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96 posts categorized "Sustainability and the Environment"


Advancing sustainable coffee production practices at LIFE farm in Monteverde, by Mackenzie Agosta (Arizona State University, School of Sustainability)

This past October I was an intern at LIFE farm in Monteverde, Costa Rica. LIFE is a family owned coffee farm that strives to produce environmentally friendly coffee. They are unique from other coffee farms because they make their own organic compost on site from coffee skins and animal waste. Some of their goals include using less synthetic fertilizer for coffee production in order to reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as utilizing their organic compost as fertilizer for the coffee plots.

On LIFE farm in Monteverde

In order to meet these goals I created an updated map of the farm; a database that consisted of physical characteristics and management history of all thirty-eight coffee plots; and a protocol for an experimental design to test the effectiveness of organic fertilizer as a replacement for synthetic fertilizer.

I started by first recording data collected from interviews I conducted on the farm in English and Spanish. This data includes the farm’s land use history, physical characteristics of the plots, and varying management practices. Using this data, I then organized it into a database the farm could use as a template for future management strategies. I also created an updated version of the farm’s map for a better visual representation of the farm layout, as well as for educational purposes for farm visitors. Using the updated map and database, I then created a protocol describing an experimental design the farm could use in order to test whether the addition of organic compost could compensate for the reduction of synthetic fertilizer. I presented this protocol to the owners of the farm and they are planning on conducting the experiment on four coffee plots this upcoming March, when the next coffee season begins.

I am currently a third-year student working towards a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sustainability, so this internship with LIFE gave me the opportunity to put my knowledge on this subject and background in science to the test.

All of these skills were newly acquired; including developing my Spanish skills, knowledge on the coffee production process, creating a database in Excel, statistical data analysis, and designing an experiment.

My biggest contribution to the farm was first the database, because previously the farm didn’t have any written documentation on how the farm was managed. This database can be used on LIFE and other farms as a more systematic way of managing coffee plots and for guidance on future management strategies.

My next big contribution was the protocol for experimental design. This achieves their goal of utilizing their use of organic compost, as well as reducing the use of synthetic fertilizer and therefore reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. No matter what the results show, the experiment will give LIFE insight on how to better manage their organic compost and coffee plots. LIFE’s results can also be a model and inspiration to other coffee farms as a way to produce more sustainable coffee.

Working on LIFE farm provided me with substantial hands-on knowledge and guidance on how coffee is produced and all the challenges associated with it. People around the world enjoy coffee every morning and normally don’t think twice about where it comes from, how it was grown, or its impacts on the environment. It was extremely rewarding being behind the scenes and potentially contributing to the added environmental deliciousness of your next sip of coffee.

Mack is congratulated by LIFE Farm manager
Mackenzie with coffee guru César Santamaría of LIFE Farm



For the past month I have been working with CORCLIMA on their carbon sinks inventory. CORCLIMA, also known as The Monteverde Commission for Resilience to Climate Change, is a network of leaders that encourages broad public participation, with representatives from public institutions, private organizations and community members. Their goals are to align and unite efforts in the Monteverde region to reduce carbon emissions, increase carbon sequestration, and adapt to climate change. The ultimate goal is to make Monteverde the first carbon negative region in the country.

 Carbon negativity occurs when the amount of carbon absorbed through the forests is more than the amount that is emitted from the region. CORCLIMA has already been working on the emissions inventory and my work was based on starting with the carbon sink inventory. The were several main goals that I needed to accomplish, but the most important one was coming up with the questions that would be in the interview. This was very important because before starting to make tree plots that will calculate the amount of carbon captured, we have to interview the landowners to gather general information about their property, which will later be determined by CORCLIMA as to whether or not it is an appropriate property to put one of the plots. After making the interview, I was able to visit six properties and interview the landowners. Through this I was able to see the effectiveness of the questions and clear up any issues that were found.

