Fit4Earth: From Grey Water to Garden

Fit4Earth continued their impactful service in our community by creating the third biogarden (biojardinera) in San Luis de Monteverde. An extra-muddy pat on the back was greatly deserved for their diligent work through unpredictable weather conditions.

This year’s group included 69 students from Colegio Humboldt, a German international school located in Pavas, San Jose. Excited to facilitate more fellowship with education in Costa Rica, this project filled a special spot. The service work was organized at the community center playground, where the group cleared an area and flattened out all of the land, preparing it to be a grass area for kids to play around the swings.

The second installment of the recent project was to build a biogarden in the front yard of the Puesto de Salud (Health Post). The biogarden (biojardinera) is an environmental tool that has become implemented particularly in Central America with growing popularity in Costa Rica.

So, what exactly is a biogarden?

A biogarden is a way for localized groups, as big as a school or as small as a single household, to treat their grey water. Grey water is any waste water from a household that is not from the toilet. The residual water from the showers, sinks and laundry is funneled to a garden instead of being disposed straight into the side yard or a close stream.

There may be up to a few preliminary tanks that are planted in the ground in front of the garden. The tanks have two PVC pipes running through them that allow grease and soap residue to become trapped, being retained and collecting inside the tank. This is a way to filter the water before it runs through the garden.

Large rocks are placed on the bottom of the biogarden on top of a plastic floor, then the rectangular pit is filled the rest of the way with gravel. The plants need to be placed at least fifteen centimeters underneath the surface to be able to collect the water. The plants that are used for a biogarden are species that are usually found in riverbanks and have long roots, like Coix lacryma-jobi, or Tears of San Pedro as they’re called in Costa Rica. There is no soil in the garden – just different sizes of rocks.

Much of the residual toxins and bacteria are trapped between the rocks before the water travels through the plant system. The water is slowed as it runs through the rocks and is then absorbed by the plants, as they demand more water and nutrients to continue growing. The remaining waste will be absorbed and processed by the plant tissues. Check out this video for an articulate account of how Costa Ricans put it together.

Our biogardens are located at the Escuela Alto San Luis, Finca El Nino (campus farm) and now the Puesto de Salud San Luis, pictured in order here. All three projects were contributed by the Fit4Earth program. The end product, seen top-right at our campus farm, is incredibly inconspicuous. The Tears of San Pedro will grow tall to cover most of the rocks and plastic, blending in with surrounding grass.

The new garden was proudly planted in the front yard of the community health center. Bringing this technology into fruition stimulates questions as to why sustainable practices are important on a family level. Imagine if every family used a biogarden to treat water before entering the watershed, the community’s water source could be left unpolluted.

Teaching this traditional and simple method to children from the city gives them a practical solution. Biogardens use simple and available resources, and only require minimal yard space. Becoming accountable for personal waste water will grow into a part of the ecological culture of Costa Rica, and the growing popularity will open discourse on minimizing anthropogenic harm in the watershed.

Large-scale projects have been introduced to the region, such as this project conducted in Sardinal. As the biojardinera gains steam and recognition, it will offer a practical solution to offset personal footprint caused by drainage water. This uplifting group of kids has already opened community discussion about the rare structure in the front yard of the health post. Keep your eyes out for the expansion of this idea and Fit4Earth workshops to come!

Photos and words contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll with graphics by Nelly López

Fresh Paint!

Augusta University had a full week of activities like zip-lining, coffee tours, home stays, and night hikes. In all the adventure they still made plenty of time to connect with the local community during their immersive experience here at UGACR.

They started on a Monday morning to paint the interior of the Alto San Luis primary school. With 29 students, the task was feasible within a few hours.

The team started out by mixing the paint and put a full layer down, dividing the students, school faculty and volunteers up between the rollers and the brushes. The group was surprised by fresh plates of various fruits being served by the teachers, keeping everyone glowing with healthy energy. It was feeling like “mucho brete,” or tough work, but with a light-hearted ethic that maintained patience, playfulness, and the spirit of giving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students at the Escuela Altos de San Luis took advantage of the time their teachers were occupied. Primary and university students enjoyed an extended recess by playing soccer and riding bikes. The opportunity sparked interest in several of the kids to pitch in, freshening up their desks in the front lawn.

