Virginia Tech Students Visit to Finca Rio Perla, Caribbean Highlands, Costa Rica
VT grad student Paul Siegel hosted students in his farm in Costa Rica; he explained his experience with the Hokie visitors.

As a 1991 PhD graduate in Agricultural Economics from Virginia Tech, I was very happy to host a group of Hokie students and professors at my farm Finca Rio Perla in the Caribbean Highlands of Costa Rica on January 9, 2016.  The group, which was participating in a course at nearby Earth University, came to see our (re)forestation and agro-forestry projects. Yes, a far distance from the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland (where I was born and raised) and the rolling hills that surround Blacksburg, Virginia (where I spent about 4 years as a student).  But, not so far flung considering my longtime interest in farming and in seeking a lifestyle to “walk-the-talk” with respect to growing my own food, building community, living sustainably, and making a difference in the world.  I lived for 2 years on communal (kibbutz) and cooperative (moshav) farms in Israel - some where my relatives lived - which greatly influenced my life path.  I decided to go back to university and got a BS in Horticulture from University of Maryland and a MS in agricultural economics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Rehovot Campus), Israel. After getting my PhD at Virginia Tech, I was a professor in the USA and in Israel, and I have been a consultant for the World Bank for 30 years. Thus, I have been lucky to work in more than 25 countries around the world on a wide range of subjects from coffee/cocoa policy to addressing human vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters.  But, giving advice and writing reports and journal articles is different than “doing it”.  

In late 2004 I was working on a study for the World Bank with Virginia Tech Professor Jeff Alwang (one of my PhD advisors) when I bought a farm in Costa Rica from a colleague at the World Bank.  I also bought a few other farms on the same mountain and now have about 240 acres in total. Over the past 10+ years I have been trying to develop/manage the farm(s) as an agro-eco tourism farm, to provide an authentic “hands-on” farm and rural village experience so that people can connect with the amazing nature and good natured people at Finca Rio Perla, in the small village of Union Rio Perla (“La Perla”).  Trying to juggle my life between the USA and Costa Rica has been very challenging, but also incredibly rewarding.  I feel that my family and I are changing the lives of our workers and breathing life into an abandoned village; and of course it is an incredible feeling and responsibility to be steward of such incredible natural beauty (we have amazing waterfalls and natural pools, trees, plants and birds of all types) and to contribute to its betterment by planting trees and trying to practice organic agriculture. The plan is to move to the farm on a more permanent basis, but it is a process.  Anyway, as a Virginia Tech grad, it was really special to host the Hokie students and professors at Finca Rio Perla.  We took a great hike in a forest, planted trees, visited some beautiful natural waterfalls and pools, drank refreshing carambola (starfruit) juice, munched on fresh cocoa seeds, made/drank sugar cane juice, and checked out the horse stables and dairy.  So, come visit us on line at: and better yet, come visit us in-person and come to “Hokie Hilltop”. Pura Vida. Paul B. Siegel, PhD, VA Tech, Jan 1991.