Small-scale sustainability: an EARTH intern’s epiphany

Filed Under: EARTH News, RAI News
Date: March 28th, 2018

Andrés Tolosa, 25, spent each morning digging his hangs into the dirt of EARTH University’s Integrated Organic Farm, putting his education into practice. The Colombian native studies environmental engineering at Universidad Libre, where he currently is putting the finishing touches on his graduation project.

On life in Colombia:

In addition to his studies, Andrés is employed in commerce and project supervision.

“I work independently, carrying out environmental impact studies for different industries. I have managed the environmental component of construction and infrastructure projects. On occasion, I work with industrial and occupational safety.”

On the journey to Costa Rica:

Andrés had numerous options on where to execute his graduation project.

“There were possibilities in France, Mexico and other countries, but I decided on Costa Rica because it’s known for organics and carbon neutrality. Not to mention, EARTH is really renowned for that. I thought that if I was going to make the investment of traveling and doing this project abroad, I had to go somewhere where I knew I’d really learn.”

On his experience at EARTH:

Andrés was based at EARTH’s Integrated Organic Farm, but he also enjoyed expanding his knowledge at the peri-urban farm and renewable energies center.

“The Integrated Organic Farm was a great teacher because it is totally organic and self-sustainable, where each waste product isn’t treated as garbage, rather as a new input, with closed production cycles.

On the day-to-day at the Farm:

Each EARTH intern works daily from 6 a.m. to noon, along with a short, post-lunch shift.

“First, I learned all the processes of the Farm, with special attention to the biodigester and the different active compost types, including vermicompost. Through my internship supervisor Arnoldo Ávila, I completed a small research project evaluating the efficiency of two fertilizers in the growing of corn. The beautiful part of the experience was that, at EARTH, you learn by doing. That was the precise objective of the internship, working as much as I could to acquire the knowledge.”

On multicultural living:

While living in the student residences, Andrés had an Ecuadorian roommate, participated in the EARTH Games, and attended a few courses like a traditional EARTH student.

“EARTH is a very open place with straightforward professors and a welcoming campus culture. More than a university, it honestly seemed like a family to me. I had the chance to attend some courses taught by professors from my country. They facilitated my access to areas where I could further enrich my experience. EARTH’s Luis Caicedo, instructor of waste management, was one such professor.”

On Costa Rica:

Another advantage of studying at EARTH is the access to Costa Rican sites and landmarks. Andrés had the opportunity to visit not only the capital San José but also the beaches of Limón on the Caribbean coast and Guanacaste on the Pacific side.

“Coming to Costa Rica and not exploring it is a crime. This is a country of kind people with a widespread environmental consciousness. I was pleased with all the conservation efforts I witnessed, especially how it seems they’ve hit the brakes on resort expansion in order to preserve the beaches’ pristine landscape and natural richness.”

On his greatest takeaway:

The most valuable lesson for Andrés came as an epiphany while toiling at the Integrated Organic Farm. It dawned on him that huge expanses of land and living in the countryside are not necessary conditions for implementing a sustainable agricultural system. A green rooftop, community garden or other small plot is just as capable!

“I would recommend to all people who, like me, have been tied to the city all their life, to challenge their views and see how sustainable processes can be replicated at both small and large scales. Before my time at the Integrated Organic Farm, I hadn’t realized small-scale sustainability was truly possible.”

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