Costa Rica inspires student travelers
By Sayde Rayburn
Photo by Sayde Rayburn
Anna Verseman, a Purdue Agronomy graduate from Shelbyville, Ind., poses with a number of items she brought back from her study-abroad trip to Costa Rica in May 2009.
For years, Anna Verseman knew she wanted to travel abroad and learn about different cultures. The Purdue Agronomy graduate student from Shelbyville, Ind., did just that last summer when she took part in a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica.
Verseman made the trip while finishing her bachelor's degree in biochemistry. While there, she observed the similarities and differences between Costa Rican and American agriculture.
"We noticed that farmers in Costa Rica take specialized and diverse approaches to agriculture," Verseman said.
The diverse farms are similar to what are called hobby farms in the United States. The farms raise a number of different crops — sheep, cattle, hogs, fish and fruit trees — but on a smaller scale than on the large commercial farms one might see in the United States.
The students had an opportunity to visit different farms, each with different approaches to agriculture. "The farm that interested me the most was a specialized dairy farm in San Carlos," Verseman said. "Their set-up is similar to that in the United States. They have automatic milking machines and take on an intensive management plan. It was interesting to see the same basic forms of management used in Costa Rica as in the United States."
The study-abroad program sent students to different Costa Rican farms. Verseman's farm was a family-run operation where agriculture was an essential part of their daily lives.
An older couple and their family ran the diverse farm Verseman visited. They had a bio-digester that turned hog manure into methan the family used to cook their food.
"Right next to their farm was a river where most of the hog manure would have been disposed of," Verseman said. "If it were not for the use of the bio-digester, the family would not have an alternative source for cooking their food and the river would have been polluted. The use of simple technology can make a huge impact on the environment.
During the trip, students also were able to work hand-in-hand with a Costa Rican university, EARTH, and learn how to plant pineapple and develop agritourism sites for farmers. They also got to ride a zip line, visit beaches, hike up an active volcano and have free time for fun.
Nicole Jenkins, a senior ecology, evolution and environmental biology major from Columbus, Ind., pointed to a lot of elements that made the trip rewarding.
"I loved interacting with the people and culture there, but most of all I enjoyed seeing the ecosystems," Jenkins said. "I loved hiking through the rainforest, climbing the volcano, swimming in a waterfall, and interacting with the students and farmers, because it just opens your eyes to a new and different way of life."
Verseman's experience in Costa Rica inspired her to go to graduate school to help improve dairy cattle grazing conditions in Costa Rica. Verseman studied the effects of soil compaction and fertilizer on the dairy farm in San Carlos.
"My goal is to provide a solution for farmers with soil compaction problems," Verseman said. "If we can provide a solution to this problem, and educate farmers how to properly manage their pastures, they can start making a profit on their dairy production again."
This year, Verseman will return to Costa Rica to conduct her research and be a teaching assistant for the course. Students will have similar opportunities as last year, but this year they will be following the production of agricultural products from field to plate.