Many landowners had questions about the plots that might be put on their property, so I was thankfully able to make one of the plots myself on my professor’s property, plotting the coordinates of all the trees and measuring their diameters. This was an extremely valuable experience that I could look back on and explain the process to the landowners that I interviewed. During the interview process it was made clear that the landowners would like to receive some sort of recognition for participating in the project and with this new information I made a template for a certificate of participation that will be awarded to the participating landowners once the plots are established. At the end of the internship I provided CORCLIMA with the interview, six completed interview with landowners, summaries of each interview, a certificate of participation, and a draft email to be sent to landowners before visiting them. The tree plot that I made was more of an exercise for me to see how it will be done and so I could explain the sizing etc to the landowners.

I feel like my greatest contribution was making the interview, because it is a tool that CORCLIMA will continue to use throughout their work on the carbon sink inventory. For me personally, I found it very valuable to learn how to make an interview, making sure all questions are relevant to the purpose and that they are clear so that people understand them. I chose to work with CORCLIMA in this project because I am very passionate about climate change and educating the public the issue. I had never previously worked on anything like this, so everything that I produced for CORCLIMA was something new that I learned throughout my time working in the internship.

Marce  Hector  Catie
Catie Strickland learns from Hector Castaneda and Marcela Morales about the techniques used to quantify carbon emissions


The focus of my internship was promoting environmental education through working with the Monteverde Conservation League in the Bajo del Tigre reserve, which is one of their protected areas. My initial focus within the reserve was set to be in the Casita de los Niños (Children’s Room), where my supervisor and I brainstormed over the course of a few days our shared visions of what the room would look like.

Sophie prepares an interactive exhibit
Sophie prepares an interactive educational exhibit

I am extremely passionate about environmental and outdoor education, especially with children. There is a huge disconnect between nature and people, but it is this generation’s children who are not experiencing the outdoors fully. Fewer children are spending time outdoors, even though there is countless research that has shown just how cleansing and beneficial being in nature is. This past year I have focused much of my time trying to interpret and solve this disconnect, as well as determine how nature is cleansing to me personally. 

This passion of mine has also helped direct the kind of route I want to take in the future, and interning with this organization has given me a wonderful example of something I see myself being heavily involved in. I want to find a job either with kids or young adults, and help spread awareness about what it means to not only experience nature, but truly appreciate it as well for what it is. I am currently a trip leader at my University (University of Redlands, in Redlands, CA), so pairing outdoor leadership with the environmental education component that I gained from this internship has been extremely rewarding and motivating.

I have learned how to better adapt to big changes in a project. Once I have a plan or vision, I work hard until the job is finished. However, due to the storm that hit during the first half of the internship timeline, my responsibilities shifted and I had to quickly change my focus while still maintaining a positive outlook for the next weeks. While changing original goals and intentions was an honest challenge for me, I came out of this internship with a better sense of how to combat frustrations in all stages of a project.  

Sophie with plant and helping jose
Jose (of the Monteverde Conservation League) teaches Sophie how to use power tools (left) and she learns about plant-animal interactions in the tropics, as part of her internship


I chose to work with native plant landscaping because there is a need to re-establish native vegetation in the landscaping around a local business as a means of creating a more resilient environment. The particular focus of my work is to remedy the damage caused to the trails around Art House following Tropical Storm Nate. Art House experienced extensive flood damage, partially caused by unsustainable landscaping methods, such as the replacement of native plants with invasive ornamental plants which lessens the resiliency of the area. I have prior experience working with native plants as means for sustainable landscaping in flood control. Previously, I had worked to restore the riparian zone along Nancy Creek at Marist School in Atlanta Georgia. Similar to this internship, that restoration project involved removing invasive vegetation and replacing it with native vegetation that would improve flood control. For this reason, I took a particular interest in this internship.

Grace Gaskin and Felipe Negrini working togetherGrace, with mentor Felipe Negrini, preparing the stepping stone tiles for the hardscaping at Casa de Arte

The main focus of this internship is to use sustainable landscaping in order to improve the quality of the environment of the trails in front of Art House. This includes the removal of invasive ornamental plants and replacing them with native vegetation which will not only be more resilient in the face of events such as flooding from storms, but will also preserve biodiversity as well as add an aesthetic component to the area which will hopefully lead to an increased interest in the trails, as well as Art House. Following the storm and the resulting flooding, the property of Art House had aextensive issues that could not all be handled by the owner. This internship is benefitting not only the environment, but also the local community by helping this local business fix some of these damages.

