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Building an NC legacy in Dominican Republic – How Niagara College is helping a rural Dominican community one international field study at a time

Posted On – 02/02/2017

In late February, a group of 16 students and two faculty members journeyed to the Dominican Republic led by School of Environmental and Horticultural Studies professor Bill MacDonald for what was the College’s seventh international field study (IFS) on the island. Their mission: to continue building a steel framed greenhouse that previous NC groups have been constructing since 2015.

The week-long IFS took the group on a whirlwind experience as they toured the bustling capital city of Santo Domingo and trekked the rural town of Los Cacaos in the mountainous San Cristóbal province, where the greenhouse is being raised.

Donated by GGS Structures Inc., a greenhouse supplier in the Niagara Region, a portion of the frame was deconstructed and shipped to Los Cacaos in the fall of 2015. Since then, IFS groups have travelled to the area during Reading Week breaks bringing more parts of the greenhouse frame each time. Noting the expensive costs involved in shipping heavy steel frame pieces, MacDonald decided it was necessary to look for an alternative, cost-effective way of transporting the pieces from the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus to Los Cacaos. His solution: hockey bags.

“It was obvious after the first shipment that shipping the whole frame would be very costly so we had to get creative,” he said. “To cut costs, we cut the pieces of the remaining frame right here on campus, label each piece carefully and pack them in hockey bags that we take with us on the plane there. It’s much cheaper to pay for extra baggage than it is to ship the frame in a container with a third party.”

Once in Los Cacaos, the IFS group connected with a local youth group that offered the welding services of one of their members to help weld the deconstructed greenhouse frame. On previous trips, welding services have been provided by other community members including the local coffee association, ASOCAES, who Niagara College has been working with since 2014.

For students like Alex Appleby, in his second year of the Greenhouse Technician program, participating in the Dominican IFS has become a tradition.

“This is my second time coming and I still feel like I’m stepping out of my comfort zone,” he said. “It can be frustrating trying to communicate with people when you don’t speak the same language, but you quickly find ways around such barriers when everyone is willing to work together. Coming on this trip always reminds me that community and camaraderie are universal.”

Also part of the trip were tours of coffee farms and nurseries and school visits where the group interacted with the local students and taught basic propagation. The group also met with community leaders and learned about ongoing efforts being made to boost the economy in Los Cacaos through ecotourism.

As the College’s first and longest running IFS, the Dominican trip is open to all NC students and staff offering an opportunity to engage in activities relating to fair-trade coffee production, greenhouse production, environmentally sustainable growing methods and community development. MacDonald estimates that three more trips are required to complete the greenhouse.

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