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For close to a decade, Jorge Manzo has worked at McCleaf’s Orchard, a fifth-generation family farm near Gettysburg in Adams County, where he is responsible for preparing a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables for market, including a few of his favorites — kiwi, blackberries and raspberries.

Like other growers, he understands the need to keep abreast of changes in the market and the latest practices and technology by participating in continuing education. However, as a Latin American immigrant, opportunities to learn in Spanish haven’t been easy to find, a circumstance that sometimes places him, and even his employer, at a disadvantage.

And he is not alone.

According to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture, the number of Hispanic principal operators in the country now stands at 90,344, up from 67,000, the figure reported in the 2012 census.

That increase, paired with the lack of English understanding among many farmworkers, points to an unmet demand for bilingual agricultural education, according to Tara Baugher, a Penn State Extension educator in Adams County.

“Latin American immigrants are valued members of the fruit growing team,” said Baugher, who interacts with Spanish-speaking employees through applied research and Extension outreach. “They appreciate opportunities to learn in their native language, and some of the individuals I work with while conducting field trials in orchards have asked that Extension offer courses in Spanish.”

Knowing that many growers convene at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention, held annually in Hershey, Baugher approached organizers with a novel idea: to provide a full day of learning in Spanish at the 2009 gathering.

She received a nod of approval from conference leaders, including Bruce Hollabaugh of Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. —a 500-acre family-owned and operated fruit and vegetable farm and direct marketing operation in Biglerville — to bring the plan to fruition.

“As the number of Spanish-speaking workers has grown, so has the need to empower them with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful,” he said. “Bilingual education can enhance the capacity of specialty crop growers to improve economic and environmental sustainability, so when offered the chance to partner with Penn State Extension on this outreach, it was considered a win the whole way around.”

Since the inaugural session, the program has grown in scope and attendance, drawing 30 to 40 Spanish-speaking horticulturists. This year, 37 participants were on hand to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the initiative.

The day began with an “icebreaker” activity, which helped nurture a sense of community and respect between the Extension team and the Spanish-speaking horticultural employees, according to Maria Gorgo-Gourovitch, a bilingual horticulture extension educator. She chaired and served as a speaker for the Spanish session at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention.

“Trainings are most effective when cultural, economic and social factors of the audience are considered,” Gorgo-Gourovitch said. “There was a buzz of conversation and an energy of engagement that could be felt in the room. You can tell the audience and presenters felt comfortable and shared a sense of community.”

Educational presentations followed on topics relevant to fruit and vegetable production, including soil testing and fertilization, good agricultural practices for food safety, invasive pests, apple pollination, peach tree pruning, and pesticide safety and licensing.

The sessions were taught by Penn State Extension educators and faculty from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, including Baugher, Gorgo-Gourovitch, Carla Burkle, Don Seifert, Margarita López-Uribe, Rob Crassweller and Carlos Quesada. They were joined by Beth Sastre of Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Also playing an important role were bilingual graduate students Ilse Huerta, a doctoral candidate in agricultural and extension education, and Emma Rosenthal, a doctoral candidate in plant pathology, who are spearheading a Penn State initiative on outreach to Latinx agriculturists.

For Manzo, having this education safeguards the quality and safety of the crops he and other farmers like him are responsible for growing.

“What we learn from Penn State can improve our produce and our company’s performance,” he said.

Hollabaugh agreed.

“I have seen the positive impact of bilingual outreach provided by Penn State Extension as our employees have a greater sense of place, purpose and pride and take ownership of their contributions to the company’s success,” he said.Photo provided by Penn State Extension

Bilingual agricultural education has benefited both Jorge Manzo and his employer, McCleaf’s Orchard in Adams County, Pennsylvania.