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Costa Rica Update #9: Envidia Tropical

Posted by kevinwolz on July 24, 2011

If I hadn’t been expected elsewhere, I would have stayed. Finca Amrta was incredible. I arrived randomly on their doorstep in the pouring rain knowing nothing about their farm and slightly desperate for a place to stay after a few farm flops. My initial intent of two nights there quickly turned into four, then five, then a week. As everyone keeps telling me, “the best things happen when you´re open.”

The daily routine and setup there was similar to that of the first farm, but with more cooking all around. The volunteers were supplied with all the staples, but we had to cook for ourselves, which was really fun and produced some quite epic meals. The farm’s crop diversity, location, community, and overall plan were better than any we had previously experienced. The owners were two U.S. expats who knew so much about the 200+ varieties of trees alone and countless other plant species on their land. The “short” tree tour took two hours.

Over the two weeks on spent on farms in Costa Rica, and especially at Finca Amrta, I was able to interact with many new crops and really learn what agriculture is like in the tropics. Prior to my agricultural experiences in Costa Rica, I had what I would call “tropical envy.” I was convinced that the tropics were any plant’s paradise and that these farms would put anything I had previously experienced to shame. Now, while there is certainly some truth to these claims (hell, Costa Rica’s insane biodiversity certainly speaks for something), my jealously has subsided quite a bit.

Sure, the tropics still win in the sheer number of possible crops, but we (temperate region folk) have a whole separate subset of cool-weather crops that they can’t even begin to touch (rhubarb, Brassicas, asparagus, etc.). The tropics may not have snow or frosts, but their dry season can be just as harsh with droughts. The tropics may have more rain, but this is often too much, causing many crops we know and love (e.g. tomatoes) to only survive under the protection of a roof or barrier. The tropics may have a stronger sun, but we have the day length advantage. The tropics may have a varied terrain, but we have 10 times the top soil.

The comparisons are interesting, and my thoughts have run far deeper in the last two weeks. Overall, I still have no doubt that a well-run tropical farm can out-produce a well-run temperate farm…that’s basic ecology. However, the divide isn’t as steep as I previously thought, and my perspective is much more balanced. We can do some “epic $h!t” up north. I know. I’ve seen it. If only the vasty majority of our country wasn’t ingrained in a system of epic stupidity…

I definitely plan on returning to Finca Amrta in the future. Not quite sure when that’ll be, but if I learned anything there it was that if I’m open, things will likely fall into place. “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.” The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

But, alas, my interests are wide and my time here is short. I left the farm with just under a month left on my topical journey and an entire country yet to experience. So, on Monday, Chelsey and I parted ways, and I headed first for San Vito, Costa Rica. San Vito is home to the Las Cruces Biological Station, one of three stations in Costa Rica owned by the Organization for Tropical Studies. OTS is an organization of universities from around the world that conducts research and educational programs in tropical biology. Their two month-long intensive tropical ecology program was the program that first brought my attention to Costa Rica. Last summer, I was ready to come to down here for their program, but the whole universe once again conspired towards a different plan (forgive me…just read The Alchemist…anybody??), and the rest is history.

Las Cruces seemed as if someone had taken a small chunk of a University and dropped it in the middle of the forest. There were laboratories, dorms, dining halls, conference rooms, offices, smart professors, tired grad students, and confused undergrads (like me). Las Cruces, like the other OTS stations, serves as a central hub for biologists to access all the facilities and info they need to conduct research in the surrounding forest. Many students also come through to take classes or do research on a variety of topics. Overall, it was a really neat academic microcosm that served as a good stepping stone towards Panama. I spent one night at Las Cruces and then finally headed towards to border. Little did I know that a great adventure was awaiting me ahead…


2 Responses to “Costa Rica Update #9: Envidia Tropical”

  1. Joan said

    Kevin, Very interesting. I bet the Costa Rican farmers would love to have Illinois soil!! But all I see around the Midwest for the most part is corn and soybeans. Saw a lot of it today at Lake Koshkonong! Had a great two days there.
    Glad you made it to next desitntion….eager to see the next blog about your time in Panama..


  2. Joan said

    Oops! I mean destination!


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