After initially analyzing the property, I determined that the biggest impact could be made by improving the entrance to the trails that lead up to the Art House gallery. The immediate entrance from the main road was flooded and had large amounts of mud and debris which had been deposited when the river swelled. As of October 18, 2017, I have removed the debris and level the soil which had made the entrance difficult to pass through. I also have removed large groups of invasive plants which did not provide any soil stabilization along the creek, a factor that contributed to the large amount of flooding in the entrance. In addition to removing the mud and these plants, I have created 10 cement stepping stones decorated with recycled glass and tiles collected from various places in Monteverde. These will be placed strategically in the entrance as a means of minimizing the collection of mud and allowing for easier passage. The invasive plants which I removed will be replaced with native species that will provide soil stabilization with the long-term goal of offering a higher degree of protection from flooding. Finally, I have been constructing a bench from recycled wood, which will be placed at the entrance, with the goal of attracting more people into the area. Overall, my biggest contribution so far has been the progress of removing the problematic invasive vegetation which had contributed to the flooding and therefore decreased resiliency of the landscape. Through this internship, I have broadened my knowledge of the different techniques of sustainable landscaping, such as how the removal of the invasive plants and replacement with native plants will create a much more resilient environment in the face of increasing dramatic climatic events from climate change. 

Grace Gaskin INSH products
A selection of selection of stepping stone tiles created for Casa de Arte as part of the CIEE Internship Program


Grace drilling
Grace makes a bench for the Casa de Arte




This past October I interned under Justin Welch, in Monteverde, Costa Rica, to help with his startup company Vision to Reality Consultants (VTR). My internship specifically focused on determining the feasibility of producing biodiesel in Monteverde and determining the best preparation methods and uses for Effective Microorganism mixes. Over the next year, VTR seeks to experiment with different collection and composting techniques in order to lay the groundwork for a large-scale composting operation run by the Monteverde Municipal District. Dani Ufheil with barrels

When I arrived in Monteverde, I was already pursuing my undergraduate degree in Biological Systems Engineering at Iowa State University, but I was unsure about what area of focus I wanted to follow. During my first month in Costa Rica, I learned about an abundance of environmental issues, but one problem that stuck with me was the challenges encompassing waste management. Growing up in the United States, I had always done my best to recycle but was ignorant about the current management practices and problems that waste management posed. It wasn’t until I visited La Carpio, the location of San Jose’s landfill, that I was truly exposed to the issues of waste management and understood that improvements to the system were a necessity.

I knew I wanted to intern under Justin because of the excellent opportunity it provided me to learn more about the components of the waste stream produced by humans, as well as the different options for waste management. As the internship progressed, I was enlightened by what I learned about all the different forms of waste humans generate and enthralled by the enormous potential for improvement within the waste management system. My experience in this internship has inspired within me a passion for developing improvements in the waste management system and has helped me decide to pursue a focus in Biorenewable Resources within my degree when I return to Iowa State next semester.     

I began this internship with very limited knowledge about the different forms of waste and how they are managed, and I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the complex connectivity of Justin’s waste management plan for the Monteverde Municipality. I gained valuable knowledge and research skills when investigating the process and components that go into making biodiesel. I was required to investigate biodiesel from not only a technical basis, but also a business point of view in order to assess the feasibility of biodiesel production.  I conducted interviews to practice communicating in Spanish and to learn about the different components of the organic waste stream produced by local businesses. I had to consider the different management techniques of the organic waste stream that could be used to simultaneously minimize environmental impacts, improve productivity within Justin’s business and enhance overall waste management practices within the municipality. Overall, my greatest contribution to this internship was the information I accumulated for VTR that helped clarify the goals and capabilities of the company, and my greatest accomplishment was obtaining the knowledge that helped clarify my personal future goals.

Dani shoveling and a barrel that is ready
Dani prepares an effective microorganism mixture (left) and a finished barrel, ready for effective microorganism mixture production (right).




