TROY professor helping to create agritourism industry in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

The central mountains of Puerto Rico has drawn the attention of TROY professor Dr. Patrick Holladay and a team of academic and civic leaders.

The central mountains of Puerto Rico has drawn the attention of TROY professor Dr. Patrick Holladay and a team of academic and civic leaders.

A Troy University Sorrell College of Business professor is helping Puerto Rican farmers become more resilient in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

With the aid of a $300,000 grant from a National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Dr. Patrick Holladay, an Associate Professor in the School of Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Management, hopes the outcome of his research is that farmers near Utuado find an improved quality of life, socioeconomic development, agricultural sustainability and resilience through agritourism. His collaborators include Dr. Pablo A. Mendez-Lazaro, of the University of Puerto Rico’s Environmental Health Department, Graduate Studies, and Dr. Katja Brundiers of Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability.

“For beginning farms, this could mean laying the groundwork for sustainable agricultural production and operations for agritourism. For established farms, this could mean developing value-added products and services,” he said.

The research project will work with farmers to develop agritourism over a three-year timeframe. Using collaborative research approaches, the team will create approaches to develop, market and manage agritourism on local farms, and then track successes and challenges to help farmers find success by monitoring agritourism development on their farms and in the area. Additionally, researchers hope outreach and the creation of educational materials to share the insights gained from the research project with other farmers will aid in the success of local farms, struggling to regain a footing after Hurricane Maria decimated the island.

“The second purpose of this project is to help build institutional and collaborative capacity in Utuado, so that problem solving in regard to agritourism and agricultural sustainability becomes more flexible, effective, participatory, inclusive and applicable,” he said.

“This project combines resilience with sustainability. Building resilience in people, operations, and ecosystems means we invest in our adaptive capacities, we strengthen our abilities to stay safe during extreme events and to rebuild what has been damaged. Resilience is the ability of a system to absorb disturbance and to learn and adapt in times of turmoil in order to grow and become more dynamic. Sustainability is broadly defined as the capacity of a system to have adaptive capability and support opportunity and innovation,” Holladay said.

He said it’s the combination of those elements that produce successful economic initiatives.

“The combination of adaptability and innovation increases a system’s general capacities to absorb internal and external shocks. In other words, while resilience focuses on our ability to absorb shocks and adapt to difficult situations, sustainability strives for social equity, improving quality of life for everyone, and protecting our life support systems – the water we drink, the air we breathe, the soil we plant our foods and feed our animals,” said Holladay.  

The work isn’t just beginning in Puerto Rico. Rather, the SSARE grant is actually the continuation of work begun by local businessmen and officials after Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017. The local leadership did not wait on the government for help. They were busy rebuilding, retooling and reshaping their own economy in Utuado, an area in the central mountains with about 7,000 residents. The experience of the hurricane strengthened local resolve to transform the Utuado region into self-reliant and sustainable communities. 

Following a meeting between the Corporacion de Services de Salud Primaria y Desarrollo Socioeconomico EL OTOAO (COSSAO) and the U.S. Dept. of Interior, Holladay was consulted on one of COSSAO’s ideas for hurricane recovery – improving socio-economic development through agritourism. COSSAO and their communities cleared debris, stabilized infrastructure and constructed a primary health center in four months with no external funds. In addition, COSSAO and local farmers decided to rehabilitate hurricane-destroyed and abandoned farms. Revitalization and labor growth are the priorities, and agritourism is a primary component of that plan.

Beginning in January 2018, Holladay, Mendez-Lazaro, Brundiers, COSSAO, and other stakeholders have worked to develop a conceptual sustainable agritourism plan and business plan, including an inventory of local attractions, facilities and services that serve the tourism industry. This framework will help assess the mix of products that will form the basis for attracting tourists to the area and help identify new or potential areas for development.

“The whole-system approach – tying in social, ecological, and economic – will strengthen strategies to transform unsustainable social, ecological and economic dynamics into resilient systems, able to not only recover from shocks, but bounce forward towards sustainable development goals,” Holladay said.

For Holladay, [DPH1] the project reconnects him with his roots. While he works across the spectrum of tourism types, agriculture, he said, holds a special place.

“Growing up, I worked on my grandfather’s 300-acre farm in central Tennessee in the summers and on vacations,” he said, recalling working with the land, building fences and caring for Hereford cattle and Yorkshire pigs. Today, he owns his own 32-acre farm near Bishopville, South Carolina – not much larger than many of the farms he’s working to rehabilitate in Puerto Rico.

While he admits his farm is more of a hobby than a way of life, Holladay is drawn to agritourism.

“My love of nature, outdoors and farming combined with my expertise in tourism management makes pursuing research and development in agritourism a great fit,” he said.

 This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number LS20-339 through the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. USDA is an equal opportunity employer and service provider.