With a wide smile and a twinkle in his eyes, Alexi Antonio Mendoza Flores proudly holds the newest member of his family, a male lamb just weeks old. On the lawn next to him the flock he cares for is doing what they do best: grazing on grass. The sheep are part of Flores' plan for providing a lawn-mowing service that decreases environmental pollution and rids the air of whining engine noises. Guided by a solar-powered electric fence of his own design, he moves the sheep every few days so that they can cut the grass in a new section of the lawn at Costa Rica's EARTH University where Flores is a senior. Creating this service and caring for it's living lawnmowers is all part of Flores' senior project, one last step towards graduating with a degree in agricultural sciences.
Located in Guacimo, Costa Rica, the Escuela de Agricultura de la Region Tropical Humeda, or simply EARTH University, is a one-of-a-kind academic institution dedicated to teaching sustainable agriculture. With an 8,154-acre campus of 400 students, 40 faculty, a banana plantation, an organic farm, a paper mill, a biological reserve, and a variety of experimental gardens, the university is able to provide a world-class, hands-on education. In return, says long-time University President Dr. Jose Zaglul, the university has only one request: "We don't ask for much. We just want them to change the world."
Two decades ago a group of visionaries proposed creating a university dedicated to tropical sustainable agriculture located in the middle of the rainforest. They wanted students from rural areas all over Latin America to be able to step right outside the classroom and immediately put into practice what they were learning about organic farming, composting, and reforestation. Funds from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) paid for the planning and building of this new kind of university--where environmental responsibility, community leadership, and ethical business practices would be just as important as academic excellence.
One of the goals of this university was to make higher education available to young people from rural areas throughout the humid tropics. Low-income students who wouldn't ordinarily go to college, let alone leave the country, would have the opportunity for a top-notch education they could use to improve agricultural practices back home.
Since classes began in 1990, the university has graduated 1,272 students from twenty Latin American countries and from Spain, Uganda, Mozambique and Indonesia. The majority of EARTH graduates--some 77 percent--work in their own private sector business, for a non-governmental organization (NGO), or for their family business.
Because the university provides plenty of hands-on experience, EARTH graduates leave campus well prepared for the real world. Each student spends time working and living with farmers in the communities surrounding the university. On campus, students work on the university's integrated farm to learn sustainable farming techniques including waste management and proper animal care. In their third year of study, students leave campus for an International internship. They spend three to four months working for businesses in the agricultural industry and volunteering in rural communities throughout Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and the United States.
One of the university's goals is to create ethical entrepreneurs who will return to their home country, start sustainable businesses, and create jobs. Every student receives entrepreneurial training both in and outside of the classroom. At the end of their freshman year, EARTH students begin developing their own sustainable agro-business. The students go through the real steps an entrepreneur faces. …