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Conservation project takes local FFA members to Costa Rica
Chino Valley, Mayer students spend 9 days on ag, cultural adventures

Students were able to hold a baby crocodile while on a mangrove swamp riverboat tour in Costa Rica in June. (Jeff Dinges/Courtesy)

Students were able to hold a baby crocodile while on a mangrove swamp riverboat tour in Costa Rica in June. (Jeff Dinges/Courtesy)

The roots of the mangrove tree create a big underground connection that holds together the sandy soil of the Costa Rican coastline. Similarly, local Future Farmers of America (FFA/National FFA Organization) students created a connection with the children and people of this Central American country for nine days this past month.

From June 11 to June 19, six FFA members from Mayer High School and three from Chino Valley High School spent their time in Costa Rica learning about the culture, people, agriculture and recycling efforts of the country, said Jeff Dinges, Mayer’s FFA advisor.

“It was such a good time, and very humbling for the students,” Dinges said.

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FFA students from Mayer and Chino Valley high schools traveled to Costa Rica in June; shown here, they are planting mangrove tree seedlings in an erosion control project. (Courtesy)

The mangrove project involved propagating trees in recycled containers, and planting seedlings into an estuary that another group of students had propagated three weeks prior. In those three weeks, Dinges said, the mangrove seedlings grew two feet.

“The roots of the mangrove makes a big underground connection that holds everything together,” he explained, and thereby combats erosion along the western coastline. “We kept bug spray on us all the time. The humidity levels were high, and lots of insects were all out and about.”

Mayer student Warren Fasching said his favorite part of the trip was learning about the mangroves’ contribution to the ecosystem. “It was also cool to see the stages of the project, from picking the propagules to making containers for them, planting them, and then finally planting on the shore,” he said.

Students, including FFA members from Globe and Payson high schools, also toured a coffee plantation, cacao farm and pineapple farm. They went on a nighttime biodiversity tour, a crocodile jungle cruise, learned about local market practices, enjoyed a folklore cultural evening, kayaked at Lake Arenal, and ziplined through the rain forest.

Victoria Carrizoza, 17, Mayer High School, said she knew going to Costa Rica would involve meeting new people, trying new foods and experiencing a new culture.

“Hispanic culture is nothing new to me, but I knew some, if not most, of the traditions and language from Mexico would differ from Costa Rica,” she said, adding that she enjoyed the opportunity to dance and eat traditional Costa Rican foods.

“My favorite cultural aspect, however, was a term that they use for almost anything and everything. It’s called, ‘Pura Vida.’ Simply translated, it means ‘simple life’ or ‘pure life.’ In Costa Rica, it’s more than just a saying — it’s a way of life,” Carrizoza said.

Another Mayer student, Delylah Gardea, said her highlights included a riverboat ride where she observed monkeys and touched a baby crocodile. She also enjoyed watching local students perform traditional folk dances, and participating in a folk dance class. Of all the tours, she liked the coffee plantation the best for the information and comedic skits by the tour guides.

The jungle boat cruise was shortened due to storms and the rising tide level, but students were able to see a 14-foot crocodile. Later, in the mangrove swamp tour, several students were able to hold a baby crocodile.

Dinges said students spent a year and a half planning and fundraising for the trip, part of which involves bringing back information to share with the community. The all-inclusive cost of the trip was about $3,100 per student. Most spent less than $100 of their own money on souvenirs, he said.

“It was definitely life-changing. It’s rare that students can go on a trip like this and serve others,” he said.

Next summer, students will be raising money to study the history and culture of Ireland and Scotland, as well as taking agricultural tours.

Follow Sue Tone on Twitter @ToneNotes. Reach her at stone@prescottaz.com or 928-445-3333, ext. 2043.

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