Here I sit, sweating in a seemingly-unending stew of tropical heat and humidity, a sniff of hibiscus and third-world city “aroma” on the breeze coming through the hurricane shutters. Incessant advertisements blare from loudspeakers carried on small scooters and motorcycles, of which there seems to be one for everyone and their dog. Perfidiously green in every direction, the Island of Hispaniola has swallowed me up, and is threatening to not let me go.
In a not-so-dramatic sense, I am writing from the sitting room of a large, old house in Santa Cruz del Seibo, Dominican Republic. For those of you who have not asked me what I am doing for the balance of the summer (I don’t know who you are, because I swear I have repeated myself a million times and I only have a dozen friends), I am on a research development trip/internship with an agricultural producer in the Dominican. For those of you who might be wondering, yes, i do speak some Spanish, thanks to the help of Rosetta Stone. Unfortunately, it seems that dear Rosetta only taught me sufficient words to quickly allow me to get into trouble, but has evidently left me with the inability to talk myself out of said trouble.
Dare I say, but my cautious and worrisome personality, combined with my lackluster Spanglish, means that I rarely speak or go anywhere. This, on top of being two hours from the nearest tourist destination (where everyone knows enough English to get me by).
Lingual barricades aside, my time here so far (13 days) have been very interesting. There are not many parallels with North America agriculture here: they grow sugar cane, not corn; cocoa, not wheat; plantains instead of potatoes; and all manner of fruit in the place of cool-weather garden vegetables (the pineapple will make you feel certain ways). The producer I am working with (along with a fellow grad student from Texas A&M) has many fingers in many pies. He owns a large cow-calf operation, from which he sources the steers for his grass-finishing farm. There’s a hog unit, a start-up chicken feeding business, a medium (for an island) dairy, and crops including sugar cane, coffee, and cocoa. To say it is a diverse interest portfolio is a slight understatement, considering there is also a high-end butcher counter in Santo Domingo, where the beef from the grass fed steers, the hogs, and the chickens is marketed to middle and upper-class Dominicans.
Our goal for the remaining four weeks of our stay is to assist the producer in developing more rigorous culling protocols, as well as brainstorm suggestions for maintaining production levels while limiting the amount of Bos indicus genetics in the cow herd. Along the way, we are likely to learn more about Caribbean agriculture than we are prepared for, spend at least a few days here and there on one of the many stunning, beautiful, white Dominican beaches, and, for myself at least, partake in my second favourite ag product (after beef, of course): Dominican rum.
I hope to supply at least one more post with pictures of our travels and adventures. Hopefully I can get it done before a falling mango knocks me out and I forget (likely, as the clothes machine is located outside, under the tree, which is currently in fruit).