During my quest to uncover the secrets that have propelled Costa Rica to become a global leader in regeneration, I had the privilege of spending two full days at Earth University’s campus. Founded in 1986 by a group of pioneers of sustainable agriculture, Earth was established with an innovative approach: to provide a holistic bachelor’s degree education for the sons and daughters of smallholder farmers, turning them agents of change and leaders of our food system.
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Situated across an impressive expanse of near 3,500 hectares of tropical forest and agricultural fields near Guápiles in the Caribbean basin of Costa Rica, Earth University provides an ideal setting for students hailing mostly from Latin America, The Caribbean and Africa. They embark on an intense four-year journey, emerging with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering. However, this degree title is merely a label required for external recognition. In reality, students at Earth delve far beyond agriculture, initiating their own food enterprises in their first year with a loan provided by the university, and embarking in an holistic program combining agriculture with ecology, entrepreneurship, business and food engineering.
Under the mentorship of professors with a wide range of expertise, students manage their enterprises alongside a multicultural cohort of classmates. They explore various agricultural practices, from organic to conventional, prioritizing social responsibility and environmental sustainability, always considering the footprint of each endeavor.
At Earth, the emphasis is on hands-on, experiential learning. Students spend significant time in the field and labs, dedicating two full days each week to direct involvement in land operations, honing their farming skills in preparation for their food careers. The university’s student-centered approach is evident throughout the selection process and curriculum, the university operates with a ratio of ten students per faculty. Selection committees visit remote agricultural communities in the global south, prioritizing soft skills and a good match to the university values, over traditional exam applications. 80% of students receive scholarships from philanthropic foundations, fostering a multicultural learning environment.
It was truly inspiring to converse with students from remote areas of the Brazilian Amazon, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico, learning about their experiences and aspirations. Many are keen to delve deeper into soil health, develop their social enterprises, effect change in their communities, or pursue further studies in regenerative systems.
Over four years, students at Earth gain a comprehensive understanding of the food system, transitioning from planting crops in agroforestry systems to managing livestock and assessing their emissions, also learning about renewable energy solutions and food processing at the university industrial facilities. They also have to close the balance of their startups at the end of the course, using the earnings to repay their loans or learning with the losses, going through a valuable entrepreneurial experience is part of their university program.
As the climate and biodiversity crises intensify, the need for a new cohort of leaders that look beyond sustainability to regenerative systems becomes increasingly urgent. Graduates of Earth come out of the University with a set of skills and values that look beyond conventional agriculture thinking.
The university is evolving its educational offerings to extend beyond its on-campus undergraduate program and alumni network. New initiatives such as the “e-learning by doing” program utilize virtual reality and digital tools to bring hands-on learning experiences to students off-campus.
During my visit, Arturo, the president, shared his vision of cultivating a movement of leaders capable of transforming our food system. In 2020, we collaborated with Earth University by providing a full scholarship to one of their students. Now, we plan to further support their efforts by co-hosting specialized programs for investors and executives, offering them a firsthand understanding of the challenges within our food systems through interaction with Earth’s students and faculty, at the same time we accelerate the transition at Earth from sustainable agriculture to regenerative systems.
Join us in supporting Earth University by accessing the link below. Learn how you can contribute to providing scholarships for students or encourage young talent seeking a unique, fully immersive undergraduate program in the heart of Costa Rica. Earth welcomes students from around the world, including those with the means to pay for their education.