When you first look at the soil beneath your feet, you may not see the story it tells. However, for EARTH exchange student Claire Friedrichsen, it offers precious knowledge of our food’s origins, simply awaiting discovery beneath the surface.
Claire dreams of someday opening a restaurant and growing (almost) everything herself. First, though, she’s traveling the world to learn about growing and preparing sustainable food. The journey has taken her from her hometown of Columbia, Missouri, to Belgium and now to EARTH’s campus in Costa Rica’s Caribbean lowlands.
As a child, Claire loved cooking meals for her parents, who are both science teachers. As her zest for baking blossomed, she began competing in national contests. Upon graduating from high school, she left for Belgium to study at a provincial baking school through a Rotary Youth Exchange. Enthusiastic as she was to learn the craft of preparing food, however, Claire also wanted to understand food science and sovereignty in a more holistic way.
When she enrolled at the University of Missouri, Claire began as an environmental science major. Studying abroad for two trimesters at EARTH, though, inspired her to switch to soil science. “I was very into local food when I started [my studies],” she explains, “so I wanted to study something that went back to where food came from. Soil science seemed like the most fundamental way to do that.” Crop health, after all, depends on soil health; microbes and diseases in the soil, for instance, can affect the plant’s sugar content. Such a factor determines the flavor and quality of dishes like one of Claire’s specialties: boulet liegeois, meatballs cooked with apples and served with French fries. Cooking is a delicate art; if the apples aren’t sweet enough, will the dish taste quite as scrumptious as it should?
Claire learned about EARTH because her university is a fellow member of EARTH’s Consortium for Sustainability. The program’s hands-on activities and opportunity for true immersion in an international environment immediately appealed to her, and in the fall of 2011 she registered for two trimesters.
After a full month of Spanish-language immersion she was able to handle a full course load, taking Soils, Crops and Food Processing. Ample time spent on EARTH’s farms and in laboratories brought the subjects memorably to life for her.
Over the two trimesters, Claire fell in love with EARTH. She felt such a strong connection with the University, in fact, that she decided to come back for another trimester. This fall, she is taking Phytopathology, Organic Chemistry and Irrigation. Her favorite field trip so far has been a visit to an EARTH student’s family’s home on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast; there, her class explored the family’s shrimp farm and enjoyed a home-cooked meal.
During her free time, Claire says, “I love walking in the academic farms where the mamones chinos [rambutans, a fruit similar to lychee], piñas [pineapples] and cassavas grow.”
What will she bring back home with her when the trimester ends? She’ll carry with her Spanish fluency, a few new recipes, a truly practical knowledge of soils, and a better understanding of what sustainable development “should look like,” she says.
Looking for a way to enliven your knowledge of sustainable farming firsthand? Experience EARTH as an exchange student, intern or visiting professor, and see for yourself what all the buzz is about. Read more here.
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