Sustainability and the Environment Internship: Sustainable Landscaping in Monteverde, Costa Rica, by Kendall Rauch, University of Colorado Boulder

For the past few weeks, I have been working with sustainable landscape designer Felipe Negrini in the ProNativas native plant garden, New Forest Park. ProNativas Monteverde is a local initiative whose mission is to “raise awareness about the importance, propagation, and use of native ornamental plants and their contribution in conservation, and the beauty and identity of Costa Rica.” ProNativas advances this mission through the New Forest Park native garden in Monteverde, which serves as a community meeting space, as well as a showcase and educational forum for native ornamental species. My goal in this internship was to design, construct, and implement a hardscaping project in order to enhance the park and promote community use. I built a table with seating, a trail leading to the area with the table, and an epiphyte arch at one of the entrances.

I wanted to participate in this internship because I was initially impressed with the work that ProNativas is doing to promote the use of native ornamental plant species and their role as a conservation tool. The impact that visiting New Forest Park had on me and my understanding of the capability of native ornamentals to both create a beautiful garden, and support native fauna and ecosystem services, was something that I wanted to participate in raising awareness about. I was drawn to the landscaping/hardscaping position because I enjoy thinking spatially and working with my hands, and wanted to develop both of those skills.

I started this internship by getting to know the Monteverde region and the native plants and local resources that are available here. In the first few days I spent a lot of time in New Forest Park creating a site analysis, which allowed me to get to know the space, and I interviewed frequent users of the park to get an idea of the needs of the park. I used these interviews and the site analysis as a guide to make a landscape proposal, and I developed three of my hardscaping ideas more fully before deciding to move forward with a table with benches and a laja (flagstone) trail. Felipe and I sourced all of the materials needed for the projects locally within Monteverde, including laja, wood, rocks, and sand. We built the table using a cut tree trunk that was sunk into the ground, with a large laja slab resting on top. The seats surrounding it are large rocks that were found near the park.

Participating in this internship was a great experience, and the lessons I learned and experiences I had with native plant gardening, sustainable landscaping and resource use, landscape design, and building useable furniture, are invaluable to me. After being given the opportunity to work outside and the tools to create something lasting and meaningful there, I am very interested in pursuing a career in sustainable building or development of some kind. The independence that Felipe allowed me to have throughout the development of my project strengthened my confidence, decision making and plan development skills, which I am sure I will take with me in future creative, academic, and professional ventures.

  Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 7.23.29 PMBefore and after of the clearing where the newly built table and chairs were installed


Drafting the landscape proposal


Sustainability and the Environment Internship: Ecotourism Marketing for the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, by Kaylee Grunseth, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

For the month of March, I had an internship as part of the CIEE study abroad Sustainability and the Environment program in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I chose to work with the Children’s Eternal Rainforest or El Bosque Eterno de los Niños (BEN) as their ecotourism marketing intern. My intentions with the internship were to increase online visitation and to raise awareness of the reserve through social media including blog posts and photographs with captions for Facebook and Instagram. This would hopefully increase people’s desire to visit the BEN or donate, which would then contribute to their conservation efforts. The Monteverde Conservation League’s (MCL), the non-profit organization that owns the BEN, mission is “to conserve, preserve, and rehabilitate tropical ecosystems and their biodiversity.”

I was drawn to this internship because it dealt with social media and I have a lot of experience with this from my student groups and for the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Department at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. I believe that some people can look at social media as a waste of time, but for others it can boost the knowledge of or interaction with a business or organization when used appropriately. I am also very interested in working for a non-profit related to sustainability or environmental efforts after I graduate college and wanted to get a taste of what it would be like.

 I have gained a lot of communication skills from this internship. I had to specifically take into consideration the rhetoric I was using for the blog posts and captions for the photos. I was able to appeal to the desired audience, which was essentially everyone in the world that can access the Internet, but especially those who are environmentally conscious and willing to learn more about conservation. I also improved on my Spanish speaking, listening, and writing skills. For three of the blogs I conducted three different interviews with employees of the BEN in Spanish. I listened to the interviewee during the interview and many times after by listening to the recordings. I then took this information and wrote three separate blog posts in Spanish.

