Throughout 2015, the EARTH University community has come together in many different ways to celebrate our 25th Anniversary. I am reminded now, more than ever, that this institution is made possible only with the energy, passion and commitment of those who share our mission – people like fourth-year student Kevaughn Bonner, who dreams of creating a more self-sufficient Jamaica, and graduates Karen Albuja and Pablo Baumgratz, who you will read about in this edition of EARTH Connections.
From its very inception, our founders realized that EARTH needed to be different in order to prepare a new kind of ethical professional. I’m proud to say that, thanks to the efforts of many, we succeeded in creating an innovative and experiential curriculum that other institutions around the globe have chosen to implement for their students. Earlier this year, I had the honor of presenting EARTH’s educational model to international audiences in Spain and Lebanon at the invitation of the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA) and was received with much enthusiasm. Supporter Dr. Barbara Butler sums us up wonderfully: “EARTH is unique, it’s not a copy of anything, and that’s the kind of place that it is so needed today.”
In May, EARTH’s global impact was celebrated at a London event that included a discussion panel moderated by former CNN journalist Glenda Umana. Accompanying me on the panel were EARTH graduates Sharon Againe (’09, Uganda) via Skype and Gustavo Manrique (’96, Ecuador), Moses Osirus of RUFORUM, Iman Nuwayhid from the American University of Beirut and Ann Cotton, founder and president of Camfed. To make a great evening even more special, we also had a surprise visit from long term supporter Franklin Chang Diaz, who shared his own thoughts on the importance of EARTH during the panel.
There is still so much to look forward to this year, including the Illuminator’s Event in October, where we
will welcome our board members and benefactors to campus in recognition of their contributions to the success of EARTH’s first 25 years. The visit will culminate in a concert given by the Costa Rican National Symphony in San José, where EARTH University’s founders will be recognized for their pioneering vision and transformative impact on the University and our students.
Join us this year and see for yourself the difference that an EARTH education can make in the world.
EARTH University President
Kevaughn explains that before he came to EARTH, “I was mostly concerned with production and thinking always about how much volume or quantity I could make.” After nearly four years, he has realized that “My concept of agriculture has changed drastically. It’s a holistic difference, to be honest.”
In 2014, his interest in sustainable agriculture led him to complete a 15-week internship at Allied Farms, an organic project located in his native Jamaica that is run by fellow EARTH graduate Luis Rojas Corrales (‘11, Costa Rica). Responsible for a wide variety of projects that included hydroponic systems optimization, plant nursery management and geographic referencing, Kevaughn collaborated with local farmers to meet his goals. “Every day I worked with my fellow Jamaicans and they are wonderful people, but there are always challenges in sharing new ideas and getting people to accept them.” He goes on to explain, “The whole community development aspect at EARTH helps you to be patient, tolerant and teaches you how to explain complicated, technical knowledge in a way anybody can understand it. It teaches you how to be creative and use what you already have to get something done. It really helped me a lot.”
After graduation, Kevaughn plans to “Go home and start my own business in my community to create some new jobs, perhaps in horticulture or commercial aquaponics. I want to see how much of a difference I can make in my country,” and adds “One day I want to be the Minister of Agriculture in Jamaica and influence national policy regarding environment and agricultural development and focus on returning to a local production system.”
This African proverb perfectly illustrates the entrepreneurial philosophy of EARTH graduates Karen Albuja (’09, Ecuador) and Pablo Baumgratz (’09, Argentina), founding partners of La Abundancia, a cooperative of small producers located in the Misiones province of Argentina. In addition to their roles as organic and biodynamic farmers, Karen is the acting treasurer of the cooperative and Pablo works for the Ministry of Agriculture of Argentina.
Karen explains that the idea to form a cooperative was partly inspired by her third-year internship in Nicaragua, and combined with Pablo’s expertise in organic and biodynamic agriculture, their post-graduation path became crystal clear: “We wanted to start a different kind of company and prove that you can grow food without using chemical inputs, based on the knowledge we gained at EARTH.”
