Today we had the chance to speak with Marvin, a Quaker from Alabama who established Monteverde in 1951 after fleeing the militaristic state of the US. Marvin was 1 of 44 people among 11 families who made the trip down Central America. The families had nothing, as they came with very few belongings, yet managed to build from the ground up most of what Monteverde is today. Upon initial creation, the Quakers decided to set aside one-third of the land to preserve water. This was the beginning of what now contributes to Costa Rica’s current preservation of over a fourth of the country. Additionally, Marvin played a large role in the expansion of the Cloud Forest, which has grown from an initial size of 5,000 acres to 26,000 acres today.
Additionally, the growing community needed a source of income. The Quakers travelled down to the Central Valley where they purchased cattle to bring back up the mountains. Using the cattle, Marvin and his family opened up a factory where they produced cheese. To this very day, Monteverde is still known for having the best dairy, specifically in their cheese and ice-cream products. However, a new business has taken over the current area. Modern day Monteverde is a huge tourist attraction, hence it’s nickname “Gringolandia.” The business is so dominant that many locals have dedicated their careers to running small restaurant and hotels to support the economy. Dirt roads have been paved. Landscapes have been manicured. Souvenir shops are around every corner.
While there often exists a negative connotation surrounding colonialism (and rightfully so), I don’t believe this specific case of Monteverde applies. Marvin ensured he interacted respectfully with the locals, sharing ideas and helping each other, rather than trying to overtake the area for himself. His Quaker community began the sustainable efforts that make Monteverde famous today. The migration of his family, as well as the bilingual school that attracted students from all over, helped to contribute to the diversity of Costa Rica—something the Country as a whole is extremely proud of still. While the tourism can also bring a bad rap to the area, the booming economy has only helped to make the community richer, ensure the reserves are kept to standard, and create more jobs for locals. Ultimately, the Quakers colonized in the best way possible—out of respect, admiration, and hopes of a successful future. Marvin’s story was a perfect example of how development can contribute in a positive way to better the community as a whole.