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Interview: Jessica Wolf

By LACSI on April 14, 2015 in Highlights

Q: Where are you from?

A: Atlanta, Georgia

Q: What brought you to UGA?

A: What brought me to UGA was the unbeatable deal of the HOPE Scholarship. What has kept me here are the variety of academic options, the incredible opportunities and Athenians and their lovely town.

Q: How did you learn about LACSI?

A: I always knew it was based in the yellow house on North Campus, but I first visited LACSI the spring of my junior year. I was looking for an internship opportunity focused on agriculture in a Latin American country for the spring of my senior year. My professor, Dr. Navarro, suggested I look into the International Agriculture Certificate. They connected me with Paul Duncan in LACSI who shared with me this incredible exchange opportunity at Universidad EARTH. Without LACSI, I would not have heard about EARTH, let alone been able to study there without their scholarship. They really made the whole experience possible and for that I am extremely thankful.

Q: What led you to be interested in farming?

A: I had always enjoyed gardening, but the first time I thought about pursuing agriculture as more than a hobby was the summer before my freshman year at UGA. I WWOOFed (Worldwide Workers On Organic Farms) on a family farm in Costa Rica. It was my best friend’s idea and I joined because it sounded interesting, but it turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life. Afterwards, I realized I always wanted to be involved with agriculture in some respect and pursued that interest from the moment I got to campus.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to an undergraduate student?

A: Be proactive. If there is something you are interested in, find a way to learn more about it whether it be in the traditional sense of a class or internship or more nontraditional ways. If there isn’t a pre-existing opportunity, don’t let that stop you. Create it! The UGA and Athens community is rich in resources and talented people, so utilize that. The opportunities and experiences I have worked the hardest for are the ones from which I have gained the most. That being said, try to have as many internships, jobs or volunteer positions as possible. Classes are important, but practical experience is invaluable in my opinion. It helps you decide what you like and what you don’t and in what direction you wish to head.

Push yourself to take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. I have “failed” many times and yeah, that is tough. But then you just know to try change things up and try something else. Those times that are most challenging are often when you learn the most. My first month or so at Universidad EARTH was difficult. All of my classes were in Spanish, I didn’t know anyone and the university lifestyle was so different from that of UGA.  However, the experience has been an incredible growing opportunity as a student and as a person. I have learned a lot in my classes and from my diverse group of friends, and have gained a better understanding of the world and the role I want to play in it.

Q: What is Earth University?

A: Wow, there are so many ways to answer that. Simply put, it is a four year agricultural university in the Limón region of Costa Rica. EARTH stands for Escuela de Agricultura de la Región Tropical Húmeda. There are ~400 students from over 35 countries. Almost all the students receive substantial financial aid with over 60% on full scholarship. The coursework is based on a combination of theory and practical application, which I now consider the best way to teach and learn. There is a large emphasis on group work and projects. At EARTH, students will form a real business, do an internship abroad, and spend a trimester at the research campus in Guanacaste, among many other useful experiences.  When students complete their four years, they will leave with knowledge about everything one needs to be a successful farmer in the tropics, covering areas of plants, crops and animals and ranging from topics of biodigesters to methods of fertilization. EARTH not only teaches these skills but also instills a social and environmental responsibility in all their students.

 Q: What is your favorite thing about Earth University?

A: The diversity of the student body (as well as the professors and staff). Instead of visiting Costa Rica, I feel like I am visiting 35 countries. Talking and befriending peers from all over Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa has really broadened my world perspective. Of course we have many differences and it is really interesting discussing and learning about those, but it is also incredible to discover what we have in common. I find that nearly everyone is motivated to generate positive change in their community, which makes me excited for the future actions of my generation. I have made friends who mean a lot to me and with whom I hope to collaborate in the future.

I also love the method of teaching, which combines the traditional theory-based class component with practical application of what you are learning. For instance, in my tropical crops class, we have plots in which we plant a variety of crops. Over the trimester we learn methods to combat diseases and insects, we learn different methods of fertilization, we learn how to do tests in the lab for germinations rates and many more important skills. All these things we learn in class we apply to our crops in the field. You get to see what works and why and the learning experience has a lasting impact in which one will be aptly prepared to deal with all variety of situations on the farm.

Q: What is your favorite place on Earth’s campus?

