Pura Vida – Part 1

view from VerdEnergia Farm

View from VerdEnergia Farm

I’m on the road at last. After weeks of planning (getting vaccines and visas) and packing (four pairs of socks or five?) I left for my first international destination: Costa Rica.  My original focus in this laid-back land was just going to be The Monteverde Cloud Forest which due to climate change is turning into more of a rain forest. But after my friend Jose Conde spoke to me about several fincas (farms) based on Permaculture, I knew I wanted to visit them to show the flip-side of the story of climate change. Much of our world is being altered by our putting too much carbon dioxide in the environment but there are many concerned citizens who are working to restore Mother Earth’s greenery.

Finca # 1 – VerdEnergia

VerdEnergia mural

One of the many colorful murals painted around the finca

Located in the ultra-small town of Lanas, down a narrow-muddy-bumpy road southwest of San Jose, past Puriscal and Salitrales, it’s an adventure just getting there. But the warm welcome I received from the members of the VerdEnergia tribe made all the jostling worthwhile. Begun in 2006 by American Joshua Hughes and some like-minded compatriots who were seeking an alternative to the traditional consumer-based rat-race, they began this finca to embrace a more conscientious, sustainable way of living.

mushroom growing from a crack in the cementVerdeEnergia is a magical place where a mushroom grows from a crack in the cement to mirror its painted shadow and a late-night impromptu batch of chocolate  is made from cocoa beans from a local farmer. Food is,of course, of the essence here … from the fresh goat milk which is stirred in coffee, drunk straight-up or made into yoghurt and cheese, to the yucca that is chopped down in the field one morning and then graces the table that night in the form of crispy chips and a cheesy casserole. Yummm. My mother asked if I was eating well on my travels. She need not worry. The food was fresh, flavorful and plenty at both farms I visited.

Maiju making yoghurt

The resulting yoghurt with granola sprinkled on top

The resulting yoghurt with granola sprinkled on top

Cheese made with jalapeño peppers for some extra kick

VerdEnergia is on 20 acres of a former deforested cow pasture.  They are letting the jungle take back part of the property and structuring the rest to maximize the land’s potential for agriculture and to avoid landslides during the rainy season that are all too common on such deforested lands.

Swales cut into the earth help prevent landslides and make better use of rainfall for crops

Swales cut into the earth help prevent landslides and make better use of rainfall for crops.

A landslide created by deforested area down the road from VerdEnergia

Everyone who is staying at the farm takes part in the daily cooking schedule as well as with helping with the various farming and construction projects.

Two residents planting peanuts

Angel and Douwe readying the earth to plant peanuts

Caspar varnishing boards for new living quarters

Caspar varnishing boards for new living quarters

view of the main house at dusk

View of the main house at dusk

The farm is a colorful place with murals painted on many walls and a cool blue pool outside the main house. The current group living there is a multinational bunch hailing from the US, The Netherlands, and Finland.

The current crop of residents and volunteers at VerdEnergia

The current crop of residents and volunteers at VerdEnergia

A fledgling Jatropha plant

A fledgling Jatropha plant

Besides the farming and building a bigger “village” to extend the size of their community, a large part of their plan is creating biodiesel from the Jatropha plant (or tempate as locals call it). It takes several years for a plant to become capable of producing fuel from crushing its leaves and collecting the oil, but they have already started production. VerdEnergia plans to use this “green energy” for their own use as well as selling it to put equity back into the farm. I was amazed at the ease of planting the Jatropha and other plants by just sticking a branch into the ground and letting it sprout.

overhead view of a Jatropha plant

Overhead view of a Jatropha plant

With composting toilets, manual labour under a hot sun, and early-morning starts to the day, this lifestyle is not for everyone, but if you are interested in community living, fresh food, solar-water showers, and learning about sustainable agriculture VerdEnergia welcomes volunteers.

Maiju in the goat barn with a rabbit visiting from the other side of the fence

Maiju, one of the full-time residents, in the goat barn with a rabbit visiting from the other side of the fence

Pura Vida more or less translates to “pure life” but it is used in a much broader sense in Costa Rica to mean things like – full of life, awesome!, this is living! or even – this is awesome living!! It is often used in greeting someone or saying farewell.  It’s a catchy phrase that aptly describes my experiences in Costa Rica. I left VerdEnergia with renewed faith in our ability to reclaim land that has been deforested and depleted of nutrients. In my next post – I’ll talk about Rancho Mastatal, another permaculture finca down the road  from VerdeEnergia.     

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