By Ali Booth
Caroline Arnaud grew up in a world of juxtaposition: splitting a childhood between the urban privilege of Tuscan, Arizona, and her family’s cattle ranch nestled beside the border between Mexico and the rural desert of New Mexico. “Being there gave me a deep appreciation for nature. It ignited something in me to protect land. Now, no matter what I do, I want to do things that benefit the Earth,” she explains.
The OK Ranch has been in Caroline’s family for over 100 years. “Nothing there has changed in 60 years. It’s a totally different world,” she says, her eyes glittered with memories of summer days on the ranch. Her passion for creating environmental good led her to a group called Dream Volunteers, an organization that has given Caroline the opportunity to live in Costa Rica and Guatemala for the past three summers. These experiences have allowed her to leave a positive footprint on communities lacking the education and amenities to sustain the environment around them.
Caroline first traveled to Vulta Grande, a larger town surrounded by impoverished villages in Guatemala when she was 16. What she saw there vastly strayed from the life she was used to. Among a population still clothed in traditional Mayan clothing, living in mud brick built homes lacking running water and electricity, and using fire to cook meals, her experience was, as she described it, “eye-opening in the least cliche way possible.”
While in Costa Rica, Caroline helped transition coffee farms, one of the primary agricultural products of the country, into bio-organic coffee farms in an effort to not only pave the way for a more environmentally sustainable community, but also to provide the farmers with the means to earn a profit from the coffee that they’d previously been breaking even with.
“The land had been destroyed,” Caroline describes. “Because the general population demands coffee that requires horrible pesticides, they have had to do whatever they could to make it, year after year. Providing them with the equipment and education of bio-organic farming promises the Costa Rican farmers a long-term solution.”
Instead of using harsh fertilizers, these new farming technique use the waste from the previous year’s coffee bean shells, called brosa. Caroline spent her days under the fiery Costa Rican sun, laboriously packing the brosa around the coffee bean plant on tiered hills. “We were lifting 50 pound bags and laughing, and having a good time because we knew what we were doing mattered,” she says.
Her organization also funds the education of children who otherwise would have dropped out of school. “There was a little boy, Marvin,” she began, her lips curling into a humble smile. “He was around 13-years-old when I first met him—from a family of seven children. He was the only person in his family to ever go to high school.” Even after leaving, she continued to check in on Marvin. “Whenever we talked, he would ask me when I was coming back,” Caroline says.
Her effort to make a personal connection sets Caroline apart from others. “People all over the world are donating to these communities, and to kids, and their education, but it’s so important to go to these places and work with the people there, show them your face and your hands and tell them you’re willing to help,” she adds passionately.
“I’ve gained a different perspective through these trips, an appreciation of where everything comes from and the cycles and processes that different things take,” she says, recognizing that she never used to consider her own personal contribution to pollution and poor farming conditions.
In the future, when she takes over The OK Ranch with her older brother, she plans to only supply cattle to grass-fed raisers. “My dad doesn’t get it. He says that’s not where the money is, but he’s looking at it from a business perspective,” she says. “It’s the same with the coffee growers; they’re not going to immediately see the benefits. It’s all about looking at things in the long-term, and how we can prevent damage to the Earth.”
Spreading awareness, at this point, is Caroline’s main goal. “Being educated and being aware of both sides—production and consumption—is so important. Even if you can’t make a huge change, at least you can teach other people. If you’re ignorant, there’s nothing you can do.” At the grocery store, the Arizonian native buys fair-trade coffee and organic produce. When people ask her why, she’s happy to impart her views and share her experiences.
Moving forward, the sophomore fashion merchandising major and art history minor wants to continue her pursuits. Upon graduation, she hopes to work as a member of Dream Volunteers to lead trips to India or Vietnam, and maybe later in life work in the textiles industry in sustainable fashion. Of her experiences helping others and advocating for the environment, she says, “I don’t want it to just be something that I did, and then that portion of my life is over. I really do think this is something I’ll be doing forever.”