The inside of the classrooms and the desks were finished with orange after the first day. The design followed along the previous pattern of blue, with the bottom one-third several shades darker, leaving the top sections lighter. Teachers noticed that the orange allowed much more natural light to flow through the previously darker classroom.

Community pillar Geovanny Leitón continued his frequent volunteer service by organizing the supply of the paint and to allocate jobs to the students. Geovanny wins the superlative of class clown. He is the one to meticulously organize the event, but also the first to take a detouring moment, pretending to dump paint on a professor and poke at a smile.

Augusta University students had an amazing time crossing language barriers and laughing as some of the students practiced their basic Spanish skills, coming to familiarize themselves with how much more they still have to learn.

When the team returned to the school the following Wednesday to finish their service, they were pleasantly surprised with a performance the students were preparing for Dia de Juan Santamaría. A robust and talented band rang the room with percussion instruments, performing with a skill level that is usually is not achieved by this age group. It was one more way that the alto students demonstrated that they are an outstandingly connected group, always ready to give back.

A Promise of 13 Years Fulfilled

The Watts family returned last week to rediscover the sensation of campus, fulfilling a promise to an enchanted 10-year-old son that they would certainly return.

Marilyn and Doug Watts made their first visit to UGACR in 2004, when our campus was very young. Being from Anchorage, Alaska, they are no strangers to adventure. They fell in love discovering the natural environment off the beaten path and traveling further down a rugged road than many tourists see.

2004 was the first year that our current general manager Fabricio Camacho accepted his position. The Watts were able to see thirteen years of transformation as a result of the perseverance of people like Fabricio and the team of local staff members, several of which have been around since 2004. The main changes the Watts saw in the university were the addition and repositioning of many buildings. Doug, now 24, says the feeling has remained intact.

What makes our campus a must-return destination for all ages? It’s the way that the one-of-a-kind community and ecosystem keeps you on your toes – It’s the possibility of visiting campus for a week and catching sight of a species that naturalists have been waiting months to see. Around every corner is a chance to renew this childhood sentiment of discovery.

The entire community has developed exponentially since the opening in 2001, when the main mode of transportation was horseback. Farmers in the San Luis valley would hitch a ride with the milk truck into town; Now motorcycles line up in the employee parking lot. To learn more about how we came to be, check out our full length documentary here

A Comprehensive Sample of the Streams

Last week marked an important step in the most comprehensive study of water quality in the Bellbird Biological Corridor. Dr. Thomas Shahady returned to gather another round of samples, continuing to solidify some hypotheses in his water research.

Shahady is the current director of the Center for Water Quality at Lynchburg College in Virginia. He practices a three-pronged research model with students and interns he teaches in both the U.S. and Costa Rica.

He has been gathering data from 18 field sites in the Bellbird Biological Corridor since 2013. By taking multiple trips to UGACR every year, his information is adding up to give us a general idea of what concerns the community will face.

Researchers Martha Garro Cruz and José Montero tagged along with Darixa Hernandez and Shahady for three days to continue the collection of data and samples. The methods comprise three key steps:

1.) Physical parameters:  A cross section is chosen to measure the depth across every meter of the river’s width. This gives us information on water volume.

The velocity is also measured at each of these points using a flow meter. The combined information is used to measure the river discharge.

2.) Chemical parameters: Water samples are collected in order to measure phosphorus and nitrogen levels. This can tell us if there’s any external input of these chemicals by fertilizers, for example. A YSI multimeter is used to measure pH, ammonium levels, dissolved oxygen, and water temperature.

3.) Biological parameters: Samples of the aquatic macroinvertebrates are taken by placing a square net facing upstream, then turning over rocks and leaf litter in front of the net. Macroinvertebrates are released from their habitat and drifted into the net by the water current. Based off their continuing research, they have developed a percentage model of what the standard content should be for each family of macroinvertebrates. Only certain families of macroinvertebrates are resistant to large amounts of pollution. This makes it possible to decipher water quality based on what aquatic life is present.

