Family,  How did I get here,  Interviews,  Puerto Rico (in English)

How did I get here: A cup of coffee with Agronomist José Herminio Zayas

October 2020 – I bring you another interview, this one is a little different. The person I invited to this chat is not a writer, at least he does not write fiction, and I did not meet him on social media. This is a small change to what I want to bring to the blog.

I’m working together with my cousin Auranyd Alvarado, known on social media as Una Boricua en Louisiana. She recently started her online coffee business Isla Nena Café. We have started a virtual coffee break chat that we call Isla Nena Café Hour. These chats are on Facebook, for now, but we’re working on some ideas to share these conversations with you in some other ways.

As part of this adventure, we bring you interviews with friends and family who deserve to be recognized, so we are putting them in the spotlight. Soon I have to bring you a chat with Auranyd herself, so you get to know how amazing she is.

José Herminio and his three sons

In this post, I introduce you to Agronomist José Herminio Zayas. José is part of my family, and he grew up in my hometown Coamo. He is the grandson of a cousin of my mother, Claudiz. I remember him as a child, together with his brother, as “Claudiz’s kids”. I moved out of Coamo, but I found out that José became an agronomist (a really good one!) and he lives in Florida since 2017.

Here is our conversation:

Hola José! Welcome to the blog! The name of my blog is Full of Coffee, and I know, being Puerto Rican, you love coffee as much as I do. Tell me how you started drinking coffee.

  • Since I remember, I always brewed coffee at home several times a day. My great-grandmother Gina and my grandmother Claudiz taught me how to prepare it. Then I used to brew it for my grandfather Jorge Luis, and that was how my love for tasty Puerto Rican coffee began. I drink it with milk and two “fake” sugars (substitute), but I also drink it black. I prefer to drink 100% coffee from our country since the flavor is delicious in addition to the fact that we contribute to the Boricua agriculture.

I know you grew up with your brother in your grandma’s house, and I know you enjoyed being in the company of your grandparents. Tell me about your childhood.

  • I was born in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, and I grew up in Pasto Ward, Sierrita community, in Coamo. Yes, I grew up with my grandparents and my mother. My grandmother Claudiz liked to travel, a lot. I always went with her everywhere. From my mother, Idalia, I have an older brother, Georgie, who lives in NY; but from my father’s side I have 18 siblings!
  • With a great effort my mom paid for my studies in Colegio Valvanera, which is a private Catholic school, I studied there from PK to 12. When I finished high school, I went to the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus, to study Agronomy. I finished my Bachelor Degree in Animal Science. Then I completed a Master Degree from Ana G Méndez University in Project Management.
Presentation in a school in Florida, before COVID pandemic

How did you become interested in agriculture? And how was your college experience, in terms of acquiring knowledge about the topic?

  • I do not have any farmers or Agronomist in my family, but there were many farmers around my home. That is why I want to help farmers and I chose to study Agronomy. My college experience was excellent, I participated in different activities. I liked my years in “el Colegio de Mayagüez”. I had excellent Professors. Later on, I had a job at The Cooperative Extension Office in the same Faculty in Mayagüez. I liked it very much.
Presentation in a school in Florida, before COVID pandemic

Then, how has your experience as an agronomist been in real life?

  • I have 24 years experience as an Agronomist and Project Manager. I use what I learned in my college years every day.

In the Facebook live interview, you mentioned that you had your own business. How did you manage your work and your business?

  • Well, I had my Pest Control Company, Zayas Exterminating Services, for 16 years and I had employees. We served residential, industrial, commercial and farmers as well. I worked after 5:00 pm and weekends too. The employees worked all day. We had several federal contracts too. As an Agronomist, I had a contract in El Yunque National Forest, in which we revitalized several miles of trails.

I know that’s why they know you as “Zayas” in our hometown. Now, tell me about deciding to move to Florida. No move is easy: you have to think of relocating the family, and finding a new job. How did you guys decide where to move?

  • In 2016, we visited my brother in law, he lives in Riverview, Hillsborough County, and we liked it. My wife and I thought about it, and decided to move in the summer of 2017.

I thought you had moved after Hurricane María in 2017. As you mentioned in the interview, your wife and kids moved before María, and you were in Puerto Rico when the hurricane hit. That must have been a terrible experience for you all.

  • Yes, it was. They moved before Hurricane María affected Puerto Rico. I was with my mother in my home in Coamo. It was terrible; to see all the damage that the hurricane caused. My home was like a river inside, the water kept coming in for 12 hours straight. But the most horrible experience was that I could not make contact with my family in Florida for two and a half weeks after September 20, 2017.

It was an unforgettable experience. I remember, being outside of the Island, we were so worried waiting to hear from family. I can’t imagine how it was for you guys. Now, tell me about coming to live in Florida, was it what you expected? What do you like the most about living here?

  • I like living in Florida. We have everything near us. The public education is excellent, that is was one of reason why we moved. I love my job in Agricultural Extension; I am not working with farmers but I am working with youth and volunteers for the 4-H Program in Hardee County in Florida. I liked my life in Puerto Rico and now in Florida. I’m with my family that is what counts, right?

You’re absolutely right. And if the family is happy, that’s all that counts. What has been the easiest thing in this process? What has been the most difficult?

  • The family and friends support is the key. My mother still lives in Puerto Rico and that’s one of the difficult reasons to adapt. The Extension Office in Puerto Rico offered me an administrative position in which I supervised all agents. I worked as a liaison before and after the hurricane, especially with the coffee farmers. Here in Florida, I work with kids, mostly teaching and doing demonstrations. It’s a different pace, but I do like it.

How do you compare agriculture in Puerto Rico with agriculture in Florida?

  • Florida’s agriculture is huge compared to Puerto Rico’s, but Puerto Rico produces a lot of different products that Florida does not produce: like coffee, plantains, bananas, yautía, malanga, mango, quenepas, panapen, etc.

Any future projects you want to talk about?

  • Yes! I like to cook. i’m thinking that maybe in the future I will have a food truck, or a restaurant, or a Bar and Grill….. I have two names already and some items for the menu.

That sounds like a great idea! I haven’t tried your food yet, but by looking at your pictures, everything looks delicious. I’ll definitely go visit! I’ll invite you to the blog again when that happens.

  • Thanks for this opportunity, Nydia!

Thanks for sharing your story with me. Hope we get to share un cafecito soon!

And I hope everyone enjoys this interview as much as I have enjoyed writing it. It’s a great opportunity for me to be able to introduce you to all these amazing people.

I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep bring you more great people for you to know. I have some more pending projects to work on. Thank you for reading! Time for my tacita de café. Salud!

Para versión en español, vea

I'm a Puerto Rican living in Florida. Mom, Blogger, and Writer! Fan of coffee, baseball, books, sweet romance novels and Hallmark movies, and of course, my beautiful Puerto Rico.

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