Caribbean Area NRCS December 2013 Newsletter

The Caribbean
edwin

Director's Corner

Without a doubt, this year was full of surprises, losses and gains.  As the year comes to an end, I hope that you accomplished all your 2013 resolutions. 

I wish that this New Year brings each and everyone of you many good things and blessings.  No matter what your 2014 resolutions are, please keep our beautiful Natural Resources in mind.

Yours in Conservation,

Edwin Almodóvar, NRCS Caribbean Area Director

Soil, Water, Air, Plants, Animals, Humans, Energy

Upcoming Activities

January 3, 2014 & Every Friday Morning: San Sebastian Farmer's Market, Agropecuaria Plaza.

January 13, 2014: Civil Rights Advisory Committee Meeting, NRCS State Office, San Juan.

January 14, 2014: DC Meeting, NRCS State Office, San Juan, to discuss EQIP & KPM 2014.

February 6, 2014: DC Meeting, NRCS State Office, San Juan, to discuss the new Toolkit & EQIP 2014.

February 15-17, 2014: St. Croix Annual Agri-Fest, Ag Fair Grounds, USVI.

February 18, 2014: National Cover Crops & Soil Health Forum Live Downlink, NRCS State Office Conference Room, San Juan; NRCS Conference Room, Mayagüez Field Office; and USDA Service Center Conference Room, St. Croix.

March 6, 2014: DC Meeting, NRCS State Office, San Juan, to discuss EQIP & KPM 2014.

In This Issue

Recognition for La Fortaleza People's Garden

NRCS-CB Director, RUM Agricultural Sciences Dean, and PR Secretary of Agriculture with First Lady Pastrana at People's Garden dedication.

On December 16, 2013, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recognized First Lady Wilma Pastrana Jiménez and her home garden at La Fortaleza officially as a People’s Garden – joining the list of People’s Gardens across the United States and the Caribbean.

This prestigious recognition is the first to be granted to a Puerto Rico state government facility, and is the third established on the island (the first two People’s Gardens are located at the Mayagüez Field Office on the USDA Tropical Agriculture Research Station grounds, and at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport).

USDA-NRCS Caribbean Area Director, Edwin Almodóvar, presented the award to the First Lady, along with Puerto Rico Secretary of Agriculture, Dr. Myrna Comas, and Dr. Gladys González, Dean of Campus at the Mayagüez College of Agricultural Sciences.  To learn more about People's Gardens in the Caribbean Area, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/pr/about/outreach/?cid=nrcs141p2_037312.

Promoting NRCS Careers at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez Job Fair

SAO Jay Rodriguez & PMS Ed Mas discuss NRCS careers with UPR students.

Caribbean Area NRCS personnel interacted with over 130 students at the University of Puerto Rico - Mayagüez (UPRM) 25th Annual Job Fair, held Friday, September 27, 2013 at the UPR Rafael A. Mangual Coliseum. NRCS staff provided career, employment and internship information to participating UPRM students, along with other prestigious, well-known companies and government agencies from Puerto Rico and the continental United States.

Every year, thousands of students visit the UPRM Career Fair, and hundreds of them have the opportunity to speak with NRCS State Conservationists and personnel. This activity is a great opportunity for NRCS to promote Conservation Careers and opportunities through the Pathways internship and fellowship program. Students visiting the NRCS booth viewed presentations and live demonstrations on how search and apply for Federal jobs on www.usajobs.gov.

Team NRCS poses at their Job Fair booth.

During the week, agency personnel also participated in other UPRM recruitment activities associated with the Job Fair, including the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) "Companies Night" on September 25th. During this event, the NRCS team met with UPRM engineering students seeking career and internship opportunities with the Federal government and the private sector.

The University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) is a Land-Grant College that registers the best students from public and private schools. Students enrolled at UPRM are seeking degrees in Agricultural Sciences, Arts & Sciences, Business Administration and Engineering. The NRCS team participation was a collaborative effort between the Civil Right Advisory Committee, Mayaguez Field Office, MLRA Soils Division, Ecological Science Division and the State Office.

For more information, contact Mario Rodríguez at 787-831-3454 x.116 or visit Pathways Internship & Fellowship Programs or My NRCS Careers.

NRCS Helps Install Rain Garden on UPR Río Piedras Campus

The rain garden crew celebrates the completion of their UPR class project!

