You’ll never look at a cup of coffee the same way again. Using coffee and chocolate as case studies, explore the relationships between food systems, ecology, conservation, and sustainability. Learn how different agricultural techniques have the potential to restore biodiversity and combat climate change. Study the sociocultural history of coffee and cacao, from Indigenous histories to modern production and exports.
Visit La Iguana Chocolate Farm, where you’ll harvest cacao by hand and learn about permaculture, sustainable living, and local methods of chocolate processing
Visit El Toledo Coffee farm and learn about organic methods of coffee production. Discuss the history and impacts of chocolate and coffee production in Latin America
Program Costs & Financial Aid
SFS provides a comprehensive study abroad experience during a 6-day/week program schedule. SFS delivers the highest level of support and an unparalleled academic experience.
All students are welcome to apply for our need-based financial aid. Students who exhibit financial need for their program will be offered SFS financial aid. SFS aid is offered through a combination of scholarships, grants and loans.
Pell Grant Match
SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.
Many SFS students receive aid through their home institutions or other outside sources, so check with your financial aid office to see what aid may apply to an SFS program.
Itinerary varies from term to term and is subject to change. Program activities take place 6 days a week with one day free.
Week 1: ¡Bienvenido a Costa Rica! Move into dorms, meet roommates and SFS staff, and attend program orientation. Tour Atenas. Lectures on small- and large-scale farming and links between ethics and sustainability. Visit El Toledo Coffee farm: Learn about the farm’s history and agroecosystems. Visit Tirimbina Rainforest Reserve with a stop at La Paz waterfall en route. Cross the longest hanging bridge in Costa Rica and hike through the rainforest to visit a traditional cacao plantation.
Week 2: Lectures on global and regional food systems and the threats they face. Examine the history of cacao and coffee in Costa Rica. Hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and learn about climate change impacts. Visit Life Monteverde to learn about community coffee farming, organic agriculture, and low-impact energy systems, and stop at Sibú Chocolate for a tasting.
Week 3: Transition to research portion of the program: work with a faculty member to develop a research question on ecological, socioeconomic, or natural resource management aspects of chocolate or coffee production in Costa Rica. Intro to research methods, literature review, project design. Week of data collection in the field. Begin data analysis and writing.
Week 4: Wrap up data analysis and finish writing report. Create a presentation based on your research, present to students, staff, and community members. Re-entry exercises and room cleanup. Last day in Atenas, closing activities. Head home.
This academically rigorous program follows a six-day/week schedule. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand the complexities of environmental, social, and economic issues in Costa Rica. Read more about the SFS program model.
Major academic themes include:
Climate change adaptation
Agriculture and agroforestry
Ecological impacts of coffee and cacao production
Ecotourism and culinary tourism
Social justice issues surrounding sustainable food systems
Organic and mono-crop farming methods
On the Biodiversity and Sustainable Food Systems program, you will take one 4-credit course. This course is participatory in nature and is designed to foster inquiry and active learning combining lectures, field exercises, assignments, and tests. This course is taught in English.
Click on the course to view a description and download the syllabus
SFS 3141 Coffee, Chocolate, and Sustainable Development (4 credits)
This interdisciplinary course explores the social and ecological components that intertwine coffee and cacao to our lives and the natural and political history of Costa Rica. We consider the transformation of forested lands to coffee and cacao plantations owned by elites; intertwine with current questions of cultural representation, agro-tourism, and land use strategies, and agricultural certifications. Through field investigations, we focus on in-depth exploration of the relationships between cacao & coffee production and climate change, social justice movements, and species conservation.
You will gain practical skills in the field such as: agricultural impacts assessment, ecosystem health survey, water quality testing, basic Spanish language skills, quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, scientific writing, and research presentation.
You will visit different ecosystems and communities which may include coffee farms, cacao plantations, other agroecosystems and farms, agrotourism businesses, and the forests and rainforest ecosystems around agricultural areas.
The Center is an active organic farm overlooking the vibrant Central Valley, where green is the predominant color as far as the eye can see. Dorms and classrooms intermingle with orchards and gardens, while Center dog Hera keeps watch over it all. The friendly town of Atenas is a 10-minute cab ride away, offering restaurants, shops, parks, and cultural events.
Dorm living with 4-person bunkrooms
Classroom, library, computer lab, and laundry room
Open-air porch with hammocks and chairs
Dining hall with scenic valley views, and on-site cooking staff
Swimming pool, soccer field, basketball court, and pizza oven
Outdoor classroom and hiking trails
Click on the icons below to learn more about our Center in Costa Rica.