EARTH University’s Organic Farm has been teeming with even more life in recent months. The lush orchards where cacao, breadfruit, and vegetables abound are now also home to roaming ducks and sheep that naturally perform important environmental services. As part of his Graduation Project, student Miguel Arrieta (’21, Costa Rica) has been integrating animals into a regenerative organic agriculture system at our Guácimo Campus.
Thanks to the financial support of Patagonia Provisions and the interest of EARTH students and faculty, regenerative organic agriculture practices demonstrate the importance of strengthening and recovering soils to reduce the impact of chemicals and contribute to climate change mitigation by applying regenerative practices.
Designing and implementing a regenerative agriculture system in the humid tropics requires patience, dedication, and careful planning. First, it was necessary to conduct an analysis of the land’s characteristics, including temperature patterns as well as the soil’s chemistry and composition, to determine which resources were available and how to utilize them. Then, the principles of regenerative agriculture were studied, to define a plan of action that determines the inputs the system would need and how those could be provided by the land.
“While organic agriculture seeks to lessen the negative effects of conventional petrochemical agriculture by using alternative inputs that do not harm the environment, regenerative organic agriculture takes the mission a step further: increasing biodiversity at and around the site, promoting resilience to climate change, improving water cycles, and rebuilding topsoil – all through integrated practices,” Miguel says. “It also strives to foster synergy between organic crops, workers, and animals.”
Following the research and analysis period, it was decided that sheep and ducks should be added to the farm as a chemical-free alternative to standard pest-control practices. In adherence to regenerative philosophy, the animals – which eat a steady diet of mostly pasture grass, weeds, and insects – are spared any physical modification, such as wing clipping. The impact of both species has been extremely positive: reducing weeds, decreasing insect populations that damage crops, and generating manure that serves as a rich compost for fertilizing the farm.
The regenerative project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by shortening the production chain and to source nearly all of the raw materials needed for the crops from the farmland itself. For example, by composting the freely available materials (including manure) already on site, the operation is able to reduce the number of trucks needed to transport fertilizers from elsewhere.
“This project is my chance to demonstrate that there are agricultural solutions that are environmentally sustainable and productive,” adds Miguel, who recently witnessed the birth of the free-range sheep’s first lambs.
We share Miguel’s hope that this project will serve as a model for other farmers in Costa Rica and beyond.
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