The rain garden crew celebrates the completion of the UPR Rain Garden Project!  From left to right: Amanda (Valeria’s Sister), Valeria López (Student), Mr. Urrutia (UPR laborer), Frances Vera (Student), Mr. Raymond (UPR laborer), Eng. Lydia E. Collazo-NRCS, Agro. Wilfredo Febres-UPR, Bianca Morales (Student), Mr. Félix (UPR Digger Operator), Luis Lagares (Student) and Mr. Angel (UPR’s Labor).  Also worked but not shown in this picture: Mr. Rafael Lagares (Luis’ Father) and Deane Martínez (Bianca’s Friend).

As part of their Conservation Course (CIBI-3007), students at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras Campus needed to establish a project within the campus that helps the environment by promoting natural resource conservation.  The class decided to establish a rain garden, with the assistance of the NRCS Caguas Field Office (FO).  The University provided construction materials, heavy equipment, all permits and laborers.  UPR students worked with the planning process, project proposal and coordination and volunteered to assist with rain garden installation on the construction day.  Agronomist Edwin Más, NRCS Plant Materials Specialist, provided the class with recommendations on the plants to be used in the rain garden, and reviewed UPR’s proposed planting plan.  The installation was completed in one day (7:00 AM – 4:30 PM) and was an “Accident Free collaborative effort!  For details, please contact Lydia Collazo at 787-743-2743 x.112.

UPR students and staff delineate project site and remove and save the grass.

Photos from left to right: 1-Valeria López, student; Frances Vera, student; Agronomist Wilfredo Febres, UPR; Professor Claribel Cabán, CIBI 3007; Bianca Morales, student; Engineer Lydia E. Collazo, NRCS; and Luis Lagares, student. 2- Students remove and save the vegetative cover (sod). 3-Engineer Carol Rivera (black shirt) visited the site to inspect the work.

Heavy equipment used to excavate the garden and build the berm; berm covered with saved grass.

A backhoe, loader and bobcat (heavy equipment) were used to excavate the rain garden and construct the berm.  The berm was covered with sod (natural grass mats) to control erosion.

Students and UPR staff spread a six-inch layer of “amended soil mix” the Rain Garden bottom.

A six-inch layer of “amended soil mix” was spread on the base of the rain garden.  The mix consisted of 50% sand, 30% compost (mulch) and 20% topsoil.  UPR laborers and students finished spreading the amended soil mix.  They also distributed the plant materials across the planting area following a design created by Ana Corujo, a UPR Landscape Architect Student.

Students and staff plant and mulch the rain garden.

The planting zones were marked with flags for the students to plant.  UPR’s laborers planted the palm trees and the “mani” grass cover.  The last part of the project was distributing a two-inch layer of mulch (organic material).

NRCS in Action at the First North Business Summit INTENOR

Hispanic SEPM, Rafael Sierra, delivers information on NRCS programs and activities to Innovative Technology panel.

On November 1, 2013, NRCS staff participated in the 1st North Business Summit INTENOR, which encourages business development by providing valuable practices and information to achieve sustainable business success in the face of economic crisis.  The summit was held at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan, PR, along with the Third Forum of Regionalization.  It was attended by people from all over Puerto Rico including farmers, students, politicians, representatives, senators, mayors, and the President and Provost of Sistema Ana G. Méndez.

Vivian Vera discuses NRCS programs with a visitor to her exhibit booth.

The NRCS team of Vivian Vera, Soil Conservation Technician from Caguas Field Office, and Luis Garcia, Support Services Specialist from the State Office; presented an exhibit to promote USDA-NRCS programs and services, and ensure that our assistance is accessible to all our customers.  Rafael Sierra, Hispanic Emphasis Program Manager and Soil Conservationist from the Corozal Field Office, presented information to the Innovation Technology panel about NRCS programs and services, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), On-Farm Energy Initiative (NOFEI), and Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG).

Our participation in the summit was crucial because it allowed us to share our programs and stress their importance with the community about how NRCS helps farmers to start new businesses, create high quality products and conserve natural resources. We thank Professor Magda Rodriguez, INTENOR Public Relations, for her invitation and support through the entire First North Business Summit.  For more information, contact Rafael Sierra Castro at 787-859-2880 x.112.

