Farm at a Glance
Finca Pura Suerte
La Florida, Costa Rica
Location: La Florida is located
about 40 minutes northeast of the Pacific Ocean
in the Talamanca Mountains
Size: 30 acres
Operation: Non-certified bio-dynamic
What is grown: oranges, pineapples,
papayas and other tree fruits; mixed vegetables
and herbs; bamboo (for building)
a new global traveler to the pages of our web
Pennsylvania resident Susanna Meyer is
on the road, WWOOF-ing her way through Costa Rica.
World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms –
an organization that facilitates visits and volunteer
labor on organic farms around the world –
proved to be a good guide for Jason Witmer in
his visits to Thailand, Laos, India, Nepal and
Spain earlier this year. And Jason proved that
overseas farms and farmers have rich stories to
To revisit those farms, go to Jason’s
first column, published back in February,
2003.We pried Susanna away from a cold, wet autumn
in Pittsburgh to spend nearly three months on
organic farms in the rainforests, coffee plantations
and lush mountain pastures of Costa Rica. Actually,
she decided to go on her own and offered to invite
us – and you – along for the quest.
She’s looking for agricultural principles
that will work in her organic farming learning
curve on an urban farm back home at the Three
Her travel plans are somewhat tentative, as she
juggles hitting the coffee harvest, finding the
right bus, and contacting farmers who tend to
be in the field more than by the phone.
But she’s already filed two reports that
show the ingenuity of U.S. immigrants to Costa
Rica who are learning all they can about their
new micro-climates. They are combining their knowledge
of organics with indigenous farming culture. In
an economic climate of falling prices and diminished
agricultural opportunity, they are helping to
craft cooperative techniques of production and
marketing to find profit in high-value products
from sustainably produced crops.
As Susanna’s visits solidify and her reports
come in, this list will grow
Rivas, the foothills of Mt Chirripo
Finca la Puebla
For Frank Thompson and Sue Spencer, volunteering
at an Ontario CSA was one thing. Figuring out
how to transition a profitless Costa Rican coffee
plantation to organic sustainability is another.
A local organic-producer co-op – birthed
in protest but now internationally financed, for
a time – holds some hope for coffee profitability.
Siete Estrellas de Jicotea
An Ohio couple found them with 60 acres of land
and a conventional coffee plantation – just
when the world coffee prices began to plummet.
They joined a farmers’ co-op – started
by a priest committed to earth-friendly practices
-- that now has up to 80 people attending its
meetings. Going organic – and raising most
of their own food – keeps farmers in this
area hoping for a future.
Finca la Bella
Finca la Bella, made up of 24, 1-ha farms, rests
in Costa Rica´s north-eastern cloud forest
region, adjacent to the village of San Luis.
January 12, 2003: Finca
Pura Suerte (Pure Luck Farm) rests on the sloping side
of the Talamanca Mountain Range. Below, thick pasture and
rainforest interweave softly. They fan down the valley, and
up a parallel ridge, behind which glimmers the ocean.
But when Dre, the friendly 24-year-old farmer, picks me up
from the main road, Pura Suerte is enveloped in a cloud. Dre
expertly maneuvers his little pick-up truck along the 11 kilometers
of dirt road to his farm. He’s originally from Denver,
Colorado, and has owned this Costa Rican property for three
years. He tells me it’s been raining for two weeks.
The view through the white mist barely includes the back of
my hand, let alone the distant ocean.
In a couple of days, however, the farm's signature good luck
has parted the thick clouds long enough to let through a hearty
amount of tropical sun. We’re nearing the end of the rainy
season, and spirits around the farm rise with each moment of
blue sky and hot sun.
Pura Suerte encompasses 30 acres of land – around 10
acres of virgin rainforest and the remainder in pasture and
permaculture. The eventual goal for the site is an ecotourism
center with cabins, a restaurant, and horseback riding to
the nearby waterfalls. The farm will supply most of the food
for the enterprise, and support the local community with jobs.
But for now, Dre is concentrating on building – the
gardens as well as bamboo structures for housing.
Volunteers help manage weeds, tortuza
Volunteers from the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms
organization have been integral to the process. Over 50 volunteers
gave their time and energy last year. And for the past five
months, a young and energetic Quebecois family has lived on
the farm. Louis, longhaired and quick to smile, is overhauling
the gardens. Julie, resourceful and full of spirit, decorates
and works in the gardens. And 3-year-old Lilo is ever-present,
helping and learning. He shows me, blue eyes wide and intelligent,
which fennel seeds are good to eat. “Semillas,”
he explains, in Spanish. He points out flor de jamica,
a purple hibiscus whose leaves we put in salads, and identifies
which oranges we’ve picked are madura –
ripe for squeezing.
When the weather cooperates we work outside. “Yuca
is our tiller,” Louis tells me, straightening from weeding.
We´re standing on the terraces in mid-morning sun. In
the distance white wave caps outline the shore. He explains
how the long, pointed tubers of the crop – a carbohydrate-rich
Costa Rican staple -- loosens the ground and draws minerals
from deep within the earth to the topsoil. “We pull
out the tuber to eat,” he says, “and have a little
bed to plant – sweet potatoes love it.”
The area where we’re working is full of newly-planted
yuca, papayas, sweet potatoes, and herbs like marjoram and
stevia as ground cover. In the rainy season, the paths need
to be weed-whacked once a month. Not an easy job, with the
steep slope and small crops interspersed. Louis has been planting
herbs below the papaya trees. “I’m all about connecting
our weed-free areas,” he says, enthusiastically.
Another pest on the farm, besides “tenacious weeds,”
as Louis calls them, is a burrowing rodent, the tortuza.
