E.A.R.T.H. College: Saving the Humid Tropics

In the heart of the Americas, in the lush green lowlands of Costa Rica, on an 8,150-acre parcel that was formerly devoted to cattle and timber, is a special place called E.A.R.T.H College.  Here, they are training a new generation of farmers, researchers and business people in the science, philosophy and practice of sustainable agriculture in Central and Banana treesLatin America.

The Escuela de Agricultura de la Region Tropical Humeda (E.A.R.T.H) opened its doors to students in 1990 through a joint effort among the Costa Rican government; representatives of Latin American agriculture, education and governments; and the United States Agency for International Development.

Since last spring, Odwalla has been purchasing bananas from E.A.R.T.H College because they are working toward more sustainable practices.

New Roots for Agriculture

When E.A.R.T.H purchased the land for the school, they inherited an 815-acre commercial banana farm.  They have since turned the farm into a model of efficiency and environmental consciousness—as well as a much-needed source of funds for the school.  Here are a few examples of the earth-friendly practices employed on their banana farm:

  • Students designed an agricultural waste-water treatment system that uses natural biological processes and materials to collect, filter, then disperse the water into the surrounding area, rather than dumping it, untreated, into a local stream.
  • At a time when commercial farms worldwide are increasing pesticide use to combat the hardy resistance and mutation of “pests,” E.A.R.T.H has reduced its use by 35 percent. Two practices that help minimize pesticide use, are investing in more hand labor and using a natural pesticide made from the leaves of the Madero Negro tree.
  • Rather than using herbicides to kill weeds that can clog their drainage systems, students plant groundcovers that inhibit weed growth, and that also attract beneficial insects.
  • Students constructed a simple cable system to transport banana bunches to the nearby processing plant, which results in less damage to the fruit and fewer trucks on the road.
  • In the spirit of restoration, E.A.R.T.H students are also growing native tree seedlings for reforestation projects.

All of these practices at E.A.R.T.H College become even more significant when you realize that Costa Rica is the world’s second-largest banana producer (Ecuador is first), and that the college is actively spreading the word about sustainable practices to other producers.

A Better Banana

Odwalla is pleased to source from a grower like E.A.R.T.H College.  Since the formal handshake last May, our banana purchases from E.A.R.T.H’s farm have grown to 33 percent of our total banana buys—and we intend to increase that percentage over time. “Odwalla and E.A.R.T.H share many of the same goals,” says Arty Mangan, Odwalla’s produce buyer.  “And we both care about giving the world fresh, nutritious foods grown by more sustainable methods.  We both want to be part of a larger agricultural community that is continually learning how to save our ecosystems.”

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Archive:  Published in Odwalla’s quarterly customer newsletter, OdwallaSpeak