Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sharing my story: why I work with people and plants

As part of my involvement in the International Society of Ethnobiology, I was asked "why did you become an ethnobiologist?" Ethnobiology refers to the study of people and biology or people and their environment. I identify myself as an ethnobiologist because I work with people and plants. Although many factors led to my ethnobiology career path, I answered this question with a few important ones. You can find my story on the Emerging Ethnobiologists blog and I have re-posted it here: 

My Story: 

1) Why did you become an ethnobiologist?

Becoming an ethnobiologist was a process. I grew up gardening with my grandmother and exploring forests in Canada with my dad. Spending time outdoors with my family cultivated my interest in plants, the wild, the farmed, and the medicinal.

Camping in the Canadian Rocky Mountains (1986)
When I began university, I did not study ethnobotany. Instead, I explored classes in chemistry and Spanish. Perhaps, it was when I moved to Latin America - first for an exchange program and later for work and play - that my studies and my life-projects came together under the guise of ethnobotany. 

In Latin America - boating through the Peruvian Amazon and working on Costa Rican farms - I became more dedicated to the connections between people and plants. When I began my Masters degree at the University of Costa Rica, I took my first ethnobotany course.

A trip on Eduardo II in the Peruvian Amazon (2005)
Cooking peach palm flowers in Talamanca, Costa Rica (2012)

2) What is one of the most memorable experiences from your work?

My most memorable experiences happened while cultivating a collaborative partnership and friendship  with Bribri women in Talamanca, Costa Rica; this friendship began with my doctoral research and continues through a mutual project we developed on organic coffee farming. It is with these women I feel I have learned most of what I need to know to live - contently - in this world.  

3) What is your future plan?

In the immediate future, my plan is to finish writing my thesis. Afterwards, I hope to continue to collaborate with women and youth on ethnobotany projects and to teach ethnobiology. Right now I am brainstorming about ethnobiology courses and seminars I would like to teach; these include courses on qualitative research methods and the ethnobiology of food and a seminars on cross-cultural research partnerships.


  1. This is inspiring Olivia! Indeed there is a need for a better understanding of the relationship between humans and environment and sustainable development is the way to go if we are to continue enjoying our stay on this precious mother planet Earth!! Keep up the good work!!

  2. Hi Denis, thanks for your support. I would love to hear some of the things that inspired you to dedicate your life's work to projects related to the environment and sustainable development! We are posting people's stories on the emerging ethnobiologists blog (; if you want to share your story there, here are the instructions (, and don't forget to include a picture!