Lessons learned in Costa Rica

first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest By Abby Motter, OCJ field reporterHola! I am Abby Motter, a senior at The Ohio State University studying Agriscience Education, and minoring in both Production Agriculture and Spanish. This past March I had the chance to spend my spring break in a very different capacity. Instead of road trips, beaches, and bad decisions, I traveled alongside some of my classmates on a service-learning experience to Costa Rica. I will never forget the long bus rides filled with fellowship, the beautiful views, the difficult learning moments, or the powerful insight gained from engaging with Costa Ricans, locally know as Ticos. Traveling to Costa Rica allowed me to engage in an aspect of agriculture that is not only different from the United States in its methodologies, but also in its focus. Most importantly, we had the chance to learn more about ourselves by completing a home stay in the community, La Finca Argentina. Ultimately, this education abroad experience helped me to further my cultural competency, gain Spanish language skills, and become aware of different, but important, forms of agriculture.Coming from a production agriculture background I am well versed on the latest technologies here in the United States. I can talk your ear off about GMOs, the latest in precision breakthroughs, and of course genetics within livestock animals. However, in Costa Rica I learned about production methods focused on organic methods, and how this model can help developing communities around the globe become self-sustainable. While at EARTH University — Costa Rica’s agricultural institute that recruits students from around the globe to study agriculture — we toured facilities and engaged with students. Having the chance to interact with students opened my eyes to our responsibility as college students to make the most of our education, to make a global difference.Peachy, one of the student’s nicknames, was from Liberia. While at EARTH she was focusing on greenhouses and ways for women to become more involved with agriculture. Her goal upon graduation is to return to her home country and start greenhouses with the women, to not only allow them to take on a leadership and entrepreneurial role, but also to assist with food insecurity, and increase profits for family farms. Every student I had the opportunity to talk with seemed focused on their mission, because they had first-hand experience understanding their family’s and community’s struggles.I had the chance to eat lunch with a student from Madagascar. He was so excited to share what EARTH has done for him, and how the hands-on learning, especially having to manage his own entrepreneurial project as a senior, has prepared him to successfully re-enter his community with new ideas. Many of the students talked about community entry strategies or bringing new ideas back to where they came from, and how difficult that can be. I found this so interesting because as college students in agriculture, I think we all can relate. While at The Ohio State University we have learned so much about new technologies in agriculture and understand the benefits. However, when we try to bring these ideas to our parents or grandparents on the family farm often all they see is dollar signs. No matter where we are at in the world it is a challenge to prove our knowledge is valuable to the older and more respected generation.While at EARTH we had the chance to tour a model organic farm, this was my favorite part of our stay because it focused on studying the integration and real-life application of how this could be applied in communities around the globe. For example, they had a chicken coop where they continually run trials in an attempt to find production methods that produce the most meat and eggs with little to no inputs. They want to perfect the system so they can share it with others and encourage students to bring it to their own communities. By adding an egg to the diet of these families, there is a large increase in protein, an additional food source, and a vital nutrient that can be difficult to obtain. In addition, the organic farm focused on reusing everything they could – especially when it comes to compost. The farm has a heavy focus on composting using natural fertilizer from the farm, coffee bean shells, and a variety of other organic materials to then increase the production and fertility of their soils and their crop. The processes we watched on the farm are all very time intensive and require a lot of labor, both commodities not readily available in the United States.I found it especially interesting, however, that because EARTH’s products are mostly GMO-free and organic, they automatically assumed that GMOs cause cancer and that anything but organic is bad for you. I was a bit taken a back from this statement because I firmly believe in the importance of GMOs to feed our growing population of 9 billion by 2050, as well as to combat malnutrition. I completely understand that advanced technologies, including GMO seed, can cause a dependence on American companies for assistance, and could also turn into imperialism, however, I think both sides of the issue should be taught at EARTH University. It is my opinion, that in a developing country and community, these organic practices are practical, but that doesn’t mean our advancements and practices in the United States are bad. In fact, I believe they are necessary for our global production, especially since no one I know in the United States would be willing to do the amount of work necessary for a completely organic operation similar to EARTH. Most farmers in the United States actually work off the farm, which plays a big difference. I would have liked to have talked more with the students about their perspectives on modern agriculture. However, the biggest thing I gained from viewing these organic facilities and interacting with the students is that we are not the experts, the people from the communities we are trying to reach are the experts. It is vital to trust in the expertise of the people and communities you are working with in order to bring positive change.Staying at La Finca Argentina gave me even more insight into Hispanic culture and shaped my perspective of what truly matters. On our very first day in the community we were the first group to be dropped off. I was so nervous because I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I was going to have to rely on my Spanish skills for the weekend. Instantly we were welcomed into their homes, and the birthday party they were currently hosting. Although at first feeling awkward and out of place, I was able to break the cultural gap by engaging with one of the children at the party. There was a younger boy who had started a game of keeping a leftover balloon in the air, when it wandered over my direction I decided to join the action. Later during our home stay I had the chance to make soap with the daughter of our house mom, and then with our neighbor’s daughter help color and play with puppies. I realized how easy it is to find similarities and have fun with someone who may be so different than yourself.I definitely was reminded of the “Costa Rican” way and had to remember the importance of patience. I continue to struggle with a culture that fails to plan long term and is okay with taking shortcuts on a job eventually leading to more work later. As a type A person, I was raised my whole life with the mantra, “If you have time to do it twice, you have time to do it right the first time.” Being flexible is an attribute I have developed more as a college student, but I am very detail-oriented and love to have plans made far in advance. But we all know that doesn’t happen, and a lot of last minute changes occur in an agricultural classroom. Thankfully I am working on adopting the mindset of preparing to the best of my ability and trusting myself to handle whatever happens.Overall, my experience in Costa Rica was once in a lifetime and gave me the opportunity to reflect on my personal values, and to be challenged on my perceptions of agriculture, family, and monetary success. The differences in agriculture production and having to decide for myself the best practices, and the ethical choices, along with personal growth I experienced in our homestay have all made me a better student, leader, global citizen, and future teacher. Pura Vida!last_img read more