As Ana Quirós walks through her farm, carefully navigating a path of cracked stones, she reflects on how time has changed the place she calls home. “I planted these bromeliads because they attract little red frogs. The tourists just love them,” says Ana, as she points out the scarlet flowers that abound in the humid tropics. She has owned this farm for more than 20 years, almost the same amount of time she has been working hand in hand with EARTH University.
Ana was born and raised in the province of Cartago, but after her husband died she decided to buy a piece of land in the Caribbean province of Limon and start a brand new life. She is just one of many examples of producers who have improved their farm through the Community Development Program (CDP) at EARTH.
It all started thanks to first class of students (referred to as “pioneers”) who took the initiative to install an aqueduct in the nearby community of Agrimaga in their free time. After seeing the success of the project, the professors decided to incorporate the community as a module in the Work Experience course.
The Work Experience course was created to give students hands-on experience in the field, context for learning theoretical concepts and opportunities for personal development. With the addition of the CDP module, students had the chance to apply their knowledge in a new setting: on community farms and with small producers. Over the years, the CDP transformed into a mutually beneficial bridge between EARTH and nearby communities, allowing students to contribute to sustainable development while at the same time learning from the experience and wisdom of the producers themselves.
Ana’s farm, located in La Argentina (10 minutes from EARTH’s campus in Guácimo) started with little more than a crop of medicinal plants and a few cows. Slowly but surely, and with the help of EARTH students, Ana made her dream come true by converting her humble property into a tourist attraction and working farm, while at the same time developing her entrepreneurial skills. She reflects that, “I’ve learned so much. One of the most important things that I’ve learned is public speaking. When I started with EARTH, I was very shy and I was too embarrassed to talk to anyone. They always had to bring me a glass of cold water because when I tried speaking with people, I started to panic.”
“EARTH students helped us change our lives, they trained us and worked with us out in the fields. They came every Wednesday, we developed a work plan, and overtime we were able to integrate the farm. It was EARTH students who came up with the idea of selling medicinal soaps,” explains Ana, as she closes the door to the laboratory where she teaches local women how to make the same soaps with the plants she grows in her garden. She has named the line of products Mizú (meaning “health” in Japanese) and created her own label, selling them to the tourists that come to visit her farm.
The CDP is guided by the belief that the most important aspect of development is the person, which is why the University focuses on empowering students, by encouraging them to participate in real life situations, and also the communities, so that they can have a more sustainable production on their farms. “The most satisfying part about the CDP for us is when we see people realize for the first time that they have so much potential,” says EARTH dean, Edgar Alvarado.
Today, Ana Quirós is the president of two professional associations, dedicated to local tourism and medicinal soaps, respectively. Her farm receives groups from research institutions as well as tourists interested in learning about medicinal plants and products. She also has a large variety of plants to show the public, a biodigester, and a small restaurant (which serves organic produce grown on the farm) and is currently finalizing the construction of a handful of tourist cabins.
“EARTH has taught and helped us so much, but now it’s our turn to lead. We have to make sure that our farms are improving every single day. When people from EARTH come and see what I’ve done, I want them to say, ‘Look how much this place has changed, it is so beautiful!’ concludes Ana, as she turns to retrace her steps through the scenic fields of her farm, named “María José” in honor of one of her four children.
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