Escherichia coli and number of fecal coliform colonies present are also assessed. Water samples are collected and then taken to the lab where the water is filtered through a membrane, a growth medium for bacteria is added and then these are placed in petri dishes. After three days of incubation, blue (E. coli) and red (other coliform colonies)  are counted.

Keeping track of the macroinvertebrate populations in the stream can be conducted as citizen science – all you need is a net, containers, and an insect key. This is why Shahady wants to show a correlation between chemical pollution and invertebrates present. The goal is to empower the communities to be more cognizant about the pollution levels in their water shed.

Through this research, Shahady has discovered several alarming issues. He is faced by the ambiguity of what happens with Costa Rica’s waste water (black and gray water).

They are now aware of field sites where water is simply disappearing. Farmers (and a pineapple plantation) have been extracting an unregulated amount of water for irrigation when the weather is dry. In a single river the difference is drastic based on the amount of anthropogenic influence in adjacent locations.

After compiling all of the results, Shahady will have plentiful evidence to show community representatives. The results will be published in written form along with an index for citizens to monitor their river and streams, driving more policies to be implemented to water quality in the Bellbird Biological Corridor. Check out the links below for Thomas Shahady’s visual presentations.

Assessment of Stream Water Quality in BellBird Biological Corridor: www.periscope.tv/w/1BRKjAvPgNwxw

Creation of Water Quality Index: www.periscope.tv/w/1ypKdAvqbQdGW 

Blog by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll, with special contributions by Darixa Hernandez.

Sendero Pacífico: Connecting Our Communties

The presentation of new improvements on the Sendero Pacífico called for a packed house at the community center on Saturday, March 4. The celebratory event was held in conjunction with the opening of a new cafe next to the community center.

The network of trails that starts at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve connects all the way down to Punta Morales and the Gulf of Nicoya, now with a completed inlet by the San Luis community center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workers from the Bruce Trail Conservancy in Canada stayed in UGACR housing as a base for their work on the Pacific Slope Trail. This sisterhood relationship between trail networks means that they will visit again in the future.

This trail connects several distinct ecological zones, showcasing the huge amount of biodiversity that can be seen in such a small area within Costa Rica.

“One of the things that makes it special is not just that it is within this wonderful natural environment of the Bellbird Biological Corridor, but also that it provides access to different communities along the way,” says Nathaniel Scrimshaw, Sendero Pacífico Coordinator.

Monteverde, San Luis, Veracruz and San Antonio, Guacimal, and the mangroves of Costa de Pájaros can all be accessed through this winding hike to the coast.

Public access roads and permissions given by private farms were integral to creating a trail network that will not charge entry fees. The participation of Banco Nacional were critical in the opening of the cafe and the signs to connect the trails.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both of the events that debuted were funded by the Association de Desarollo Integral (ADI). Banco National helped to fund the community leadership in order to facilitate these two grand openings, promoting more rural tourism in San Luis.

Since this trail network has been left in the hands of the community and is not government controlled, the people of the communities are going to be responsible for the quality of the trail looking forward.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a critical model of communities supporting each other to preserve biodiversity in one of the most endangered areas of Costa Rica. Deforestation has created islands of forest that are parted by pasturelands. The areas preserved by the trail network are going to serve not only as a trial for humans, but as a trail for migrating wildlife and other species who need larger areas to roam.

The focal points of recreation, education, investigation, and community are converging goals of the Sendero Pacífico. These improvements will help travelers and locals to connect more with our outstanding natural environment. To see how you can volunteer with the trail or get more connected, visit the San Luis Community page!

Blog post contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll

Night Hikes: A Second Helping of Dessert

At UGA Costa Rica, the forest floor is crawling with completely different life after the sun goes down. This is why night hikes are one the naturalists’ favorite activities to host and one of the most unpredictable as to what guests may find. Plus, having so many nocturnal species gives us thousands of reasons to pack a flashlight.