With a total of 12 members, the group produces and processes a wide variety of goods, including medicinal plants and extracts, herbal teas, jams, natural lotions, citrus fruit juice, dairy products made from water buffalo milk and more. “At EARTH we learned so much from the entrepreneurial project experience and classes like Food Processing and Post-Harvest. For us it was very important to understand this concept of “added value” and realize that you aren’t limited to just selling fresh produce: you can process it and package it attractively and earn much more,” Karen explains.
Recently, La Abundancia received a grant from the United Nations Development Programme to produce their own line of mate: a tea made of dried yerba mate leaves that is an important part of daily life for many Argentines. Soon, they will begin selling their certified organic and biodynamic tea under the brand, Arapeguá.
The cooperative is also committed to their community, having trained more than 500 people with workshops in organic agriculture and environmental conservation. For Karen, “The most gratifying thing is being able to help farmers and know that they are really enthusiastic about our ideas, that it is something fresh and innovative for them. One of the best things about working in the community is seeing the producers feel more dignified working the land, and the children that take a new interest in their parents’ work.”
“We want La Abundancia to be a cooperative model that can be replicated across Argentina. This cooperative business model can be adapted to any region and any crop. We want to see more groups like ours so that we can feed our country with healthy, sustainable and local food and give people the opportunity to become business owners,” Karen concludes.
In January 2005, hundreds of people filled EARTH’s auditorium for the Inauguration Ceremony that would officially welcome the new students of the Class of 2008. It was a day of new beginnings for many, including Dr. Barbara Butler, as she watched her godson, Claudio Fernando Tituaña Criollo (‘08, Ecuador), proudly carry his nation’s flag as a representative of his country as well as the entire indigenous community in his hometown of Huaycopungo. To this day, she hasn’t forgotten: “I still can’t think about it without almost crying. EARTH is a tremendously inspiring place.”
Barbara’s relationship with EARTH began the year before, when Claudio mentioned that a visitor at his high school gave a fascinating presentation about an agricultural university in Costa Rica that had everything he wanted to study. He was a strong student, but his family’s financial situation made higher education seem like an impossible dream. As a professor of Cultural Anthropology, since the 1970s Barbara has worked closely with the indigenous population in Otavalo, Ecuador to which Claudio and his family belonged, and was keenly familiar with the myriad of challenges they face. After learning more about the University, she urged him to apply. He was admitted– with a partial scholarship from EARTH and additional sponsorship from Barbara – and spent the next four years earning his degree in Agricultural Sciences, returning home after graduating in December 2008.
Since then, Barbara and the Butler Foundation – a charitable organization founded in 1987 by her parents, Thomas and Clara Butler – have sponsored the education of four Ecuadorian students at EARTH with the hopes of “creating synergy among the ideas that graduates bring back with them and multiplying opportunities” in communities that lack access to new technology and trained professionals to grow the economy. “It will take some time, but I think every drop of EARTH knowledge that falls into the pool will have an effect,” Barbara contemplates.
For Barbara, the most rewarding part of her relationship with EARTH has been “meeting all the different people that share this mission, particularly the students. Seeing them graduate and then start working and growing as a professional, it becomes obvious that they have learned a totally different kind of work ethic,” adding that, “EARTH is unique, it’s not a copy of anything, and that’s the kind of place that it is so needed today.”
She is excited to visit the University again in October with the trustees of the Butler Foundation, who include her mother and two sisters, so that “everyone else can have the opportunity to see what I see.”
In 2015, EARTH University welcomes five permanent professors to our international faculty: Entrepreneurial Projects professors Elmer Cantarero (Honduras); Udi Mandel Butler, Ph.D. (England/Brazil) professor of Communications; Gopu Reveendran Nair, Ph.D. (India) professor of Agricultural Technology; Alex Gilman, Ph.D. (England) professor of Applied Ecology; and Jeremy Lackman, Ph.D. (USA) professor of Health and Physical Education.
September 9-12: Amigos trip to EARTH
September 22: World Car Free Day
October 1-3: Meeting of the Board of Directors, Board of Trustees and the EARTH University Foundation Board of Trustees
October 2-3: Illuminators Weekend – 25th Anniversary Celebration
October 3: Gala concert in San Jose to commemorate EARTH University’s 25th Anniversary
November 5-6: ECOIN (Intergenerational Gathering on Climate Change)