In the Cañas Dulces community in Liberia, Costa Rica, José Carlos Rodriguez (’17, Costa Rica) and Esteban Chanto (’17, Costa Rica) carried out their community volunteer work as part of their third-year internship at EARTH-la Flor. For seven weeks, they worked with local women to develop a solar dehydrator that will help these women get ahead economically.
Jose Carlos and Esteban met twice a week with seven local women and together they determined the viability of the dehydrator and built a functioning example. The next rotation of EARTH students in Guanacaste will help to identify a product market for the project, obtain necessary permits, and work together with the group to bring the enterprise to life.
“What is interesting about the EARTH-La Flor experience is being immersed in a situation that isn’t controlled and measured like it is in the University. That was the best thing, building with limited tools and materials, listening to recommendations. It’s a close up look at real life,” said José Carlos.
How do you make a solar dehydrator?
Make a rectangle and cover it with black plastic, which will go at the base of the dehydrator, forming an inclined angle.
Create a shelf with PVC and cover it with clear plastic, leaving one free to cover with a mesh screen that will allow air to escape.
Cover all legs with plastic so that ants cannot climb them.
Put the two sides together.
The end result is a structure like this:
How does the dehydration process work?
The heat is trapped by the black plastic, which then travels up the incline towards the trays that hold the fruit. The excess heat escapes through the mesh screen on top after passing through the fruit.
The whole process takes about six hours in a sunny climate like Guanacaste.
It is often necessary to move the dehydrator throughout the day due to the movement of the sun, but it is a relatively light structure.
After waiting several hours, one must test the moisture of the fruits, which should be approximately 10-15%. José Carlos explains, “it is very important to try the product and assure that the texture feels right.”
The fruits are cut into roughly half-inch pieces; if they are cut too thick it will take many hours to process.
“We just wanted to start up this project so that the women would see it’s not so complicated nor expensive. It was really nice to learn along with them, it was a big experiment for us all and in the end we discovered it really was possible. Now they’ll have healthy snacks that can help them financially,” said José Carlos.
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