What an HCS education means to me – Claudia Winslett's Story

March 25, 2022
Claudia sitting on a rock infront of crystal clear ocean

Claudia Winslett was recently an HCS Sustainable Plant Systems major here at OSU. During one of her last semesters she took an independent study course, led by Dr. Joe Scheerens, her project focused on a sustainable fruit farm. Shortly after taking the course, Claudia was in a serious car accident - an underage drunk driver hit her while she was stopped. This resulted in her taking the entire semester off & ultimately, she decided not to return to school*.

Thankfully Claudia’s story & passion for sustainable plant systems was just getting started – she did not abandon the sustainable fruit farm she had long thought about. She recently purchased land in Puerto Rico to turn her project into a reality. 

*We are happy to report after the original publication of this story; Claudia ultimately did decide to finish up her degree while continuing to work on her sustainable fruit farm. Claudia graduated with a SPS-Horticulture degree in December 2022.*

Dr. Scheerens & Claudia still keep in touch & Dr. Scheerens shared his excitement “I remember [Claudias] project well and often use it in class as an excellent example of a Fruit Farm project that was both horticulturally sound and creative. I am glad to hear that she used her recovery period to continue efforts to pursue her admirable goals to develop an eco-friendly, sustainable agricultural retreat that would offer health benefits to the planet and to visitors as well as providing enjoyment and education to the latter."

Claudia had the time to sit down & tell us about how she is currently bringing her dreams to life at an oasis in Puerto Rico.

What was your time here at osu like?

As a freshman, I came in as a welding engineer, but quickly switched to undecided and began exploring HCS classes with the intro to plant form and function. I fell in love with growing plants and the compassionate, wise teachers that seemed to be around every corner on the ag campus. I’ve never enjoyed learning so much, and the community on the agriculture campus made Ohio State seem very small and homey to me. I eventually landed on studying sustainable plant systems with a specialization in horticulture during my time at Ohio State. 

What got you interested in taking on this type of project to begin with?

I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and creating a productive food forest homestead became a dream of mine a few years ago after watching a documentary about ancient food forests managed by indigenous peoples throughout the world where tribal, community living is more common. 

How did you decide on Puerto Rico for your project?

After the accident, I spent the next few months traveling (Mexico, Dominican Republic, Las Vegas, South Carolina, Atlanta, Vieques, and Puerto Rico) looking for a site to start my project! I struck gold when I went to Puerto Rico. I visited El Yunque, the national rainforest, and fell in love with the mountainous jungle, waterfalls, and Latin culture. I made two more voyages to PR, packed up all my things, and shipped my car down for my permanent move in September 2021. From there, I traveled around the island looking at properties, learning the language, and exploring the different parts of the island. After making my way through the rainforest again, along the entire southern coastline, and up through the middle mountain range, I narrowed my search to the western mountain range (Lares, Las Marias, Adjuntas, and Utuado) due to the spectacular views, ample access to water, and countryside living. 

Claudia and her goat overlooking a beautiful horizon in Puerto RicoThis February, I acquired 22 acres (for 70k) in Lares with a house, a spring on the property, two large streams, electricity, and free water (another spring gives the entire community free access to water). So far with some help from my father (a project construction manager) I’ve replumbed the whole house and have been working on renovations. I purchased a young cow, 14 chicks/a mama hen, and 9 month old goat to help me clear the land. 

The land was previously planted with lots of coffee bushes, breadfruit (pana), citrus, guava, mango, avocado, native raspberries, tarot, other root vegetables, bananas, plantains, Mamey, guanabana (soursop), and many others I haven’t identified yet! So, I’ve got a great headstart. Most of my horticultural work will be adding to the edible plants here, designing the layout of the property, identifying all the plants, building a few greenhouses or high tunnels, reducing erosion, using the animals to cycle nutrients, hand clearing the vines, and making trails. 

How do you plan on starting the business?

I hope to begin my business on Etsy selling tropical plants, cuttings, and succulents soon. I’ve already begun harvesting coffee, drying, and roasting the preliminary batches of “Claudia’s Cafe”. 

What’s the “why” behind this project?

Currently, I am trying to raise awareness for the project as well the larger issues underlying the whole “why” - reducing waste, regenerating landscapes, productive ecosystems, living with less of a footprint, self-sufficiency, & permaculture practices.

Any closing thoughts?

This is still the very beginning of the process, but the permaculture project is taking place! I’m very passionate about turning this project into a community effort for the collective education of anyone interested in how to live sustainably. 

The connections I’ve made at Ohio State with students and faculty have made my project possible. A fellow OSU HCS alum, Zoe Scofield, has already been to visit and help me out. Everyone in the HCS department truly impacted my life in unspeakable ways. The knowledge imparted on me during my time at OSU changed the course of my life and has allowed me the confidence and courage to pursue this dream to live sustainably. 

Keep up to date with Claudia’s journey on Instagram @cw_foodforest

Claudia's goat (Linda) overlooks the scenic mountains of Puerto Rico