It digs under plants and destroys their root systems. So far
no one’s found a good solution. The group of neighbors
have a bounty on tortuzas, and “hunt tortuza”
is perpetually scrawled on the farm’s to-do board. But
not much changes on the tortuza front while I’m
Butterflies like salad plates
During a conversation on the porch I note that Louis probably
has seen a lot of change in the months he and his family have
been here. “Yeah,” he agrees, “I’ve
brought a lot of change. I understand the tropical
ecology – I’ve been farming in the tropics since
I was 17…” he flashes me his 25-year-old grin,
and points out a butterfly as big as a salad plate flapping
noiselessly past. It´s a morpho, and its wings
transform from a brilliant blue in the early morning to black
and white at night, when it imitates an owl. The area around
the house is a haven for these butterflies and others –
a part of the farm's permaculture plan. Eventually, Dre hopes,
the farm will form part of a proposed wildlife corridor across
The view from the wooden deck is a mesh of banana, mango,
orange, and momonchino trees. Below the canopy are
bright flowers and vines, a sprouting area for fruit seeds,
benches, and a swing. But the clear ocean view is from the
vivero, or greenhouse, and the gardens above.
The plastic-roofed greenhouse covers about a third of the
gardens. Greens, carrots, and delicate herbs grow here, protected
from deluges. Even with the heavy rains, though, tomatoes,
beans, ginger, turmeric, and other edible and medicinal plants
thrive without a roof, in the terraces above the vivero.
Controlling erosion, building soil
These outdoor crops require thick mulch to prevent nutrient
leaching and to protect their root systems. We use old banana
leaves as well as guarumo tree leaves – the
mulch of choice. These umbrella-like leaves drop all over
the farm. We collect bags of them with a stick shaped like
an L (a traditional Costa Rican tool for raking grasses and
leaves) and crumple them on top of the beds. They disintegrate,
in time, into a rich black soil amendment, a contrast to the
red clay soil below.
Vetiver grass lines terraces in the gardens, to
trap valuable topsoil in the beds. Dre points out this same
grass along the roadside, where he’s planted it to stop
erosion. Its roots can push down through an impressive 30
ft of earth. Bamboo grows around the property for erosion
control as well. Dre enjoys constructing with bamboo. Two
kitchen walls in the house are fashioned from local bamboo
poles, and the bamboo on the farm will eventually be used
to build other structures. Dre explains that long-lasting,
construction-quality bamboo is grown with chemical fertilizers.
But “it’s not how long it lasts,” he says
– “what’s important in a self-sustaining
operation is that once it disintegrates you can re-supply.
Dre admits that the financial aspect of sustainability is
the “ugliest,” in this farm’s situation.
Marketing organic products, which requires more labor and
results in a more expensive end product, doesn’t fly
in the local rural village of La Florida. Costa Ricans here
don’t have disposable income. They have food to eat,
clean water, education, and work, and they have valuable land,
but not extra money. So Dre hopes to become financially viable
with the eco-tourism enterprise. He may also eventually export
dried or distilled herbs.
Forging links with the local community
Dre has formed good relationships within La Florida. When
he first arrived, however, he was very cautious. He put up
“no trespassing” signs around his property. “I
was being careful,” he tells me. “I had just spent
my life savings, you know. But it didn’t look good to
Bit by bit, they’ve built mutual trust. Dre started
talking to his neighbors. He tore out old coffee plants and
they were interested. He shared his vegetables and they invited
him to dinner. Then Dre began teaching English at the local
school. “My Spanish wasn’t good when I got here,”
he says. “One of the reasons that I started the English
classes was that the community had already been really patient
with me, and I wanted to give something back.”
A year ago he switched to teaching an organic gardening class
once a week. As we drive up to the school on a misty morning,
Dre is negotiating the road’s slippery red clay and
potholes. We keep an eye out for the local sloth in the guarumo
trees above our heads. “I started thinking about what
was more important for these kids to learn – English
or how to garden,” he says with a shrug. Gardening won.
The next generation
The kids are raring to go. They dig sweet potatoes that they
planted out of the soggy hilled earth. They separate out the
potatoes and take them to the school kitchen, then divide
the vines to replant at the school and at home. I love their
focused energy. It´s inspiring, as is the prospect of
these young children carrying organic gardening knowledge
into the next generation.
Back on the farm, I feel like I’m learning as much
as the kids at school. I pick up farming tips – like
sprinkling crushed eggshells around the base of plants to
deter slugs – and I learn new plant varieties. Malibar,
or wild spinach. French oregano. Mexican marigold.
Julie, efficient and knowledgeable, her long hair tied back
with a scarf, explains how they plant the hijos –
baby plants – of the pineapples, rather than the tops,
like most tropical farmers. She gestures to the bed of spiky
pineapples that we just weeded, and raises her eyebrows, “This
way we get four or five piñas from a plant,
rather than one.”
Dre emphasizes the information exchange that happens between
the farm and the Costa Rican neighbors. “We trade new
ideas – between us we can come up with things that work.”
Two Costa Rican friends and hired helpers join us for dinner
one night. French Canadians, Americans, and Costa Ricans,
together we happily eat our farm salad of mustard greens,
lettuce, hibiscus leaves and sprouts.
Pura Suerte connects travelers, farmers, neighbors, and ideas.
It functions under the guidelines of permaculture, the biodynamic
calendar, and “a good set of ideals,” which keeps
Dre grounded. “I need to remember what’s really
important,” he tells me. Quite an appropriate goal,
for a sustainable farm and lifestyle.
Susanna Meyer is a freelance writer, sustainable farming
advocate and recent college graduate.
For more information about Pura Suerte visit their website