I was able to provide the organization with five informative, engaging, and entertaining blog posts that will enhance their website and inform readers about content that they wouldn’t have learned without the blog posts, especially the one about poaching. The poaching habits that happen in the BEN are not widely known, especially on the Internet, but I have now provided a way for someone to educate themselves about this issue. I have provided the BEN with content for their first Facebook album solely dedicated to documenting the internships at the reserve. I documented another CIEE student, Rose, during her internship teaching environmental art related to the BEN to a local school’s 7th grade class. This can be used a template to future interns and can become a continuous feature that people look forward to seeing more of.

Kaylee 1Taking pictures of Rose's class for the Facebook album

Kaylee 2

Writing the biodiversity blog


Sustainability and the Environment Internship: Nature Interpretation for ProNativas, by Samantha Stovall, University of Colorado Boulder

Throughout the past month I worked alongside botanist, author, and illustrator, Willow Zuchowski to enhance the conservation of tropical forest biodiversity by supporting the activities of ProNativas, a non-governmental organization dedicated to the preservation of native plant species. I mainly focused on increasing the educational potential of a local plant garden, New Forest Park, through interpretive signage. I also worked with the other ProNativas intern, Kendall Rauch, to assess the sustainability of past CIEE – ProNativas internship products, create maintenance plans for them, and refurbish an epiphyte display in the greenhouse at Bajo del Tigre. The main beneficiaries of my work are the students and locals that use New Forest Park, and also ProNativas. Increasing educational signage, expanding gardens, and addressing the sustainability of existing gardens are critical actions in helping to achieve the goals of ProNativas.

Sam 1Refurbishing the epiphyte display at Bajo del Tigre

This project sparked my interest because of its focus on native flora of Monteverde. Living at the Biological Station nestled in Monteverde’s unique cloud forest during the preceding semester, I fell in love with the incredible biodiversity it houses, and became incredibly passionate about its conservation. Having the chance to work with Willow Zuchowski gave me an incredible opportunity to expand my knowledge about plant taxonomy, interactions with fauna, as well as cultural uses of native plants. The internship was also appealing to me because it allowed me to work hands on with plant identification, challenge my artistry, and educate others about the value of native plants.  

During this past month, I have learned more about plants, thought about the longevity and sustainability of products, and challenged myself to expand my horizons. When creating the design for my signs, I chose to illustrate some of the plant specimens, which sparked a desire to explore an untapped side of my potential, and improve my artistic capacity. I also created a site analysis of all the existing plant species in New Forest Park, which further developed my ability to identify plants. This project also encouraged me to think about the importance of environmental education, and the best way to inform the public of the value of conservation through the use of native ornamentals. I am grateful for this internship opportunity because of the diverse set of skills it provided me with through my work with Willow and ProNativas’ other cofounder, Felipe Negrini.

Sam2Working on my site analysis of species at New Forest Park

My greatest accomplishment was increasing the educational capacity of New Forest Park through the implementation of my interpretive signage. This leaves a lasting impact on this native plant garden, which will hopefully spread the message of ProNativas about the value of natives, and urge people to be mindful about what the plant in their own gardens.


Sustainability and the Environment Internship: Creating an Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Livestock in Monteverde, Costa Rica, by Erin Carroll, Washington University in St. Louis

Over the past month, I have been working with representatives of the Monteverde Commission for Resilience to Climate Change (CORCLIMA, by its Spanish acronym) to create an inventory of the net greenhouse gas emissions of nine livestock farms in the Monteverde district, and to use this farm-level data to encourage local farmers to adopt locally appropriate emissions mitigation strategies. Through the completion of these projects, the primary goal of the internship was to inform, involve and engage members of the agricultural sector in CORCLIMA’s grassroots effort to create a carbon-neutral Monteverde.

What initially drew me to the internship was my interdisciplinary interest in food systems studies. The opportunity to observe, research and recommend agroecological practices at the farm-level for climate-smart agriculture while simultaneously navigating overlapping local, national and international political frameworks for climate change mitigation in the sector was invaluable to my goal of pursuing a career the intersection of agricultural and environmental policy. Additionally, having grown up on a farm myself, I was personally very interested in the opportunity to spend time on nine different farms and to experience the range of management strategies, conceptual approaches to farming, and relationships with their land.

