The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University was awarded to two exceptional teams in 2020, for their projects that exemplify the application of our five core sustainability principles. The 2020 second place prize went to the team of Dasha Montcalm Álvarez and José Andres Charpentier for the project: Educational and Productive Model for Ancestral Agriculture in Peri-urban Spaces. We spoke with the prizewinners about what inspired the project and their plans to develop it at scale in Costa Rica. Please enjoy this interview with the 2020 runner-up prizewinners!
José Andres Charpentier (left) and Dasha Montcalm Álvarez (right), 2020 second place Sustainability Prizewinners
The Lab: Why did you choose this project over other sustainability projects?
Dasha and José: We chose this project over other ones because we grew up in an environment surrounded by many social, economic and environmental issues. We are from urban areas, which are the most disconnected from nature and agriculture. We really believe that these issues must be resolved because they are causing inequalities and suffering within society.
We chose a project that can create spaces in urban areas in order to reconnect society with nature through agriculture. Communities are losing their forests, and thousands of animal and flora species. Like some conscientious institutions, organizations, farmers and individuals, we have had enough. This is why, as agronomists and leaders of change, we want to share our knowledge and experiences to create a better society.
Educational and Productive Model for Ancestral Agriculture in Peri-urban Spaces (MEPPA, based on its Spanish acronym) is a model whose main objective is to educate on agroecological techniques for the production of fully organic, healthy foods. It does so by rescuing ancestral methodologies, such as the conservation of native seeds, and using ancient planting systems, such as mandalas and placing crops in allelopathic and symbiotic associations.
MEPPA also has a virtual component, called Agrosimbiosis.org. This website seeks to create a network of small farmers, new entrepreneurs and students who want to share their knowledge, to establish a platform for help and collaboration. The main objective is the creation of a connection point where we can share free, accessible information. This network also helps to publicize small producers and emerging entrepreneurs. This platform seeks out the integration of social, environmental, cultural, ancestral and spiritual principles in a symbiosis of support.
Image of the Agrosimbiosis website
The Lab: How was the development of your project impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dasha and José: The website was not part of our original plan. Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we realized that our project could address more areas than we originally thought we could cover. This crisis has provoked a deep reflection on the current paradigm, which is based on the globalization and monopolization of productive systems. This paradigm has widened the gaps between social classes, and has diminished or completely eliminated the possibility of society to initiate and self-manage the necessary resources to live.
Distinguishing these socio-economic limitations raises awareness about a global crisis that is no longer a novelty and requires a response from political leaders. It is also a door to be leaders of change capable of taking responsibility for individual and collective socio-economic security and food security.
That is why we created this platform. Virtuality has been changing how people receive and manipulate information. We can accomplish our objectives effectively and reach more places and farmers virtually.
Virtual schematic of MEPPA on the Agrosimbiosis website
The Lab: What was the influence of The Lab’s five core sustainability principles in the development of this project?
Dasha and José: Material Domain: Our project complies most with this domain, since all inputs and outputs have been designed to circulate within the system. For example, harvest, pruning and other residues generated in the production chain will be reincorporated through composting and in the production of other bio-inputs. Furthermore, all of our residual or applied materials in the production cycle are environmentally and socially responsible.
Economic Domain: The project is based entirely on a circular economy. Our economy is not above the environment or our employees. This means that we do not want to generate profits at the expense of those close to us, but rather we consider the real costs of our work and product. We have designed a meticulous financial plan that emphasizes low and honest costs, with products of good quality from sustainable sources. We plan to recover our investment and generate profits that allow the growth of the project and the fair payment of the workers.
Life Domain: MEPPA is oriented towards organic production that does not harm the biodiversity of the ecosystem. The use of and training on the subject of bio-inputs is one of the most important agricultural aspects for us, since we guarantee that production does not kill the microorganisms that give life to the soil that enables the harvesting of our food.
Social Domain: The social domain is represented mainly by the contribution to food and economic security promoted by the project. MEPPA shares all knowledge generated with other people and producers to enable a conscious development of people. This project is by and for people who want to see a change in the current paradigm.
Spiritual Domain: MEPPA seeks to rescue the ancestral practices of our ancestors who had a close relationship with nature and the entire earth. We use plants with respect, honoring our ancestors and the earth by selecting plants with great medicinal properties, avoiding agrochemicals and not planting monocultural systems. We recognize that each living being in MEPPA has a function and a purpose in the ecosystem, and using conventional and unsustainable practices will only lead to their destruction.
The Lab: What are your next steps for the development of MEPPA?
Dasha and José: In April 2021 we turned MEPPA into a company called Agrosimbiosis, legally incorporated in Costa Rica. We are working on planning and creating the physical part of MEPPA. The next steps are to finish establishing the legal aspect in the country, in order to begin the construction of the Agrosimbiosis complex under the MEPPA model.
The Lab: What is your long-term vision for the future of this project?
Dasha and José: We recognize Agrosimbiosis as our life’s project. When it is consolidated, we want to take it to other sites; that is, replicate the model so that it can reach more people. Winning The Lab’s Sustainability Prize is the greatest gift we have received in our entire lives, because through it, we can grow both professionally and personally. And we can share this gift with many people, through sharing knowledge. We believe that we can change much of our context through MEPPA.
Beginning of the development of the Agrosimbiosis complex
We wish Dasha and José luck in the development of this project! Follow the development of Agrosimbiosis by following the project’s Instagram.
To learn about the 2020 first place prizewinners’ project, please see this interview.