Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.
These past few months living in a foreign country have been many things—incredible, frustrating, rewarding and challenging all at once. I’ve felt the frustration of being a new college graduate in the current economy. Chances are the next step in my life will require more schooling before I’m actually qualified to do the things that I’d like to do. Instead of dwelling on this reality, I continue to turn to farming for a concrete way to see progress (or at least how I choose to see it at the age of 23). Farming for me is equivalent to therapy–working with my hands, helping plants grow, and eating and sharing the food that I’ve helped to create. It’s also a profession that seems to be of interest to many of my peers who were environmental students in university.
Farming is how I’ve spent a significant amount of my time here in Guatemala. In my Transitions post, I mentioned the prospect of working at Caoba Farms, a local organic farm in Antigua. Since that time, I’ve been spending my mornings working at the farm–weeding on Mondays, planting lettuce on Wednesdays and various other tasks in-between. As of late, I’ve been assigned to manage the compost pile. Throughout this time, I’ve been incredibly inspired by the farmer-manager-owner, Alex Kronick. Although not an environmental student in the academic sense, Alex has transformed his 1.5 acre plot of land into a bountiful vegetable farm with help from his knowledgeable employees and through good ol’ trial and error. Alex serves an example for me–as my next steps in life will most likely involve starting a farm of my own. He’s taken his education–a Bachelor in Science degree in Entrepreneurship from the Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe–and has filled a niche market here in Antigua for organic produce.
According to Alex, “Entrepreneurship is doing what you love to do and making a business out of it.” The combination of his passion for farming and the multitudes of high-end restaurants and hotels in Antigua have created a beautiful farm.
The future of Caoba Farms is also inspiring. Alex would like to create an experimental space for sustainable farming in Antigua, for people from all around the world, as well as from Guatemala, to enjoy. This future space will be a place where people can come see, do, eat, and learn various aspects about sustainable farming practices.
From the perspective of a current farmer-manager-owner, his advice for prospective or current environmental students is to work together with others involved, maintain a balance between your studies and actual hands-on experience, and above all work towards the betterment of the environment. All of which I whole-heartedly recommend.
Below are a few more pictures from the farm: