The SFS Center For Sustainable Studies, Costa Rica

Today we went to Alajuela, Costa Rica, to visit The SFS Center For Sustainable Development Studies which offers semester and summer programs on sustainable development for students around the world.

SFS Center For Sustainable Development Studies

The campus includes an orange and mango farm which covered 13.5 acres and includes a 6.9 acre protected forest area. The farm achieved Rainforest Alliance Certification in 2011.

orange trees on Rainforest Alliance Certified Farm
mangoes on the tree

What interested me was to see what motivated The Center For Sustainable Studies to strive for Rainforest Alliance Certification. We interviewed three professors and they said that they liked the standards and protocol of the certification process. Before certification, they said, they had ideas for sustainability but they weren’t long term or integrated.

sustainable farm

Another thing that they found attractive about Rainforest Alliance certification is the fact that they can integrate the learnings to students and serve as a model to community. They can spread to the community what the community can actually see for themselves works.

They said that becoming certified starts with the commitment and measuring that process. A key part of it is learning and discovering the benefits of each part of the certification process which includes 10 principles.  They also said cultural challenges are the biggest hurdle to overcome- as simple as turning off the lights or composting instead of burning.

The biggest impact on the students and the teachers is the resulting life commitment to sustainable practices.  This made my heart swoon because I could tell it was true for the teachers and again when I interviewed some of the students, I could feel their passion and their eagerness to share everything they were learning about sustainability through everyday choices.

Here is a video clip of Dr. Sergio Molina telling us the top 10 benefits they have had from getting Rainforest Alliance Certification.

After our Q & A session, we were brought for a guided tour of the farm. First we visited their dining area and saw their compost separation system.

compost separation system

Next we visited a special process they add to the composting of their oranges. They cut off life cycle of insects by cooking the oranges in metal barrels with the heat of the sun to kill any insect eggs before composting- a great way to fight crop pests without chemicals.

cooking the oranges in metal bins

Our next stop was the green house where they plant all of the seedlings to keep them protected from iguanas.

greenhouse for garden and native tree

We saw the orange trees and the mango trees and we also saw that they use a ground covering to protect the soil and prevent erosion. It is a nitrogen fixing legume.

mango trees with ground cover

One of the main pests they battle on the farm is the leaf cutter ant and here you can see a giant mound which is of course even larger under ground. They are trying diatomaceous earth with success as a way of combatting the ants but it is a lot of work applying it to each mound and reapplying.

Leaf cutter ant mounds

We also got to see their farm animals and garden area which they use to feed the workers and students. Then we took a little trek through the forest and took a look at several awesome types of trees with unusual seed pods and crazy big thorn spikes. We found Caimito fruits which are a purple milky plum type of fruit. We also saw the national tree of Costa Rica, the Guanacaste, which has these big seed pods and they rattle when you shake them.

Costa Rican tree with spikes

Guanacaste rattling seed pod

We  saw a termite nest up in the trees which he pointed out as being important to the ecosystem for cleaning up the dead wood.

termite nest in a tree

We were then treated to a lovely lunch of local foods and several students came to talk with us. I must say that it was a very inspiring experience and I was very heartened to witness the enthusiasm of these young students.

costa rican beef

Costa Rican food

We were also treated to this strange fruit called a Granadilla. It looked like it was full of tadpole eggs which you swallow whole and it tasted like a cross between a grapefruit and a pear!

inside of a Granadilla
The inside of a Costa Rican granadilla fruit.

Learn more about the awesome work the Rainforest Alliance is doing and enter to win the “Picture Our Planet” Photo Contest to win your own trip to Costa Rica. You may also want to read about sustainable tourism and my trip to a Rainforest Alliance Verified hotel- Hotel Casa Turire.


  1. says

    I’m so jealous! Your pictures are wonderful! I have talked with people that have been to Costa Rico and it sounds so amazing. Someday…

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