February 18 – Where does your food come from (in Panama)?

Today, several activities allowed our class to explore where Panama procures their food.  A few highlights of today include; Cold Chain seminar presentation at another hotel, visit to Casa Esperanza; visit to Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution, and visits to local fish and produce markets.  So here we go…

Thursday started off with a 7:30AM departure from the hotel after a hearty, “American” style buffet breakfast.  The group enjoyed a monkey sighting in the trees directly outside the hotel lobby.  After surviving Panama City morning rush hour traffic, we arrived at our first stop of the day – a cold chain seminar hosted by the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.

Jose Manual Samperio, a cold chain consultant employed by the group who is from Mexico, was delivering a lecture to 80+ local representatives from Panama supermarkets, food distributors, and other associated food chain professionals.   His primary message is helping local Panamanians realize that frozen food IS fresh.  The local culture is accustomed to warm food as fresh.  Example:  you grew up watching your grandmother process chickens for dinner ‘fresh on the farm.’  Now as an adult consumer, you still equate buying warm, hardly cooled meat as being very fresh.  Additionally, unlike the USA where eggs are purchased cold in the grocery – many local markets still sell fresh unrefridgerated eggs.  Jose demonstrated the egg sink test and egg spinning test to show how to prove if an egg is still fresh or not.  Ask your favorite ALP member for a demonstration at home!  Below, the guest speaker is pictured giving ALP class member Paul Hodgen and the table a demonstration!

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We departed the downtown Panama City hotel where the seminar was held and traveled to Casa Esperanza.  This center is for at risk youth and provides them a safe alternative to receive health, nutrition, education, and social services.  In Panama, public school is only from 7-12 and again 12-5.  They do not have enough teachers so school is in ‘two shifts’.  Many youth can cease attending school, or are left free after 12pm while their parents are at work.  This leaves youth at risk – including being exploited as farm labor workforce (especially coffee farms), or working the streets peddling goods and services.  Casa Esperanza is a similar to a Boys and Girls Club.  In operation for 25 years, the center has multiple locations and provides 2 meals a day, recreation, education, and many other services.  Over 10,000 children have received services in the organization’s history.  Current participation is about 50-60 students ranging from ages 3 to teens.  Our group received a center toured, met a few children, and left donations for the center.  A pre school class and our guides are pictured below.

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Following the center tour, we enjoyed a hearty lunch ocean side!

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Next, we departed for the nearby Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.  This was a self guided tour of an outdoor ‘zoo’ / research center.  The center coordinates many research projects throughout the year.  However the highlights were the sea turtle tank and some sloth / raccoon sightings.  See pictures below.

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Following the Smithsonian visit, as we made our way back to the hotel – we stopped at the local fish and produce market.  These were two highlights of the day.  The fish market is utilized by local restaurants, hotels, and other markets to procure fresh seafood daily.  Sea Bass (corvina as the locals call it), red snapper, grouper, and many other fresh catches are all on display.  Our group bus made a brief stop that allowed us to walk through the market and see adjoining fresh fish stands that cook and sell the final product.  This is definitely as fresh/local as seafood gets!  They even have a mixed ‘surprise’ bin for $2.50/lb.

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The final stop of the day was the local produce market.  This is the wholesale distribution network for local produce.  According to our guide, 100% of the fresh produce we saw was locally, Panama grown.  Each vendor had a narrow area/store front where they sold produce. The sellers were sometimes referred to as ‘truck farmers’, or in our terms a dealer network.  These truck farmers had relationships with farmers.  They traveled to the farm and bought a truckload of product to take to the market and resell.  The buyers at the market could be consumers looking to buy a few days worth of produce for their family; but the majority of buyers are supermarket or mini mart owners looking to supply their store to resell to producers in the local communities.  This market was truly a ‘local’ experience to see how their agriculture markets work – we were likely the only Americans who have been through it in recent times.  We had several police escorts to ensure our security 🙂 !.  Some of the class bought fresh made fruit smoothies, while another classmate procured 20 oranges for $2!  Beat that price back in the States!  Following the produce market tour, we headed back to the hotel for the evening.  It was another great day full of educational experiences.

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