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Guanajuato, Mexico and Agriculture: Learn It, Live It, Love It by Casey Branstetter, Agribusiness Management Major

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Posted: June 6, 2016

In just one week many closed-minded thoughts and misconceptions I had about Mexico were changed as I explored unfamiliar parts of the world and learn new lessons about the history, culture, and agriculture of Guanajuato, Mexico. I encourage all people to step out of their comfort zone and travel the world when given the opportunity to do so. It may be uncomfortable at times, but the sights and other first hand-experiences will leave a mark on your heart forever and fill your life with great stories to share.
Me getting up close to a Prickly Pear plant!

Me getting up close to a Prickly Pear plant!

¡Hola! My name is Casey Branstetter, and I would like to share my wonderful experience of traveling to Guanajuato, Mexico during Spring Break 2016. As a student of Agribusiness Management, I am finding that it is very important to understand agriculture as world-wide industry, which operates like a puzzle. The world must work together and trade in order to fully function at the highest potential. The United States’ food system is a great example of this concept, as we consume a wide variety of foods daily thanks to the production and transportation of commodities world-wide. During my time in Mexico, I visited many farms and agribusinesses. All of these farms and businesses explained that the United States is one of their biggest customers. For example, I visited a strawberry ranch, where hundreds of thousands of strawberries are harvested and shipped directly to the produce market in the United States.

On my first evening in Guanajuato, I got to experience the sights and sounds of the city which would be my home for the next week. During my time spent in the streets of Guanajuato, I got to eat authentic food, hear mariachi bands, visit shops on the streets, buy beautiful, fresh flowers, and barter for a colorful Mexican blanket. Our first full day in Guanajuato was spent visiting the San Ramon Silver Mine, a Cathedral, the Santa Rosa Majolica Factory, and the Sandoval Broccoli Ranch. We learned that the Spanish came overseas to spread two things: Riches and Catholicism. For those who don’t know, Majolica is a special type of handcrafted pottery, which is specific to the area. After a night of rest, we had a morning full of lectures taught by the professors of the University of Guanajuato, and got to meet some of the students who would then travel with us for the remainder of our time in Guanajuato. I got to visit strawberry high tunnels, a prickly pear cooperative, see a functioning bio-digester, and learn about cuniculture, which is rabbit raising for meat. The prickly pear cooperative is made up of local cactus farmers, who work together to create finished products made from the prickly pear cactus. The bio-digester was interesting because it originated from a small-scale replica developed by the University of Guanajuato. With the bio-digester in place, all the waste from a central market can be recycled on site. On Wednesday, I was very excited to see the Peralta pre-Hispanic Indian Ruins. We ran into a bit of hail that morning, but the weather didn’t stop us from seeing Agave plants and touring the nearby Corralejo Tequila Factory. Our afternoon was enjoyable, as we visited the Schevenin Ranch, which is owned by a couple whose names are Elsie and Miguel. They just built a new home, so we got to visit and eat lunch there. Elsie traveled with us each day and is very good friends with Secretary Hayes, who coordinated the itinerary for this program and accompanied us. During this time of year, they grow wheat and alfalfa on their farm. Down the road, we stopped at a dairy ranch, which was interesting for me, since I grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania. We were supposed to go to the New Holland Machinery on Thursday, but they were hit with an audit, which is not uncommon for companies, so we visited the Guanajuato Mummy Museum and the El Pipila Statue instead. When we went to the top of the city to visit the statue, it actually started to snow! Yes, snow in Mexico!

Later in the day it warmed up to about 60 degrees, and we took a tour of the Agroquimicos Rivas Company, which is an agro-chemical company. We had dinner at the Arturo Nieto Ranch, where they grow romaine and iceberg lettuce. Those fields of lettuce were one of the most beautiful agricultural sights I’ve ever seen. Our final day in Guanajuato started with visiting a goat farm, where they also process sheep milk into cheese. The afternoon was spent touring the B & G Vegetable Processing Plant, formerly known as Green Giant. At the time we toured the plant, they were processing broccoli, which would then be shipped to the United States and Canada. Our evening was full of tears, as we visited a migrant worker village. Later we attended a goodbye party hosted by the University of Guanajuato students. The migrant worker village was heartbreaking, yet eye opening as we got a first-hand look at why migrant workers come to the United States in search of a better life for their families. The party was a lot of fun, although it was a bittersweet feeling to say goodbye to all of our new friends. All the students were very nice, and our Penn State group loved getting to know them.

After traveling to Guanajuato, Mexico, I can say that my Spanish language skills have improved. Talking with native speakers has helped to improve my vocabulary and make my pronunciation sound more natural. I also got to practice teaching English as a second language for the week. I loved networking with the students of Guanajuato University. Their ability to speak English is impressive, and I had a lot of fun getting to help enhance their vocabulary and pronunciation as well. Networking with students, professors, and professionals within my career field is a very useful piece of my traveling experience. I’m glad we got to speak with experts in various areas of agriculture, including an agro-chemical company, ranch owners, food processors, and an agriculture council. Teamwork was one of the main skills practiced throughout the entire trip. From the moment we got on the bus to start our journey to Mexico until we said goodbye upon returning home, our group had to work together, stay flexible, and care for one another. I’m proud of how well the group got along and bonded throughout the week, considering we didn’t really know each other when the trip started.

To a potential employer, I would first explain the most relevant learning experiences I had within my career field. Because I hope to have a career in Agribusiness Management, I would like to share stories and useful information learned from visiting the various ranches and agribusinesses in Guanajuato. For example, I may talk about how important it is for the owners of the ranches to do everything in their power to control each aspect of the business. We learned from our broccoli-growing friend, Louise Sandoval, that managing each step in the production process is essential to maximizing productivity per hectare. Louise explained that he has calculated each action from planting to harvesting down to the exact day. If something were to go wrong in his process, he could fix it himself and not have to rely on a third party. In addition to fixing problems as they arise, ranchers in Mexico face the ongoing challenges of the lack of water resources. In order to be a big producer, irrigation is essential to Louise’s broccoli growing business. It was interesting to hear how he copes with this issue and how appreciative he is to have a well on site for his crops. As Secretary Hayes told us throughout the trip, it’s all about quantity, quality, and time management. To have the highest productivity in all three of these areas, self-management and some vertical integration is essential. I would also explain to employers that traveling to Guanajuato, Mexico has taught me how to adapt in new environments. Each member of our group took the bold step of traveling to a foreign place with new sounds, smells, social norms, and languages. I hope this experience abroad will show potential employers that I am capable of being independent and stepping out of my comfort zone to learn new lessons and skills.

“Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” These great words were spoken by Moroccan ethnographer and historian, Ibn Battuta. This small sentence paints a large image in my mind as I reflect on my time spent in Guanajuato, Mexico during Spring Break 2016. In just one week many closed-minded thoughts and misconceptions I had about Mexico were changed. I am grateful for having the opportunity to explore new parts of the world and learn new lessons about the history, culture, and agriculture of Guanajuato, Mexico. I encourage all people to step out of their comfort zone and travel the world when given the opportunity to do so. It may be uncomfortable at times, but the sights and other first hand-experiences will leave a mark on your heart forever and fill your life with great stories.