Our jungle is a city that never sleeps, where animals showcase many sensory abilities that are beyond what humans typically rely on. Leaf cutter ants work all night long, following the pheromones of their group to keep trails back to their colony.

Students and ecotourists are shown a perspective of wildlife that prompts different questions from any other activity. Flashlights and headlamps reflect the eye shine of spiders, mammals, and many other species that are usually looked over or hidden during the day. Even some species of worms only glow in the darkness. Night hikes show a contrasting side to our lush ecosystem.

The insecurities of being in a mysterious jungle turn into a sense of reassurance. With the right knowledge and equipment, we learn to stay out of harm’s way in a diverse jungle that supports the life of various spiders, poisonous insects, snakes and even cats. Night-hiking serves as a great model of living along side life that we often see as dangerous.

Night hikes give guests the opportunity to learn outside of the comfort zone that they are used to in the daylight. That type of uneasiness in the darkness transforms into a gratification in the ability to see more of the elusive species that aren’t active during the day.

We invite you to tune into a different frequency by turning off the lights. Take a couple minutes to listen and look at the stars under an open canopy – hear the sounds. Adding a human harmony to the twilight orchestra creates a song that is unique to this activity.

 

Photos and words contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll

Research Results: Widening the Wingspan

If you have visited our campus, you may have noticed a tiny sticker in the bottom-left corner of each of our windows – a product of our organized study to combat bird strikes. UGA Costa Rica reached an imperative milestone for our studies this week by having one of the top researchers in Costa Rica visit our campus for a lab tutorial and presentation over her findings over the past four years.

Martha Cruz has been working on her bird strike project for over a year now. Her mentor, Rose Marie Menacho-Odio, has been conducting meticulous research since 2013.

Martha Garro Cruz, with several other researchers and assistants gathered with Menacho-Odio in the campus laboratory for a training on bird dissection. This was absolutely imperative for Cruz’s study to be able to distinguish the gender of affected bird species that lack sexual dimorphism. The studies of Martha Cruz now have increasing ability to be included in Costa Rica’s national museum, which has been preserving specimens since the 1970’s.

The questions of Menacho-Odio’s research are which species strike the most frequently, which buildings are most prone to being struck, and what are the most effective measures to prevent strikes? Her research has produced tangible answers to all of these questions. We are following suit on campus – here are our methods and then results:

cab_2017_312_chasingperezosoThe research that has been occurring since 2013 is organized into three different areas based off altitude. The San Luis valley that is home to our campus is known as area one. These areas show differing results of species striking most frequently. For example, we rarely have Emerald Toucanets striking our windows, while that is the most common species in area two, with higher altitude. This occurs even though we have this species on our campus, pictured from our bird-watching activity here.

The organized research has been conducted in three steps based off parameters set by researchers Hager and Cosentino:

The first is the systematic search, where researchers search a distance about 2 meters around the perimeter of each building, three consecutive days in a row during the most optimal hours.

The second is systematic observation, which happens 6 consecutive days in the morning for 15 minutes on each building side, moving clockwise. This is an observation where the scientists stand at a slight distance from the building and observe the birds behavior towards a window. Different species interact with completely different behavior. For example, the house wren, who is known for living within close proximity to buildings, has never been recorded as actually striking a window on campus. However, it is very frequent that the house wren will approach the window to catch insects that are stuck in spider webs, eating the insects
before safely maneuvering away from the window. This is opposed to the clay-colored thrush, who is known to fight its own reflection. These observations generate new hypotheses for how adaptation is working.

The third is staff and citizen science. Many of our naturalists will help to record bird strikes and capture injured or stunned birds. The naturalists inform all of our residents to help record bird strikes on the posted chart located just to left of our reception office. UGACR makes recording this information a small-scale model of a community effort to combat this issue that claims hundreds of thousands of bird lives each year.

On campus, we have recorded 44 species of birds from 22 different families striking windows here on campus from January 2016 to January 2017.