To accomplish this internship, I first familiarized myself with the IPCC methodology for conducting a GHG inventory, and the ways in which we could adapt it to a district’s agricultural sector. I also familiarized myself with the sector itself through meetings with farmers and the local office of the Ministry of Agriculture. After creating a survey to gather all of the necessary data, I visited nine farms and completed an interview at each. I then created an Excel spreadsheet to manage the raw data and perform the calculations, which gave the total emissions of GHGs in Mg CO2eq per year for each farm, and in total. Finally, my partner May and I presented our results and mitigation research in an oral presentation and personalized reports for CORCLIMA and for each individual farmer.

In just four short weeks I gained experience designing a survey and conducting interviews in Spanish, managing data and performing calculations in Excel, and communicating with many different stakeholders in a local food system – national bureaucrats, local community members and conservationists, and the farmers themselves. I also significantly expanded my knowledge of the contribution of the agricultural sector to net anthropological greenhouse gas emissions and of existing grassroots, national and international frameworks and programs for mitigation, and gained the ability to calculate the net emissions from livestock of individual farms and communities.

In addition to the successful application of IPCC methodology, which is intended for use at the national level, at the district level, I am extremely satisfied by the connections that were formed through this project between CORCLIMA and the agricultural sector in Monteverde, which will enable and empower a sector-wide and community-supported movement toward climate-smart agricultural practices in the future.


Erin 1Arco Íris, the farm of Rafael Leiton.

Erin 2

A piglet at Erik Rockwell’s farm.


Sustainability and the Environment Internship: Developing a Scientific and Educational Database for Monteverde, Costa Rica, by Jordan Pares-Kane, Cornell University

This past month, I worked with Carol Yang, a past CIEE intern, environmental educator and member of the Monteverde Arenal-Bioregion Database (MABD) Committee to develop a database that will serve as a central electronic hub for scientific, educational, and community resources in the Monteverde region. Our goals were to make available resources, research, and community projects related to conservation in Monteverde more accessible to the public, educators, and local organizations.

This internship in particular was interesting to me because it gave me the opportunity to contribute to the consolidation of so many local initiatives to make them more accessible and to encourage collaboration amongst researchers and educators. This database not only organizes all of the conservation resources in Monteverde, but also allows educators at the local schools such as the CEC or Monteverde Friends to utilize real local data and apply them in lesson plans for students. This allows students to learn more about the local environment such as Monteverde’s rich biodiversity or issues related to climate change. In addition, I was able to visit various sites around Monteverde throughout the course of this internship such as The Monteverde Institute, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, as well as local schools. I was able to meet various researchers, conservation activists, and local educators during these sites and learned all about what each of them hope to contribute to the database.

During the course of this internship, I uploaded 15 different educational resources/projects onto MABD. Most of the resources were collected from my various site visits and then adapted into lesson plans for students in different grade levels. For some of the projects, I generated handouts or lesson overviews to supplement the materials uploaded. I then uploaded the projects on the database with included project descriptions and objectives for students and attached various files (such as the handouts, lesson overviews, or a supplementary PowerPoint) and links (such as related videos or articles) for educators. Then, with the help of Carol, I created user manuals for educators. I made two different manuals; one with instructions on how to navigate the database, and one with instructions on how to upload a project. Both manuals are available in English and Spanish and were distributed to various sites.

Jordan 1

The last part of my internship involved holding training sessions for educators at the CEC and Monteverde Friends School to show them how to utilize the database. I had two different sessions at each school with 2-3 attendees each. These sessions will hopefully help this project gain further momentum and continue developing in the future to encourage long-term success.

Jordan 2

This internship contributed to the development of a library of conservation information of the area that promotes interdisciplinary and thematic approaches to environmental education in the region. By working on its development, I learned how to create educational resources related to conservation and gained better computer skills in the process of uploading materials. I was also able to improve my interviewing and presentation skills through the training sessions and site visits.

All of the products of this project support conservation efforts in various areas such as biodiversity and climate change in the Monteverde region by consolidating educational resources in an online database for public use and encouraging collaboration of conservation efforts amongst educators, researchers, and other community members. These kinds of efforts are often dismissed in importance, but are incredibly crucial components of conservation on both a global and local scale.