Sustainability, Tropical Agriculture & Missions


For science and non-science majors alike, STAM is an introduction to sustainability and tropical agriculture with applications for working with resource-poor farmers. Topics include the scientific basis of low cost techniques, tropical crops and their requirements, and on-site work. Issues in sustainability and justice, culture and language, missions and community development, urban gardening and small animal techniques are also covered in the context of agricultural employment and economy. This course covers various tours that include coffee, chocolate, and pineapple plantations, several trips to different ecosystem regions, and visits to local farms and renown institutions.(4 credits)

*Students may accept donations through churches to take this class. 

Field, Applied

Professor: Dr. Dave Unander, Tomas Dozier

Meets: Monday - Friday


  • Learning the major staple, fruit, and vegetable crops grown in the tropics and their particular needs and limitations.
  • Introduction to soil science for agriculture.
  • Practices of agroforestry, composting, small animal farming, and biogas systems in tropical environments.
  • Understanding tropical ecosystems, climate, and biomes.
  • Understanding of key missions and development issues, such as how to enter a community, approaches to extension, and exploring different in-country living arrangements.


  • Taxonomy of tropical agriculture plants.
  • Ability to identify major plant families with important crops and understand the chemical characteristics of those families.
  • Soil assessment and improvement techniques.
  • Horticulture techniques, such as planting, grafting, and pruning.
  • Communication techniques for conveying tropical agriculture practices in local communities, practiced through sharing tropical agriculture practices in the town of Vara Blanca.
  • Approaches to fast language learning.



Previous classes have visited small dairy and strawberry farms in the mountains; small, diverse, farms in both wet and arid lowland areas; successful agricultural co-ops for coffee, sugarcane, cacao and organic bananas; agricultural researcher and field experiments at Univ. of Costa Rica, EARTH Univ., and CATIE (Center for Research and Education in Tropical Agriculture - an international research program).  This is not primarily a farming techniques course, but we do some half-day fieldwork on farms. 

For our Au Sable integrative sessions, during the last four years, we have visited the actively steaming crater of Poas Volcano Natl. Park and the cloud forest around the crater at 9,000 ft.; Caihuita Natl. Park, a shore and estuary ecosystem on the Caribbean near Panama; the Organization for Tropical Studies research station at La Selva, a lowland rainforest area near the Nicaraguan border;  the watershed area of Arenal Volcano Natl. Park, an actively erupting, classical cone, with many hot springs.

If interested, go to the Au Sable Website at: Au Sable Institute STAM Course