The most striking bird is the Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus). This is a migratory species that usually enters our region in October. On this graph you can see the influx of strikes in October and again when they are returning in March.

The following species are in order for the most strikes, following the Swainson’s Thrush: The Clay-colored Thrush (Turdus grayi), Long-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia linearis), and White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi)cab_2017_274_chasingperezoso

The Trochilidae family (hummingbirds) is the second most recorded for striking windows.

Bird strikes are common around the globe. If you ever witness one, it is best to catch the bird, gently stabilizing the head, wings, and legs. Place it in a paper bag for 15-20 minutes to help relieve stress, then let the bird loose. Species like humming birds can often face heart-attacks from the stress of the strike and then being handled.

Moving forward, the goal of Menacho-Odio is to present more talks to increase awareness and dispel myth surrounding the subject. Martha Cruz hopes to use the research to implement the most effective preventative measures on campus, like stringing vertical rope about 5 inches apart over the frame of windows to let birds know it is not maneuverable.

Photos and words offered by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll with graphic additions created by Martha Garro Cruz.

Up to Speed with Our Community

Around campus, we know Gilberth Lobo de Rodríguez as a bright and compassionate host of our coffee tours. His wife, Amalia Rodríguez, is responsible for the fresh smell of our fabrics and shining campus corridors. But behind the family of hardworking farmers, there is even a more intense side to one of their favorite hobbies – running!

cab_2017_755_leisureGilberth and Amalia both finished in medaling positions in their last race, the Fire Mountain Trail. They demonstrate the importance of experience as grandparents in a competition of all ages.

The long display of trophies in the Rodríguez house shows the fruit of practice and repetition – medals won from all around the country, some named with races they have run 10 years in a row. Their running crosses borders from thin forested trails to paved roads, from steep mountains to a yearly race on the beach. With Hilbert’s hopes of running the Boston Marathon, the possibilities show no end.

The UGACR campus depends on locals like Amalia and Gilberth to keep all of our necessities available. Gilberth explains how this hasn’t always been easy: The generation before Gilberth’s grandparents were some of the first groups of people in the upper San Luis area to cultivate coffee. Most of the farmers that lived here would grow coffee, beans, and corn with a focus on subsistence. Families would often take the harvested plants long distances to be able to trade for necessities like medicines, clothes, and textiles.

cab_2017_00710_toursIn the background of this photo you can see a trunk of a coffee tree passed down from Gilberth’s grandfather, cut when it was 65 years old. From the tours, we learn how the cultivation of coffee has evolved in these few generations. By refraining from the use of pesticides and chemicals, the production quantity is reduced on the fincas (farms) around our campus.

This is a logical sacrifice because of the demand for high-quality organic coffee.
cab_2017_00741_toursRetaining these independent ethics means balancing the
relationship with fungus, parasites, and local wildlife, which is a community effort. Like many in the community, Gilberth shares his strong labor on several farms aside from his own.

The workers and visitors at UGA Costa Rica all play a role in the production cycle by creating trade opportunities. The food that we eat either comes from campus or other local fincas. Gilberth sees a beneficial companionship between the two. From his perspective, the university has developed in harmony with the local fincas. The arrival of different nationalities, cultures and customs provided the community with a possibility of beneficial exchanges of experiences and knowledge. Now he sees much of the local youth speaking English.

“Cuando llegan grupos de diferentes nacionalidades, culturas y costumbres, eso permite a algunas familias de la comunidad tener una relación de intercambio, experiencia, y conocimiento.”

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The Rodríguez family is a supercharged example of working hard and playing even harder, waking up early in spite of long hours. They keep their practice strong by maintaining healthful and organized habits that are centered around the family. They continue the tradition of growing coffee in a similar way they pass down the hobby of running to the next generation – theicab_2017_00334_toursr daughter now has seven races under her belt.

Gilberth and Amalia say that the other competitors are often people they are familiar with. They do not see opponents as rivals, but rather as friends to share the experience with. When he gets tired and may slow down, Gilberth thinks of the exhaustion as a common denominator between his friends, that the man behind him may be even more tired himself.

