|Monday, March 10, 2008|
Once again I find myself in a tropical rainforest, touring organic and biodynamic farms. With my brother Mark along, our first stay was up at 8000 feet above sea level, sitting on top of the world. Bill and Holly are still raising trout and marketing smoked and dried meats throughout central Costa Rica. Mark has a keen interest in rainbow trout; he managed a fish farm in North Carolina for many years, so there was a lot of trout talk.
Ttropical highland countryside offered cold streams, waterfalls and hiking trails. A chance meeting is a hot spring with Pagetta, led us to his Chi gong retreat center, where Simon and Pablo want to create biodynamic gardens around a youth center. On a hundred acres, they’ve built homes, cabins and large structures for practicing oriental yoga and breathing techniques. They hope to remedy the lack of nature experiences in children today with extended immersion in these tropical jungle paradises. Their websites are www.Shaulin-Wahnam-center.org and www.Extamuro.com.
Next it was down to the sea and up to Hank’s vanilla farm, www.rainforestspices.com. He’s touring tourists through the rows of cinnamon, allspice, black pepper and vanilla, along with a host of other interesting plants such as bromeliads, orchids and heliconias. Compost and mulch play a key role on his farm, as they do on ours.
The annual biodynamic conference was halfway back up the country at Steven’s ginger farm- www.LunaNuera.com. Here we stuffed sausages full of chamomile, made pillows by sewing dandelion flowers into a messentary, and packed crocks full of a local stinging nettle. Barrel compost and horn manure were also made, beginning to bring biodynamics agriculture to the tropics. The farm is along a corridor connecting it to the children’s rainforest, which is large tract of land preserved by kids all over the world sending in small amounts of money they’ve raised. The earth needs the rainforest like humans need lungs, for breathing. Steven’s vision includes farms bordering this preserve replicate his model of using no chemicals, hiring local labor, and buffering the rainforest edges with organic farms, mutually benefiting both.
Christian moved here in the early 80’s and his farm near the Caribbean Sea has been certified organic since 1986. He helped organize a cooperative of organic growers, which now totals over 1000, producing primarily bananas and chocolate. We saw miles of commercial banana crops on the road to the sea, tightly spaced and heavily sprayed with chemicals made in the U.S. but illegal to use in the U.S. The organic farmers avoid sprays simply by planting the bananas farther apart, allowing for other plants, like cocoa, to grow with them in a symbiotic, natural system.
The bananas are harvested weekly, and sold for about a nickel per pound. It’s a small but steady income. The cocoa beans are fermented for five days, then dried, roasted and ground to make pure, unsweetened chocolate, which sells for about a dollar a pound. Many other tropical plants are grown here; we saw nutmeg, breadfruit, akee, rubber, noni, and lots of citrus.
Mark and I had never taken a trip together before, and we both felt it worthwhile to get to know each other a little better. Visiting someone’s home is one thing, but being thrown together in a foreign county brings a bit of daily uncertainty to the mix. We compromised well with plenty of beach time for him, and he learned you couldn’t be in a hurry when two organic farmers start talking.