Mayagüez Boy Scout Outreach

NRCS Plant Materials Specialist, Ed Más, and Boy Scout Troop 55 plant vetiver grass to stabilize an eroding slope.

This summer, an NRCS team of employees from the Mayagüez Field, Ecological Sciences and Soils offices provided technical assistance to help Mayagüez Boy Scout Troop 55 with a conservation project.  The NRCS team helped Scout Daniel Sepúlveda Alemán to stabilize an area of the Chapel El Cristo de Los Milagros in Mayagüez.  His Eagle Scout Project reforested and stabilized a landslide-prone hillside in the chapel by planting Pacholí (Vetiver) grass to control erosion and conserve soil and installing vegetative barriers and tree planting conservation practices. 

Ed Más shows Scout, Daniel Sepulveda, how to use a clinometer to measure slope.

The following education activities were conducted with the Troop 55 scouts by the TEAM:

a) A training on how to use a clinometer to layout the Pacholí barriers led by Plant Materials Specialist, Edwin Más, and Soil Conservationist, Esperanza Avilés.

b) A site visit to a farm in San Germán where Resource Conservationist, Raquél Robledo, taught the handling of Pacholí seeds.  Scouts had the opportunity to identify the Pacholí grass, harvest it and prepare it for re-planting.

c) Soil Scientist, Samuel Ríos, taught the benefits soil identification using the Web Soil Survey and distributed a factsheet describing the tool.

d) The team of Edwin Más, Samuel Ríos, Volunteer, Carlos Pérez, and Esperanza Avilés led a field demonstration of laying out and establishing the vegetative barrier.

As a result of this conservation project, a vegetative barrier of Pacholí grass and new trees were laid out and established by the scouts of Troop 55.  For more information, contact Plant Materials Specialist, Edwin Más, at 787-831-3416 x.106.

NRCS Assists MA Student Project Plan for USFS El Yunque National Forest

Worchester Polytechnic Institute students deliver their plan for El Yunque National Forest.

Worschester Polytech project team students (left to right): Tom Harless (Chemical Engineering), Lindsey Wilson (Chemical Engineering), Andrea Caprio (Civil Engineering), Rachel Hesse (Biomedical Engineering), Greg Kornichuk (Civil Engineering).

Last fall, the U. S. Forest Service sponsored five students from the Worcester (Massachusetts) Polytechnic Institute to create an agroforestry project proposal for Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest.  On November 14, 2013, Pedro Ríos, Ecosystem Management and Planning Team Leader at the El Yunque National Forest, and the students (Thomas Harless, Greg Kornichuck, Andrea Caprio, Linsey Wilson, and Rachel Hesse) visited the Caribbean Area State Office seeking soil and conservation practice information for their proposal.  State Soil Scientist, Carmen Santiago, discussed the objectives and needs of the students’ proposal with them, and explained how to use the Web Soil Survey. She showed them how to locate their area of interest, and how to access the soil data and soil interpretations reports available for project evaluation.  During their visit, Ms. Santiago also detailed the importance of properly managing the soils in the area, and discussed the potential crops, conservation practices and markets available. 

The students also visited the Rio Piedras Botanical Gardens with Plant Materials Specialist, Edwin Más, on December 3, 2013, accompanied by their Advisor Professors, Hugh Lauer and Stanley Selkow.  Mr. Más delivered a powerpoint presentation describing conservation practices that could be used on an Agroforestry project, and showed them how to use a rustic “A” level, or basic engineering hand level, to trace contour lines, hillside ditches or terraces in the field.  He also recommended various potential crops to be used in agroforestry, such as exotic fruits, flowers and vegetables.

As partial fulfillment of their requirements for their Bachelor of Science, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute students prepared a written report and delivered an oral presentation entitled: “Creating an Agroforestry Based Economic Sector in a Tropical Rainforest.  The presentation took place at the El Yunque National Forest conference room for over 15 participants, including those who assisted them with their proposal from the USDA Forest Service and NRCS Caribbean Area.

USDA Awards Projects to Improve Farm & Rural Business Energy Efficiency in the Caribbean Area

On November 8, 2013, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced funding of 424 projects across the country to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce their energy consumption and costs, and use renewable energy technologies in their operations.

