Eugenio Toro “Father of the Puerto Rican Fruticulture”

Eugenio Toro “Father of the Puerto Rican Fruticulture”

By: Tatiana Méndez Toro

Surrounded by pineapples, pomegranates, oranges, mangoes, pitahayas and exotic fruits whose names I cannot spelled, I found him in his little farm located in the city.

“I have here all the pineapple varieties that exist in Puerto Rico” said Toro while cutting out the brush. His two acres farm is full of fruits. “I develop a citric collection of 43 varieties that I used for the student laboratories when I was a professor in the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez (UPRM).”

Tall with intense blue eyes, he reminds me of actor Paul Newman with his poses and charisma as he talks.

Eugenio Toro is an agronomist that was a fruticultural professor at the Agricultural Science Faculty at the (UPRM). Also for 30 years he was a fruit specialist of the Agricultural Extension Service at Mayaguez, giving service to all of Puerto Rico.

“ Fruticulture is the cultivation of all plants that produce fruits,” explains Don Geño, as his friends call him. “I know all the fruit farms in Puerto Rico and I was assessor of most of these farms. Farms like Serralles and Company, Fruit International, Tropical Fruit, “Huertos del Caribe” and Martex Farms are some examples of farms that I had work at.”

Eugenio Toro is not only recognized in Puerto Rico. His name has traveled places as far as China and Africa. He’s a distinguish assessor in the Caribbean, Central and South America. He’s one of the best pomologist in the world according to US Pomology Society.

“A pomologist is a person that studies everything related to the fruit field.” explains Geño.

He began his professional work in agriculture with the 4H clubs as an agricultural extensionist. During his graduate studies in the Horticulture Department in the UPRM, he began working on the investigation for his thesis on “Asexual propagation of breadfruit,” which was the first thesis of this type in the world.

Even though he is now recognized around the world, his childhood was a poor one. “I didn’t have a childhood” he recalls. “I had to work since I was a little boy. My dad had a guava-mango candy factory. Every night I had to put the candy plastic papers in the pans that were going to be filled in the mornings.

By age ten I was ten Geño had to milk the cows every morning and feed them before going to school. “Latter on, I had to plant the sugar cane and carry it on an oxen. This was my routine until I graduated from the UPRM.”

It was this early contact with Mother Nature that marked the destiny of these amazing man.

When Eugenio Toro graduated, he didn’t find job in his specialty. That’s the reason why he decided to migrate to Hartford, Connecticut, where he worked in a Tobacco Company for six weeks.

“The conditions in the factory were inhumane, that’s why I decided to go to New York in search for a better future,” he said smiling.

It was at the Medical Center of the University of New York that Geño worked as an animal care taker. He was in charge of the animals that were used for investigations by the doctors and investigators of the medical school in New York. It was at this point he married the Puerto rican teacher Ana Montes, who flew to New York just to marry him. They have been married for 49 years.

Geño was also a prominent military police for 28 years. “In 1963 I had the opportunity of being part of the guard escort of President Kennedy in Hanau, Bonn and Berlin.”

After finishing terms in Germany he returned to Puerto Rico and served in the 770 Infantry Military Police Battalion of Aguadilla.

During his military career he had a mission in Panama with General Noriega and Lutenant Rosario of the Panama Defense Force to reinforce the infrastructure of this country. “I brought my knowledge to the community, making them conscious of environmental preservation. They began to plant and protect trees in their communities and protect the river basins using green barriers,” said Geño remembering the old times.

One of the most significant experiences of Eugenio Toro was to visit China representing Puerto Rico in the program “People to People Ambassador.” In this occasion he participated in different seminars about China’s citric history. The group was composed of  65 professionals from 18 countries.

“The most amazing thing that caught my attention in China was that they planted food everywhere. They are very conscious that agriculture is a main part of society,” emphasized Geño.

Not only in China did this Puerto Rican from Cabo Rojo shared his knowledge; in Mexico he offered magisterial conferences about Puerto Rican Fruticulture at the University Salvador Sanchez Colin. Also he gave conferences in Ecuador, Panama, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Spain and all the Caribbean Islands.

Geño is known as the father of the fruticulture in Puerto Rico. “He’s an expert in asexual propagation by grafting. He taught me how to find the best vegetative material of avocado’s trees and how to graft them. Today all my family does it thanks to him,” said Toti Canabal, a farmer from Yauco. Toti added: “My knowledge about citrics and the crop practices I owe to the agronomist and fruit specialist Eugenio Toro.”

He’s grafting techniques have been disseminated in a lot of countries by one of his forty publications, titled “How to make a grafting.” This publication is also used as class material for students in the course of asexual propagation in the Agriculture Science Faculty of UPRM.

“Grafting is a technique in which you take a growing point of the plant like shoots or buds and you insert or attach it to other plants of the same species.”

“For example, you can have different varieties of mangoes or oranges in one tree. It’s an asexual technique that means that we don’t need the seeds and we will obtain the exact same fruit, it’s a type of clonation,” Geño explained.

All his publications discuss fruticulture and technique problems found in orchards. These publications are a key part of the material of the Agriculture Extension Service. Also Geño writes different articles for the Agricultural Newspaper “Agrotemas”.

And what makes “Geño” special? “I am like the bad weed that never dies,” he said laughing. “I had been surgically intervened more than 15 times. I think I would be in the Guiness Record Book because I am still alive even though I suffered last year a massive heart attack. I don’t know how many parts of my body have been removed but am still working and moving”.

Geño has made a lot of grafting experiments during his career but now he will be literally grafted with mother cells therapy in his legs that have been bypassed seven times.

“I know all the doctors in the St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston, I considered them part of my family,” said Geño jokingly. Despite all the health problems, he has a great sense of humor.

Geño is part of different professional organizations like US Pomoly Society, Agriculture Specialist Association, “ Colegio de Agrónomos de Puerto Rico” and many others.

This agronomist has been recognized twice as agronomist of the year by the Agronomist College of Puerto Rico. Moreover, two years ago this institution created “The Eugenio Toro Award” for the achievement of exemplar and professional life given to the most distinguished agronomist in Puerto Rico during the College Annual Convention Meeting.

Geño is an innate teacher. He keeps moving with technology in his Facebook page in which he gives advice to all his friends, at his 75! “I read and write everyday maintaining myself well informed about recent news and investigations in my area. I love Facebook because it keeps me in contact with all my friends around the world.”

When I visited him in his farm, I saw his office which has tons of magazines, photos and awards. “I received over 300 recognitions in all the history of my life; every one of them represents my work. I really appreciate all of them that’s why I have my own little wall of fame,” joked Geño.

On his desk he had a display of a lot of envelopes from foundations and charity centers. When I asked about them he answers: “I learned to give to others of what I have and that comes back in blessings to me. I always think that when I will die I will not take anything with me except the good work that I did on the earth.”

This man wants to give advice to everyone. “My advice is that everyone that becomes a professional and works for the private business or government has to dedicate his soul, spirit and body to an excellent service to justify his salary.”

I take the sweet taste of getting to know someone that lives what he does and lives to do it.

Eugenio Toro

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