A: EARTH’s campus is over 8,000 acres. I have spent a lot of time exploring and still there is so much I have not seen. In terms of their many farms, I love the Peri-urbana, which utilizes methods of agro-ecology and sustainable agriculture, combining the importance of social and environment impact with practical production. This is what I hope to implement in urban community gardens.

The campus is in the middle of a tropical humid forest, so everything is flourishing and lush. There are several pozas (swimming holes) on campus, all of which I love dearly. They each have their unique charm, but the main poza is the one where my lasting friendships have formed and developed. We might head there on a Saturday to hang out or just after a class in the field when we are hot and sweaty and swing in fully clothed. I am there almost every day of the week, rain, shine, early morning, mid-day, midnight – it’s my little sanctuary on campus.

Q: Why is it important to practice sustainable agriculture?

A: Lots of people will have lots of different answers to this. For me, social and environmental impact has always been closely linked with my interest in agriculture. I think it is important to realize how interconnected we are with the environment and how our actions affect it. When people are more educated about where their food actually comes from and how it grows, they will take a more vested interest in stewardship of the environment. Proper management of our natural resources and consideration for the future is so important for the health of our local and global society.

Learning how to grow your own food can be very empowering. That’s why I think it is important to implement sustainable agriculture on community levels. For instance, while in Buenos Aires I worked with ProHuerta del INTA, a network of community gardens in the city. One of the gardens acted as a rehabilitation center for mental patients. It gave them a way to learn a skill, socialize and improve on their feeling of self-worth. The happiness a patient expressed when talking about the salad he had eaten made from the vegetables he grew is a feeling I will never forget. Growing food sustainably can be fiscally, socially, environmentally and emotionally beneficial and we should take advantage of all these positive aspects.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: Nothing ever goes according to plan, but as for the near future I am hoping to move to Buenos Aires. That city stole my heart. As for my career, I want to work in community development focusing on the implementation of sustainable agriculture in urban community gardens in Latin America and the U.S. And maybe make some pottery on the side : )

Q: What is your favorite thing about Latin America?

A: It is hard to generalize about Latin America to answer this but I guess something that has been consistent is the warmth of the people I have met. Family is very important and everyone has treated me like family and invited me in to their homes. Also, I think it’s great that everyone knows how to dance, but maybe I am just a little jealous because I have two left feet. Every social occasion has dancing and to me it creates a more joyous atmosphere.

Q: Describe your favorite meal that you’ve had in Latin America    

A: Gallo pinto. That’s a joke that I guess only EARTH peers would understand. We eat gallo pinto (rice and beans mix) three times a day and I am sure someday I will miss it but right now any other meal sounds great. I had some mouthwatering meat in Argentina, but the thing I miss the most from there is the ice cream. So yummy!!

Q: If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?

A: 99 Luftballoons by Nena. I am a pretty terrible singer but at least I could blame it on the fact it’s in German. Well, that was my excuse when I sang it at Go Bar karaoke.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: Ceramics, music, swimming, random adventures with friends

Q: What is your favorite place in Athens?

A: Oh man, I seriously adore Athens and so many places there, but I have to say what I miss most is hanging out on the porch with my friends.

Q: What countries have you visited in Latin America and for how long?

A: The first time I left North America, I went on a ten-day high school Spanish trip to Honduras and that just wet my appetite. As for my most recent trip, I left August 2014 and am returning May 2015.  I studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina for four months through the UGA en Buenos Aires program. I visited Uruguay and Panama to renew my visas for Argentina and Costa Rica, respectively. I also was lucky enough to visit Ecuador and Peru. I loved my time in all these countries and will definitely be returning to them and visiting new ones to see my friends from EARTH and explore some more.

Q: What do you like best about UGA?

A: All the resources and opportunities at one’s disposal. If you are motivated, you can find people to support you or work with you and make things happen. Being at a university, there are so many people who have something that drives them. I find it so inspiring to be surrounded by people who pour all their energy, soul, and sweat into something they care about, whether it’s social action, college radio or research. I don’t know if it is that we are naïve or haven’t been discouraged by realities and responsibilities of post-grad life, but it is a trait I don’t often observe in people five or ten years out of college. But prove me wrong! I think it is something we should all cling dearly to.

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