"Today's Rural Energy for America Program announcements will provide further assistance for agricultural producers and rural small business owners to save energy, promote renewable energy creation, and boost the bottom line for their operation," Vilsack said. "By investing in renewable energy created in rural America, USDA is able to provide new income opportunities in our small towns while supporting the Obama Administration's comprehensive effort to combat the impacts of a changing climate."

The Rural Energy for America Program offers financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy systems and improve energy-efficiency. Vilsack announced more than $14 million in grants and loan guarantees to business owners in 22 states, the Western Pacific, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Up to 25 percent of an eligible renewable energy system or energy efficiency improvement project can be funded through a REAP grant, and additional support can be provided through loan guarantees. Since the start of the Obama Administration, REAP has helped fund more than 8,250 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide.  For more information, please visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_REAP.html.

USDA Announces Funding to Improve Rural Housing in Puerto Rico

On November 12, 2013, Secretary Vilsack announced grant awards to recipients in 45 states, the Western Pacific and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to make housing repairs and improve housing conditions for limited-income rural residents. In Puerto Rico funds were awarded to Yabucoa Municipality ($46,342), Guayama Municipality ($46,320), and Guayanilla Municipality ($46,320).  Acting Under-Secretary for Rural Development, Doug O'Brien, announced the selections. 

"Providing safe, reliable housing to rural residents is key to maintaining stable communities and creating jobs," O'Brien said. "USDA has developed strategic partnerships with Tribes, community organizations and non-profit groups to improve the living conditions for thousands of rural residents."  

Funding is provided through USDA Rural Development's Housing Preservation Grant program. Funds are awarded to intermediaries such as local governments, public agencies, federally-recognized Indian Tribes, and non-profit, faith-based and community organizations. These organizations then distribute the grants to homeowners and owners of multi-family rental properties or cooperative dwellings who rent to low- and very-low-income residents. USDA does not provide funds directly to eligible homeowners. Grants may be used to make general repairs, such as installing or improving plumbing, or providing or enhancing access to people with disabilities. Funds may also be used to make homes more energy efficient. For details, visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/LP_Subject_HousingAndCommunityAssistance.html.

USDA Announces Electric System Improvements in 25 States & the USVI

On December 13, 2013, Secretary Vilsack announced more than $1.8 billion in funding for electric utility infrastructure projects in 25 states and one territory to improve service for more than 37,000 rural customers through USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Program. The projects include more than $45 million for smart grid technology, $73 million for renewable energy projects and over $213 million targeted to benefit Native Americans. This funding will build or improve more than 6,500 miles of line to deliver electricity to rural America.  In the Caribbean Area, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority was awarded $13,000,000 to implement smart grid projects.

"Rural electric cooperatives have provided reliable, affordable power to rural communities for more than 75 years. Today's investments will help ensure our electric infrastructure continues to deliver reliable and affordable electricity for years to come," Vilsack said. "This funding is part of the Obama Administration's vision for a new rural energy economy and USDA's commitment to creating economic opportunity in rural America. Investments in smart grid technologies will continue to modernize our nation's electric system and improve operational efficiencies."  For more information, please visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/UEP_Loans_Grants.html.

NRCS-ENTSC 2014 Webinar Schedules

Understanding Organic & Sustainable Agriculture - 2014 WebinarsEast National Technology Support Center 2014 WebinarsHealthy Soils 2014 Webinars

U.S. EPA Seeking Nominations for 2014 Environmental Quality Awards

Each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honors individuals, businesses and organizations that have contributed significantly to improving the environment and protecting public health in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight federally recognized Indian Nations. The period for the awards is 2013. EPA is now seeking nominations for this annual award. Winners will be honored at an awards ceremony in April 2014. Each winner will be recognized for his or her environmental achievement at a ceremony during Earth Week. The Agency is accepting nominations for its Environmental Quality Awards until February 18, 2014.

The awards recognize achievement in six categories:

  •          Individuals
  •          Business and Industry
  •          Non-Profit Organization, Environmental or Community Group
  •          Environmental Education
  •          Federal, State, Local or Tribal Government or Agency
  •          Press and Media

For award criteria, prior winners and nomination instructions, visit EPA's Environmental Quality Award webpage at www.epa.gov/region2/eqaFor details, please contact Chris Sebastian at 212-637-3597.