“Cuando me siento cansado yo solamente pienso que los demás también están cansados y posiblemente más que yo. Entonces no hay razón para terminar.”

Racing with this mentality is an exchange that motivates the community. Gilberth and Amalia are more content with the tranquil lifestyle of rural Costa Rica in the San Luis valley. They have relatives scattered in many parts of the country, but enjoy seeing the fruits of their labor in a more direct way. At a finca, you have to be committed to your daily work, but it pays off when you are provided with the ability to immediately quench your hunger and thirst without paper exchange.

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Meeting people like Gilberth and Amalia is what makes a visit to UGACR memorable. It makes an impression to see people who are committed to their trades and hobbies every day, helping to lift up the campus community. This is part of what makes our exchange so rich, that possibly one day the Rodríguez grandson will show his medals to a touring group.

 

 

Photos and words contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll

Meet Our New Volunteers!

The new year has brought in a handful of new residents at UGA Costa Rica who are getting settled in quite nicely. However, orchestrating the multiplicity of events that are offered on campus is tough business. Being a team of naturalists and volunteers means that most of our meals, guided hikes, and training sessions are spent together. As we share these things, it becomes more apparent how each individual contributes to the melting-pot which is UGACR. It is quite wondrous the way we are meshing together to create a family of global citizens and revealing more potential each day.

The nature of our work holds importance in close-knit relationships. Our flexibility leaves us open to trade tour schedules, workout schedules, or let the box of fate decide which classic movie we will watch. This way our volleyball matches, daily haikus, and movie nights are filled with laughter at each other and ourselves. Here are some quick bios to help you get to know the new faces:

cab_2017_00038_tours Emilie Morris, 22, graduated from University of Georgia in December of 2015 with a double major in Ecology and Biology. She was enthralled by studying the way parasitic disease moved through a population of Monarch butterflies in the lab. Going from a microscopic to macro scale, she now has goals of going to medical school to study practical application of medicine in humans. After graduation from UGA she hiked over 2,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail with her uncle. Our favorite things about her is the way she infuses a happy-go-lucky art into our group across all media. We love to see her drawing, painting, and even writing music in her free time. Emilie and Gaby are veteran naturalists, being here for a few months now. They are quick to add a new workout to the routine and organize a movie night.

cab_2017_00550_toursGaby Benitez, 22, graduated from Duke University with a double major in Biology and Environmental Science. During her inspirational undergraduate career, she traveled to Singapore, Malaysia, southwest Turkey, and Ascension Island to study sea turtles. She led an advocacy group at Duke called Food for Thought that explored the relationship between dietary decisions and their environmental affects. She continues to look into sustainable urban development and integrative human systems. UGACR is a great culmination of her interests, being in the San Luis valley where there are small-scale farms that sustainably support the community. Gaby has a capacity for gently guiding people to explore, whether it be through the medicinal gardens or a yoga flow.

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Sean Peacock, 25, has a sweet background in conservation. After graduating from Georgia College and State University in 2014, he worked in a lab doing analytic chemistry of metals in water by his hometown of Savannah. After environmental education training and guiding at the Dunwoody Nature Center, Sean found himself on St. Catherine’s Island as a conservation zookeeper. He worked with ring-tailed lemurs, cranes, great hornbills, and Georgia’s state reptile, the gopher tortoise. His wealth of knowledge is transforming into a passion of protecting biodiversity through education and preservation of species. He’s the type of guy to pull you away from the computer for a quick stroll that turns into an hour of chasing capuchins through the jungle!

