When Rodrigo Ureña arrived in the community of Las Lomas in the province of Limon, Costa Rica over a decade ago, the feeling of abandonment still hung heavy in the air. The scent of coffee, growing deep in the earth, still perfumed the air, a lingering reminder of better days gone by.
Repossessed by a bank and left in the care of the humid tropics, this abandoned coffee plantation had become occupied by a few families. Without land of their own, they were eager to cultivate it.
Today, despite past hardships, Las Lomas continues to progress at the hands of more than 35 farmers and their families, and with help from EARTH.
EARTH in action
As part of the ongoing Community Development Project, second-year students at EARTH, in collaboration with fourth-year students, work once a week with Las Lomas’ producers, turning the community into a model of development. Those who want help can depend on two young people arriving every Wednesday to guide them towards improving their production models.
The producers themselves set the agenda according to their needs and, from there, students define the best course of action.
At Las Lomas, there are three specific areas of work: with children at the local school, in a program that offers free classes to farmers, and with organizations focused on the growth of the community (a cooperative for milk production and other products, a rural tourism committee and development board in coordination with the Costa Rican Agrarian Development Institute (IDA)).
The school has educational projects in place that focus on environmental responsibility. The first generation of children born to this 15-year-old community participates in organic gardening, English lessons and recycling programs. However, education is not just for the young. Every Tuesday, at least ten producers freely attend classes in which they learn about issues they consider priorities. At their suggestion, sustainable milk production and its by-products has been a favorite topic. This program is bringing about the organization of a cooperative.
EARTH’s helping hand is also seen in more areas. So far, ten biodigesters have been installed, which represents significant savings in household finances. As Rodrigo Ureña explains: “A cylinder of cooking gas costs about 15,000 colones (about $30). And it does not last long. With biodigesters, we save that money and help the environment.”
Work is also being done in the tourism industry. Since waterfalls are the main attraction in the area, pathways have been opened (using recycled material such as tires and reusable wood), and construction is underway of a small restaurant-bar nestled in the thick vegetation of the rainforest. Pathways, labeled with the help of EARTH students, lead the way to these natural wonders.
Progress in crescendo
Members of the Las Lomas community are grateful for the support the students have provided during the first two years of the community´s participation in the Community Development Program.
As part of the program structure, EARTH selects a new community and helps the producers for a period of four years. The idea in selecting newly-founded communities is that, many times, its inhabitants come from other parts of the country. Farming practices they are familiar with might not be applicable here in their new region.
In Las Lomas’ case, one goal, in the medium and long-term, is to build a small dairy-processing plant where cheese can be produced to meet health standards set forth by the government without losing its artisan touch. In addition, each family will hopefully have its own biodigester, and the tourism project seeks to make the waterfalls accessible to all — whether a visitor wants to sit and read a good book with the soothing sound of water in the background, or seeks an adrenaline rush from rappelling down the face of the waterfall.
Thus, this land that once sang of golden yesteryears, today, with the help of EARTH, its students and producers, shines with the promise of a better, brighter future.
EARTH students in provide direct training and technical assistance to hundreds of farmers and community members throughout Costa Rica and the region annually. With a gift to our community development program today, you can support their efforts.
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