Costa Rica: EARTH University

Costa Rica foliage at EARTH University

EARTH University was founded in 1990 near Limón as a collaboration between the government of Costa Rica, the Kellogg Foundation, and USAID. Its primary purpose is to promote sustainable development practices.

Our trip brought us to the massive campus to tour the sustainable model dairy and pig farm (the Integrated Livestock Farm), the organic farm, and the medicinal herb garden.

The EARTH University Campus

The main campus covers over 8,300 acres of land on the Carribbean side of Costa Rica. It runs fully carbon neutral, even the computer lab. In addition to the farms and gardens, the campus is home to classroom and lab space, a cafeteria and recreational space, student and faculty residences, a commercial banana plantation, and plenty of forested area populated by diverse flora and fauna.

Side note – I’m convinced we discovered a new breed of bird while on campus. We couldn’t find anything like what we saw in any of the local bird books. Local birders couldn’t easily identify any of the markings we described. Of course it doesn’t count if there weren’t any photos, right?

After a tour of the academic buildings, we hopped on our coach and drove out to the dairy farm.

The Integrated Livestock Farm

The livestock farm maintains two mixed breeds of cows – Brahman-Holsteins and Brahman-Jerseys – as well as a number of pigs. It heat-treats food scraps from the University’s cafeteria to round out the feed to the pigs. The farm minimizes animal waste by processing it through a biodigester. You can read more about EARTH’s biodigester here. California earthworms mulch and clean up the remaining by-product from the biodigester.

If you have a farm near you that uses a biodigester, I highly recommend you ask them about it. Here’s one link for biogas projects in Ontario.

The Integrated Organic Farm

We hop back on the coach and make our way to the Integrated Organic Farm. The farm grows everything from bananas for Whole Foods to taro to plantains. Elegant pendulum-shaped nests of the oropendola (bird) hang high above the mandala garden: nine rings of crops, each ring a little less dependent on the water at the center of the garden.

The Medicinal Herb Garden

Our last stop of the day is at the student-run medicinal herb garden. The students walk us around the garden sharing tidbits of knowledge about dozens of wild edibles, some we might see in North America. Many we won’t.


The stop at EARTH University is a sensory overload kind of day, crammed with information, colors, smells, and tastes.

Up next: whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River.

Published by Kate Monahan

Travel happy. Outdoors professional. Writer. Photographer. Educator.

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