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Students taking a gap year are ultimately looking for one thing: a wider perspective and a deeper understanding of the world and of themselves. Traveling to Costa Rica with Rancho Mastatal to study permaculture, natural building, and renewable energy is one of the many ways we bring this out in our gap year programs.

Permaculture is often defined as the development of agricultural ecosystems to be sustainable and self-sufficient. It envisions all processes within a cyclical system, rather than a simple black box with inputs, outputs, and no externalities.

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"I would have loved staying there longer, because permaculture can't be learned anywhere else in the world with such detail." - Anonymous Winterline Student

At Rancho Mastatal, students learn from highly trained experts in the fields of permaculture design, natural building, and sustainable living. But because of the depth of the permaculture philosophy within the teaching team there, sustainable living does not stop at the gates of the ranch. 

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Rancho Mastatal is unique in its level of community involvement and integration. They are deeply integrated into their surrounds, offering medical support at a local clinic and maintaining a local library, and have worked with the community at large to deal with policy changes affecting land ownership in the recently established National Forest where they live.

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"The interaction with the apprentice/partners was invaluable. They had a way of allowing us in and showing us their passion." - Anonymous Winterline student

The ranch offers chocolate making, fermentation, and pickling, and engages students with wider conversations around food systems, water management, and natural building -- cob, bamboo, swales. They partner up with resident apprentices, scientists, and experts who have dedicated their lives to sustainability, and learn to wield an axe to chop the wood, aerate the compost, fix the biodigester, milk the goats. They get a chance to make things and bring the philosophy of permaculture to life.

But they also get a chance to experience an intentional community living in the tropical forests of Costa Rica. The community structure is consensus-based and non-hierarchical. They practice and live up to a system of governance known as sociocracy, with its many challenges, because of its advantages in building not just sustainable buildings and agriculture, but sustainable communities.

The gap year offers the perfect opportunity to explore the many ways people lead their lives, and we see no reason why skills can't be learned alongside the adoption of many new perspectives and ways of living.

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"What I found most valuable was sharing opinions and holding conversations about topics I didn't know I could be so interested in." - Anonymous Winterline student


Interested in the Winterline 12-week Global Skills Program? 

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