February 19 – Out to the Fields

Today we ventured into the country to put our boots on the ground on a farm- the highlight of the day was visiting Verba Odrec Farm (http://verbaodrec.com/)- an active pineapple, chicken and papaya operation.

We departed the Gamboa Rainforest Hotel, and headed to the farm in La Chorrera, Panama.

Ready for departure from Gamboa Hotel

Departure from Gamboa Hotel

Along our hour drive on the Pan American Highway enroute to the farm, we made a couple of stops.  The first stop was at the Xtra Grocery store in Vista Alegre.  The grocery store was the largest we had seen thus far during our travels.  Most grocery stores we had experienced thus far were small stores and street vendors.  This grocery store was similar to a Super WalMart with everything you would need, including refrigerators, stoves, paint, and even the kitchen sinks!

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The next stop along our drive was the Melo Y Cia pet and garden store in La Chorherra.  We found lots of farm supplies, boots, medicines, machetes and chicks.  Several classmates peppered the staff with questions about farming practices and attitudes in Panama.

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By midmorning we made it to the farm for our tour.  We were greeted by Ricardo Vergara who shared with us the history of the farm and how pineapples are grown.  Pineapples have only been grown in Panama the last 20 years, a relatively new crop.  Verba Odrec Farm is a about 1oo hectares (250 acres).  Newer farms are much larger than Verba Odrec.

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Pineapples grow on a small tree and take 11-13 months to mature from a small sprout with a root.  The sprouts are planted directly into plastic covered mounted beds.  The plants are irrigated from an on-site pond.  As we toured the farm, we saw plants in varying lifestages.

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Everyone in the class planted a few pineapples….

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and we all harvested a few too.  Although the leaves are very tough and jagged, the harvesting of the fruit is surprising easy.  The pineapples twist right off the top of the plant.

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After our small harvest, we enjoyed a pineapple in the field.

 

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After the first harvest, pineapple plants will produce a second fruit from a new sprout in about another year.  After the second fruit is produced, the plant is pulled and a replacement sprout planted.

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View of extinct volcanoes during our hilltop lunch overlooking Verba Odrec Farm.

After lunch, we toured the processing and packing facility.  Pineapples are harvested everyday year round on the farm.  The pineapples are stacked on the edge of the field as they are picked, and then within a day brought to the on-site processing facility.  The fruit is washed, sorted and weighed (must be at least 2.5 pounds).

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The pineapple is then packed, stacked, and move to cool storage where is can stay for up to a month.  The bulk of the pineapples from Verba Odrec Farm is shipped via containers maintained at 7 degrees to New Zealand, Korea and Turkey.  The pineapples pictured below are headed to Turkey (about a 3 week journey).  Although the outside of the pineapple is green, the fruit inside is now ready.

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We learned that pineapple production is going down in Panama and more people in-country are now eating chicken and other sources of protein as income rise.  In fact, Verba Odrec Farms also grows chickens and was building a new barn while we were there.  Ricardo thought over the next few years, the farm would continue to build additional barns.

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Verba Odrec Farm also has a small papaya grove near the processing building.

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We all enjoyed LOTS of fresh pineapple and learned quite a bit about Panamanian agriculture during our visit to Verba Odrec Farm.