Using Gravity and Trees to Save the Planet

Visiting Life Monteverde was a very surreal and eye-opening experience.  The farm is owned by twelve families and is almost ready to be passed onto the third generation.  Guillermo is the man in charge of decisions regarding nature and the land and his brother is the numbers and computers guy.  Together, with the help of 10 other owners, they are still finding creative ways to adjust and grow in the ever-changing cloud forest.  However, life on the farm is not only about life on the farm for these environmentally-aware farmers.  In order to successfully and sustainably run Life Monteverde, the families face and solve problems as they arise, including dealing with highly acidic soil and maintaining an organic vegetable garden while neighboring farms use pesticides. The twelve families work together to create a mostly self-sustaining land and act as an example and an educator for coffee farms everywhere.

A large topic of today was sustainability and how it relates to farming.  Sustainability can be broken up into three groups: environmental, social, and economical.  Environmental sustainability consists of many aspects.  For example, Life Monteverde is positioned on the side of a mountain.  The downhill slope of the mountain allows rain water and water released from communities above them to run down to their farm.  With the help of visiting college students, they determined the water to be too dirty to use.  To compensate, they added plants to their stream to help purify the water as it runs down their farm and by the end, they are able to reuse the clean water or release it to the communities below them in a safe and clean manner.  They also do not release gases into the air.  Instead, they use a biodigester to pump the gas from the animals’ waste back into the house as cooking power.  Social sustainability comes into play with buying coffee seeds from small, local, family-owned farms and roasting then exporting them.  Life Monteverde does this because they use to be part of a cooperative.  When the cooperative fell through, Life Monteverde decided to keep buying from these smaller farms to keep them in the coffee industry rather than adding another hotel to the overcrowded tourist must-see town.  They also educate local farms about the importance of sustainable practices in hopes of creating a greener town.  Economical sustainability consists of lowering costs efficiently for the longest time possible.  Using the biodigester for cooking power cut their propane costs in half.  Adding forests to their farms is a one-time investment that gives back for a lifetime.

While making sure to maintain sustainable practices, the families must still adhere to daily, unpredictable struggles.  One of these struggles is highly acidic soil.  Some of the parts of the forests are littered with pine trees.  When pine needles fall off the trees, they lay on the soil and make the soil too acidic for anything to grow.  The family is in the process of planting native trees that help rather than hurt the soil and allow other plants to efficiently grow nearby and then plan to chop down the pine trees.  Today, we helped plant 10 avocado trees at the forest.  Another problem they face is keeping their vegetable garden organic although rain water and wind brings pesticides from uphill farms to Life Monteverde.  Because the families harvest these foods for their own and their animals’ consumption, they make sure that it is as pesticide free as possible.  To accomplish this, they surround their garden with trees from the forest to use as a windbreaker, absorbing the pesticides before they reach the garden.  The forest also helps to keep bugs distracted so they will not eat the food that the family will eat.  The water is cleaned using plants and then distributed, using gravity and a series of pipes, to the soil of the garden.  These are just two examples of the owners at Life Monteverde making sustainable choices to adjust to problems present.

The daily life of a Tico farmer varies depending on the time of year.  Generally, they are up with the sun and are working until it gets dark.  During the day, the farmers tend to the animals, check on the garden, plant trees, harvest coffee seeds, roast and export the coffee beans, pick food for their families, and plan what they will do tomorrow.  The family members that I had the chance to interact with today were all extremely honest and genuine about their jobs on the farm.  We could see the women working tirelessly in the kitchen all morning, just to prepare a fresh lunch for us.  I’m assuming they do that every day, three times a day, for everyone that is on the farm at any given time.  It was clear from their constant chit chat and smiles they didn’t mind, and even enjoyed, spending the morning preparing food and coffee.  During the tour, Guillermo’s daughter beamed as she told us her favorite spots to go on the farm when she was younger.  She said that living in New York City now makes her appreciate her roots even more and if it was between selling the farm to an outsider or her coming back to Monteverde and running it, she would do it with love.  Today, she taught us about a process called Poda.  A coffee plant can produce seeds for 20-25 years, but must be cut down to the trunk every 2-3 years to get the best seeds possible.  I overheard her telling three different people, once in Spanish, that she was so excited that she was able to teach us something new in the coffee process.  In general, I would say that these Tico farmers are happiest when their farms and surrounding land are sustainably thriving and when their families and communities continue to learn and improve themselves and their practices.

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