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Ellie Swanson, also in the 22 club, recently graduated from the University of Utah in December of 2016. She found out about UGACR when her friend clued her in after a visit. As a river-rafting guide in the summers, she decided to skip a winter in Utah this year for an endless summer! After a biology and geography major, she’s fulfilling a vision to deeply expand upon her four years of Spanish in high school. Ellie has already gone from our library’s children books to mini-novelas and is already translating our awesome coffee tours. We have loved seeing her break open a new world in interpersonal communications and flourish inside of her always-down attitude.
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Mel Freshwater, 23, is a May 2016 graduate from James Madison University in Virginia in the Appalachian foothills. She focused on geographical sciences and environmental conservation in school and continued to spontaneously plan travels, taking a year off to travel by work-trade through Spain, Italy, and Hawaii. Mel’s passion has recently led her to work for the American Conservation Experience in habitat conservation in Asheville, NC. The positive, go-getter mentality adds a delightful tone to our hang outs. Mel is early to rise in the morning and quick with a pause of appreciation, always smelling the flowers.

 

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Ben Schmidt, 24, is a May 2015 graduate from Northwestern College in Iowa. He had an extremely diverse undergraduate career where he studied all across the globe. His degrees in Biology and Secondary Education have taken him to British Columbia and even the southern alps of New Zealand. He studied field botany in Michigan and now focuses on stream ecology, including invertebrates that have aquatic phases, like dragonflies and different types of naiads. Since graduating, his travels have taken him through the Oregon Cascades and Northern California. He’s the type of Minnesotan to seem reserved until he breaks out one of his unbelievable family stories, like a transformer mystery man!

cab_2017_00043_farmAnaLiz Rojas Mendez, 24, is a current student at the Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras. She was born and raised in Buenos Aires in the southern region of Costa Rica. As a sustainable agriculture intern, she spends much of her time in the vegetable garden. AnaLiz is a double threat, doing research at the National University of Costa Rica and hands-on training at Zamorano in Honduras. She helps UGACR embody the “pura vida” style when she is seen walking the cows from pasture to pasture and transplanting young sprouts. She often puts in a couple extra hours of work to take extra care of the life around her. AnaLiz even fills her free time with hiking, riding a bicycle, or swimming. Cruise on, AnaLiz!

cab_2017_00052_farmAriana Muñoz, 20, is a sustainable agriculture intern who is currently studying at the Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras as well. Because of their shared classes, she has known AnaLiz for a few years now. Despite her age, Ariana has loads of practical experiences in all types of agriculture. Zamorano requires the students to have both intense reading for part of the curriculum and hands-on training for the second half. Most of her gardening and skills in the stable seem second nature, as she has learned from her father who also works in the agriculture industry. She has a work hard, play hard ethic that will leave you with dirt on your boots and a smile on your face. Ariana is the type of person to toss dirt on you with one hand, and then toss you a fresh banana with the other.

Photos and words contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll

 

The Faces of Our Food

 

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The world-famous milk served daily at UGA Costa Rica doesn’t just taste great, but it serves as an example of how to minimize our eco-footprint. Students gain a feeling of gratification knowing there is zero waste behind the animals that make our meals savory and delicious.

As the sun dawns each day, Marlon Martínez, the stable manager, calls the cows for milking. He has beckoned them with a patient demeanor ever since the stables were constructed in this location five years ago.

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Depending upon the number of interns and the season, UGA Costa Rica produces between 15 and 25 percent of the food we consume, right here on campus! This model is applicable both locally and globally. Here’s why:

The vast majority of the world’s farms are just like ours – small scale. According to the 2015 State of Food Insecurity in the World, family farms produce over 80 percent of the Earth’s food. Additionally, over 80 percent of these farms are smaller than two hectares, about two soccer fields.

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Volunteers and students team up with Marlon to tend the stables to milk, clean, and facilitate sustainable farming. Students of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida rolled up their sleeves to get in on the action.

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Students here learn about the process start to finish, feed to waste. Being committed to sustainability means managing all of these factors. The manure from the cows and pigs goes toward the biodigester, a giant bladder that converts waste into methane energy using micro-organisms.

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Raising farm animals in this fashion translates to an essential learning curve, not just for the students that visit from across the globe, but also for the local community. UGACR has already implemented several biodigesters for local farmers off-campus.

It’s a grand contribution to the health and happiness of the community. The end product – chocolate milk served daily in el comedor, from grass-fed cows that can run just as much as our students.

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Photos and words provided by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll.