In the first week of October I had the opportunity to accompany Finca Luna’s nature guide, Ismael, while he took a full-day course at Earth University. The timing of the course happened to coincide with another intern’s birthday, so we decided to make a two-day trip to explore the university and another part of Costa Rica.
Earth University (Escuela de Agricultura de la Región Tropical Húmeda) is located in Guácimo, Limón, about three hours away from the farm. The university was founded in 1990 by the Costa Rican government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a way to provide education about organic farming in tropical climates. Admittedly, my immediate reaction to learning that the school was founded by USAID was skepticism (anyone who has studied Latin American history will tell you that the United States has not done well by the people here). While I winced every time I saw a plaque honouring Dole Fruit Company or Standard Fruit Company on the campus, the program Earth offers is very interesting to an agriculture enthusiast like myself.
Ismael was at the university to take a course on hawk migration. His friend, Juan Alberto, agreed to drive Ismael, myself, and Isabell (the birthday girl) to Guácimo. We initially agreed to leave at five in the morning so we could arrive at the school by eight – naturally, Tico time took hold and we eventually left the farm around six. When we arrived at Earth, Ismael ran off to his class, leaving Alberto, Isabell, and I to entertain ourselves. After a brief walk around the campus (including a visit to the gift shop), we eventually found a friendly student willing to give us a more informative tour. Our tour guide was a very friendly young man from Mozambique named David.
David had a limited amount of time to spend with us and chose to bring us to the periurban agriculture area. He could not have selected a better place – I was completely geeking out over their beautiful set up! Most of the growing areas were created using recycled materials in creative ways. Weighted and painted soda bottles became barriers to grow herbs and tires were used as both barriers and containers. There was a “rescued” golf cart that had lettuce and herbs growing all over, as well as a reclaimed white-water raft that boasted some healthy crops of its own. They also had some systems that I am more familiar with: hand-made vertical farms, hydroponics, and bag-gardens.
I could not help but feel impressed with the creativity expressed through these growing medium. Our planet is facing a huge trash crisis – hell, there’s an island of plastic the size of France floating through the ocean. While we are past the point of returning to a pre-Industrial age ecosystem, I do believe that with enough imagination and motivation we can find a way to co-exist with the rest of the environment.
Eventually, David had to return to his studies and we had to go find Ismael. I did not expect to stumble upon such an inspiring display of (peri)urban agricultural ingenuity while visiting Earth University, but it was a very pleasant surprise. Ismael returned from his course equally pleased and full of interesting information to share with us about migratory hawks. We piled back into Alberto’s car and took off for Guapiles, where we would be staying for the night before continuing to the Tirimbina Rainforest Centre – stay tuned for more on that soon!