Meet Perla Sofía Curbelo Santiago M.C., HTC, Founder of Agrochic.com and Agricultural Communicator
Plant lover and avid gardener, and determined to launch unheard voices into the public eye
Perla Sofía Curbelo Santiago, M.C., HTC is from Puerto Rico and she is an agricultural communication specialist. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM). Towards the end of it, she developed an interest in communication through her involvement in a campus newspaper. This motivated her to continue graduate studies at the Sacred Heart University in San Juan, Puerto Rico specializing in Communications and Public Relations. Currently, she is the president of Zurda Media Enterprises Inc., a company dedicated primarily to agricultural content production. Its principal client is Agrochic, a brand, and platform founded by herself for gardening. As a platform, it produces content, hosts gardening workshops, and agricultural communication consulting. Agrochic declares the equal involvement of men and women in agriculture.
“My professional development was not linear, it was very curvy, as I imagine it may have been for others too. Not everyone starts with a defined path and this is perfectly fine.”
In communications, there are topics besides health and law that need to be given a space. Perla wants to motivate students to give agriculture an opportunity because it deserves to be in the spotlight. The public needs to be informed of the importance of agriculture.
Her first steps in agricultural communications were with Agrotemas de Puerto Rico (Agrothemes with Puerto Rico), a monthly agricultural newspaper founded by her father in 1999, which is still currently circulating. Guided by her parents’ influence, in 2007, Perla launched a coffee-related magazine, Café Plus, which was published until 2012. Its purpose was to educate the public on the production process, to give a voice to the local farmers, and to promote the beginnings of baristas on the island.
With the launching of Facebook, people started to share their lifestyles, and with it, their backyards. Perla noticed the public’s interest in gardening and urban agriculture and how they needed a trustworthy source of information to improve their practices. Therefore, in 2009 Perla founded Agrochic.com.
With Agrochic, Perla was aiming for a short and catchy name that would be inclusive to women, and thus create a space where they could feel welcome. Thankfully, the feedback was positive because of its feminist statement.
“When you really want to do something, you’ve got to go all in. You never know where an idea or a project may take you.”
An unexpected pathway and a purpose
A few years ago, Perla discovered horticultural therapy which Rutgers University defines as, ‘the use of plants and plant-based activity for the purpose of human healing and rehabilitation’. She is certified in Horticultural Therapy (HTC) by the Chicago Botanical Garden.
Perla teamed up with other women in the discipline and created Savias Conexiones, a union of horticultural therapy professionals. Together, they host seminars, workshops and collaborate on international projects that promote and explain the subject that’s unknown in the public eye. Horticultural therapy is gardening with a purpose.
Ultimately, Perla wants to represent diversity and inclusivity in her fields of interest. One of the most important things that she strives for is the amplification, diversity, and visibility of voices within the agricultural sector. “We need to bring female voices to the front to help us embody the narrative of agriculture and our country”, she said. Even though she doesn’t love being in the spotlight, Perla recognizes the huge role that the media plays on the public and she wants to positively influence it.
“When you publicly expose yourself, you’re opening the door for people’s scrutiny. It’s a vulnerable position, but if I as a woman, don’t do it, then a man will. Having a black father and a white mother, I am conscious of my appearance and I know that my presence in the media is a statement. I hope that it can motivate someone that looks like me to go for it.”
In Agrochic, Perla creates content in Spanish, targeting a specific audience that’s interested in gardening content from a tropical, Caribbean, Latin, and female perspective. She wants to portray how our cultural background allows us to provide different inputs. She intends to expose the distinct pathways that are possible in agriculture.
“By providing different agricultural pathways in the media, I can demonstrate that you don’t necessarily have to work on a farm to be involved in agriculture. There are many other options.”
Influenced and influencing
As Perla grew older, she realized how influential her mother has been in her development. She continues to be the primary role model for Perla. Other role models for her are Mildred Cortés, from the Agricultural Experimental Station of Puerto Rico, and Amanda Díaz, the ex-secretary of press of the Agricultural Extension Service of Puerto Rico. Perla met them through the collaborations they did with her father’s newspaper. Mildred Cortés is an agricultural economist and an agricultural podcast producer, so she’s constantly researching and updating materials for it. Perla was impressed by Mildred’s capacity to translate scientific knowledge into everyday language. Perla adopted this approach for her platform. Similarly, Amanda Díaz also excels in connecting the scientific community with the general public through media. This is something that continues to fascinate Perla, how the media can connect different worlds by sharing stories. Perla admires the consistency of these inspirational women and considers it to be key in the media industry.
Perla’s role models and the feedback from Agrochic has led her to become an advocate for highlighting women in agriculture-related fields. Both men and women have extraordinarily contributed to agriculture but, unfortunately, importance has been mostly given to male voices. Perla believes it is necessary to include women in agricultural discussions because they contribute a different perspective than men.
“My intention in the media is to create a balance that allows female voices to be heard because we need to see women on stage from different backgrounds and specializations. We need to see female farmers, scientists, agronomists, communicators, marketers, and others working actively in the industry.”
Perla shares a piece of advice to women who are currently struggling in the field with insecurity and frustration. “If you choose a sector within agriculture, I think it’s important to know why you choose it. Make a personal assessment to find out why you are there and what are your intentions. If you think another area is a better fit for you, don’t be afraid to change.” Perla also said that confiding in others is key to success. It’s important to find a support group with whom you can share your passion.
Harvesting resources and experiences
In Puerto Rico, Perla highly recommends the Agricultural Extension Service and the Agricultural Experimental Stations of the College of Agricultural Sciences of the UPRM as trustworthy sources of information. This also applies to the United States, where most states provide these types of resources through USDA or university extension programs. A directory by NIFA can be found here. These are trustworthy resources for agriculture-related topics within the United States and Puerto Rico.
Perla is a member of Garden Communicators International, a professional organization that brings together bloggers, writers, content creators, editors, and so on. It has opened Perla’s eyes to different resources and sponsors for Agrochic. She advocates increasing diversity in this organization. Also, she is a member of the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) that serves to advance the practice of horticulture as therapy. This is a discipline with tremendous potential due to the public’s increasing interest in gardening and food production to connect with Mother Nature.
Perla wholeheartedly enjoys gardening, whether it’s giving workshops or attending her backyard. For her, it’s a lifestyle. She also likes to read, bake, watch movies, and spend time with her family.
Perla strongly supports green infrastructure. She is aware that not everyone has access to green spaces, such as parks, community gardens, or forests. For this to be achieved, scientists, politicians, policymakers, economists, gardeners, therapists, architects, agronomists, and so on, need to come together to design these spaces and make them accessible to the public and therefore improve their livelihoods. She’s confident that she will make a difference in this area with her projects and most importantly, by sharing the voices of others.
Perla can be contacted through:
Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Perla. We wish you the best!