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
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 site
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 tell.
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 Rivers.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 around.
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 nation.
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. That’s sustainability.”
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 the community.”
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.
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
Susanna Meyer is a freelance writer, sustainable farming advocate
and recent college graduate.
For more information about Pura Suerte visit their website