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Puerto Rico Agricultural Market Expansion Conference a Success

Puerto Rico’s agriculture has been steadily declining and imports total 85 percent of the food consumed on the island. Additionally, almost all of the $11 million per year that USDA purchases for use in Puerto Rico’s school meals are purchased from companies in the continental United States.  What’s more, each year the island’s School Food Authority purchases about $80 million in food to be served in school.  We saw these as opportunities for local farmers and decided to do something about it.

The Market Expansion Conference, held June 23-24 in San Juan, teamed seven U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies and other Commonwealth and federal partners to show over 250 farmers how to sell food to local schools, expand their businesses and increase their participation in USDA programs.  Puerto Rico’s milk farmers, cattle ranchers, pineapple growers and many others eagerly listened to USDA experts explain grading and licensing, and provide information in the areas of funding and procurement.

Juan Ortiz Servia, State Executive Director for the USDA Farm Service Agency, greets a local farmer at the Market Expansion Conference held June 22 & 23 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Juan Ortiz Servia, State Executive Director for the USDA Farm Service Agency, greets a local farmer at the Market Expansion Conference held June 22 & 23 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

USDA has many diverse constituencies and, as part of our cultural transformation, we are working to reach and serve those constituents in the most effective way possible.  In this case it meant conducting the entire conference in Spanish.  Juan Garcia, Acting Deputy Administrator for Farm Service Agency (FSA)’s Farm Programs, even delivered the keynote address in Spanish. Meanwhile, an interpreter helped me and other linguistically-challenged participants understand the discussions through headphones.

It was worth it.  The two-day conference held the farmers’ attention, the media covered the event and the evaluations sheets gave us rave reviews.  Our commitment didn’t end with the conference; we’ll continue to help local agriculture flourish and Puerto Rico’s children will benefit from locally-grown, nutritious foods.

Juan Garcia, USDA Acting Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs at FSA (fourth from left) speaks with USDA and commonwealth agency leadership at the Market Expansion Conference held June 22 – 23 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Pictured (from left to right) are Jose Otero, USDA Rural Development; Fernando Arroya, National Resources Conservation Service; Juan Ortiz Servia, State Executive Director, Puerto Rico Farm Service Agency; Juan Garcia; Javier Rivera Aquino, Puerto Rico Secretary of Agriculture; and Patricia Dombroski, Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service.

Juan Garcia, USDA Acting Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs at FSA (fourth from left) speaks with USDA and commonwealth agency leadership at the Market Expansion Conference held June 22 – 23 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Pictured (from left to right) are Jose Otero, USDA Rural Development; Fernando Arroya, National Resources Conservation Service; Juan Ortiz Servia, State Executive Director, Puerto Rico Farm Service Agency; Juan Garcia; Javier Rivera Aquino, Puerto Rico Secretary of Agriculture; and Patricia Dombroski, Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service.

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