Rosalind Dale, administrator and associate dean for Cooperative Extension, traveled to Costa Rica in September on a trip with the Food System Leadership Institute program, a program offered by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. Dale is an FSLI Fellow who graduated from the program in November 2018.

This is the first international trip for the program’s fellows and graduates.

The trip’s purpose was to look at educational systems and food systems in another country. Costa Rica is a good candidate for study because of its enormous agricultural diversity, Dale said. Although the tropical climate is very different from that of North Carolina, the small farmers with whom the group interacted practiced agriculture in a similar way to the small, limited-resource farmers that A&T serves.

“It was a good opportunity to see agriculture practiced in a different environment,” Dale said.

The group spent four days touring the country, visiting educational institutions, businesses and agencies that focus on agriculture, a Starbucks coffee farm, a small farm and other sites.

A key stop was Earth University, a private, nonprofit university offering undergraduate degrees in the agricultural sciences to students from all over the world, with the mission of turning those students into leaders who can benefit their communities through sustainable development and entrepreneurship when they return to their countries. More than just academics, though, the university looks for leadership qualities in the students it accepts.

“One student from Zimbabwe started her own chicken farming business to pay for school there,” Dale said.  That entrepreneurial spirit caught Earth University’s attention.

The university requires the students to complete an entrepreneurial project while they’re enrolled. Nearly one-quarter of the graduate are entrepreneurs, Dale said.

The group also toured the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), a regional center dedicated to research and graduate education to encourage agricultural development and rural well-being in its member countries, including many Central and South America; and PROCOMER, a government agency in charge of promoting Costa Rican goods and services internationally, and aiding exporting.

Part of the trip was spent visiting a small-farming family who grew coffee and bananas, observing the way the family grew, packaged, and sold merchandise from their home and the homes of other local farmers. The group also shared a meal prepared by the family.

“We had a great opportunity to see small farming practices in a different country,” Dale said. “The small farmers practice agriculture in a different environment, but the ingenuity is the same as it is here. They talk about the challenges, but their commitment to agriculture is steady, just as it is here. The spirit of the small farmer, here and there, is the same.”

Dale said she enjoyed the experience from both a leadership and an agricultural perspective.

“We were able to look at leadership from an organizational point of view, and then look at food systems. It was a great experience.”