EARTH University: A Model for Sustainable Agriculture Worldwide

EARTH University: A Model for Sustainable Agriculture Worldwide

EARTh University library at the center of the main campus

I had the privilege of visiting EARTH University in Limon, Costa Rica two weeks ago with Roy Prentice, Tollgate’s Farm Manager, and Marlene Fluharty, the Executive Director of the Americana Foundation. The Americana Foundation is credited with donating part of the Tollgate property to Michigan State University.

A lesson on how banana plants grow

The trip was inspired by the memory of Dr. Norman Brown. He is credited with being one of the founders of EARTH University during his tenure at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Norm at an Americana Foundation board meeting in September, just before he passed. Dr. Norm was a gifted educator who valued agriculture and had a vision for the future of both. I did not have the chance to know Dr. Norm very well, but  I have been able to meet so many who his life’s work has inspired and impacted.


Marty stands by the sculpture dedicated to Dr. Norman Brown. A local young artist created the sculpture with the stone in the center representing Dr. Norm as the “heart” of EARTH University


The mission of EARTH is unlike any higher learning organization in the world. The model is based on four pillars: entrepreneurship, ethical values, environmental and social consciousness, and technical and scientific knowledge. The University instills this understanding with the hope that every graduate of EARTH will utilize what they have learned when they leave. Along with a unique mission, EARTH carries an educational philosophy of “learn by doing”, also known as “experiential learning”. I have to believe that the “learn by doing” philosophy at EARTH was something Dr. Norm advocated for.


EARTH students sharing with us their innovative entrepreneurial project developing methods to increase production in cattle while minimizing the harmful effect on the environment.

The students are from around the world, representing 20 different countries from the continents of Africa, Europe, South America, and North America. 60% of students rely on full to partial scholarships to attend. Some of the students we met would never have attended college because of financial barriers, but thanks to generous donors, these students get an education that teaches skills and tackles real-world challenges such as sustainable food production and food equality. After four years, students graduate with an equivalent Bachelor’s degree in Agronomy, recognized worldwide.

Enjoying lunch with students

At EARTH University students live what they learn. For example, we visited a family farm in the community of Las Lomas. The farm is about two hectares (almost five acres) and second year students accompanied by fourth year student mentors visit weekly on Wednesday. The students implement strategies to help farmers meet their own production goals. The farm we visited featured the installation of a bio-digester which is used to break down animal waste and other organic refuse in order to produce compost and methane gas for cooking and generating electricity. This not only saves the family from purchasing expensive propane, but it also allows the waste to be handled and disposed of properly, saving the community from illnesses related to contamination.

Ultimately, the training and technical assistance provided to the farmer we visited will benefit the entire region as the community recognizes the social and economic benefits of the project.

Victor showing the installation of a filter for drinking water


In four short days, we were able to see more than I could have imagined. From the tilapia farm, to the peri-urban garden, we experienced the University the only way that is acceptable to EARTH; by experiencing the impact hands-on. I greatly appreciate Marty Fluharty and the Americana Foundation for making this possible.I am truly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to travel to such a unique institution.

 Hydroponic gardening using passive energy techniques to grow mixed greens

I’m looking forward to sharing the many new ideas and sustainable methods for sustainable agricultural and of course sharing the knowledge with the young people and adults who participate in our programs. As we move forward with creating new agricultural and educational experiences at Tollgate, we will remember Dr. Norm’s spirit and vision for agricultural education and use EARTH as a model for success.

Alan Jaros; Tollgate Education Coordinator


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