for hair removal, torch the de-haired carcass to give it some color (carcass is naturally yellow), cut open the carcass and remove and wash th internal organs (which are sold), disinfect the carcass and then send it to a cooler.  After the slaughtering process, the head and feet are removed, skin is removed, the meat is processed and cut and packaged.

The chicken processing plant, called Superpollo, is able to process 120,000 birds per day.  Chickens are electrocuted and then bled out, boiled for better color and easy feather removal, taken through an ice bath to chill, disinfected, and then the meat is processed and packaged. One of the machines had broken down, so we didn’t get o see any chickens on the line, which was kind of disappointing.  But the company does own their own chicken and hog farms.  Also, the processing plants are in seperate buildings to avoid cross-contamination.  Trucks bring in the live hogs and chickens and then refrigerated trucks take the final products to market.  The sanitation in both today’s and yesterday’s slaughter-houses was very strict and up to code even by U.S. standards.

The avocado producers association plant is non-profit and has 420 producers involved.  The avocados are cleaned and polished and then the bad ones are sorted out before the machine sorts the fruit by weight.  It was a very simple process and pictures should be coming soon.  Some avocado facts:
*Colombia’s avocados are used domestically and exported mainly to Holland, where they are considered a delicacy and consumed as dessert in juice or whole form (eaten like an apple)
*Guacamolé is a Mexican term
*a new avocado tree takes 2-3 years to begin producing but will then produce for 10-14 years
*there are two avocado harvests per year; one big (better harvest) and another smaller one.  This is because of the climate and weather patterns.  Lots of rain will knock off flowers and damage the yields.
*avocados cannot be grown in a greenhouse
*green skin means that the avocado is not ripe, blackened skin is ripe
*small avocados are better for individual consumption while larger are better for guacamolé production because peeling becomes more efficient

The flower farm produced mostly gerbera daisies.  Pretty much these flowers are exported via air to Miami or by sea to Europe.  The flowers stay fresh by being in cool temperatures and treated with citric acid.  The goal is to keep them fresh until 10 days after the final consumer receives them (something like 20ish days).  There’s lots of pictures of this tour, which will be posted eventually.

We also visited a small family business that made and sold Arepas Doratas, which are made from corn, sugar and water.  They’re kind of like a pancake, but not.  They almost tast like a kind of fritter mixed with creamed corn.  Pictures on the next page.

For dinner most of us enjoyed Argentinian beef, which is absolutely delicious.  We then debriefed for Colombia. Tomorrow’s another early morning and long day as we fly from Medellin to Panama City to Orlando and then I go on to Atlanta and then Bloomington. Keep checking back for pictures and summaries of Panamanian and Colombian agriculture.  I had a great trip and met a bunch of awesome people and learned a lot about international agriculture :)




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