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Friday, May 27, 2011

I-CAL participants head home

Today we started our final day in Colombia and our final day of programming for the 2011 I-CAL trip. Our day started early so that we could make the most of our final day in South America. Our plan included stops at a chicken and pork processing plant, an avocado cooperative, some small furniture buildings, a flower farm and finally a small corn arepa production facility. With five stops and one day to complete them we had a crammed packed schedule. None the less we did have the help of a local woman Catalina who would be showing us a lot of the local agriculture. We began the day with breakfast at a little shop on the corner of a business street.

Immediately after breakfast we headed to tour a swine and chicken processing and packing plant. The group split up into two groups and chose either the pork or chicken tour. We started our tour from the packaging process and worked our way to the harvesting to prevent contamination.

The plant was surprisingly compact for all that goes on within the plant. Supercerdo; the name of the pork company we were touring slaughters and processes 400 pigs daily. We were able to visually see the entire process from finish to start, as well as we were able to learn a lot about the process in South America.

After the tour we asked a few questions about the chicken facility and were able to get a very quick tour through that facility. Unfortunately there was a break down in the plant and no chickens were being process, but we were still able to walk through the facility and see the infrastructure. In the process we learned they are capable of slaughtering and processing 5,000 chickens every day. Supercerdo and Superpollo are somewhat vertically integrated as well, the processing plant owns the farms that the animals come from.

After our early morning tour of the packing plants we were introduced to Catalina, a 28-year-old Colombian native. She works for Genesis Enterprises, a nonprofit organization working to help small farmers market their products as well as provide them access to processing facilities.

Our first tour with Catalina was at an avocado processing plant. We were able to see how the avocados entered, were cleaned and then sorted. We even stepped in the cooler used to elongate the life of the avocado. It was interesting to learn that 400 growers make up this group harvesting over 1,000 hectares of avocados. The avocado farmers are growing a Hass variety and harvest two crops a year. These are chosen because of their long shelf life and resistance to diseases. Currently, this plant is only exporting to Holland because they don't have the volume to provide to European or U.S. markets.

Immediately following our avocado adventures, we headed to a few furniture stores to view the forestry part of agriculture. Furniture in Colombia is significantly less expensive than the United States. The carpenters were using a wood from the Pacific Forest south of Panama; these woods were also known to be a very hard wood and are high in quality. It was refreshing to see something so varied than our few previous stops.

After a very quick lunch stop at a local restaurant, we visited a local farm. This is a flower farm which produces five types of flowers. We were able to view the growing process, the harvesting process, as well as the post-harvest process. Eighty-five percent of the farms exports go to the United States under the Sunburst Farms label. The flower industry is very important to the country of Colombia. Currently Colombia is the second largest exporter of flowers in the world, second only to the Netherlands.

Upon completion of the flower farm visit we saw a small arepas operation. Arepas are hard to describe. Imagine something that looks like a pancake and tastes like a sweet corn biscuit. This operation is run by a mother, father, and daughter. They produce 1,600 arepas weekly for restaurants and stores that place orders. They begin with corn, grind it cook it, cool it off as well as seal and package the product. The ingredients are as simple as combining corn, sugar, and water. It was pretty neat to see all of this happening in the same room and of course the best part was being able to test the product.

After our long day full or exciting adventures, we dropped off Catalina and headed to a craft market to purchase our Colombian souvenirs and then ate our last dinner together at a steak restaurant. The day was jammed packed with a diverse array of visits and allowed for a successful last day in Colombia. Reflecting on today most of us saw a side of agriculture we are not used to and saw from the perspective of a foreign producer. Perspective is one of the biggest things we learned today and that has been a theme for our whole program. Overall I think we will all miss Medellin a lot. The moderate weather, beautiful scenery, and twisting and turning roads provided for a great few days in a great Colombian City.

Sarah Marten – Kansas State University
Dakota Hoben – Iowa State University

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