On a recent trip to Uvita, Costa Rica, I picked up a flyer offering a tour of Finca Carolina, an organic farm, plus birding, a hike to a waterfall on the property, and organic refreshments for $30 per person. As an advocate of sustainable food, I buy organic, local food to support these kinds of farms (in addition to the health and taste benefits, of course). This tour seemed like a really neat twist on the traditional ecotourism business model and a way to vote with my dollars to further support organic agriculture, so I decided to find out what it was like to run an organic farm in the tropics.
The tour started with “refrescos”, a snack of locally grown plantains, beans, and avocado, served with a delicious salad of tropical greens I had never seen before and a juice drink made with starfruit. The scenery was amazing, as the farm blended into the sprawling jungle behind it. We saw a handful of colorful tropical birds as we ate, and identifying them with my Birds of Costa Rica book turned out to be an effort in futility. How can there be 42 different bright yellow, blue, green, and red birds with curved beaks?! Costa Rica is home to more species of birds than the U.S. and Canada combined, despite the fact that geographically, it is about the size of Kentucky.
Next we did the farm tour, where we saw the fruit trees that were among the first plantings the owners did 7 years ago when they bought the undeveloped land. The Chinese have a saying: The best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The next best time is now. These owners were smart enough to get these trees established right off the bat, as now the farm is enjoying the “fruits” of their labor by selling papaya, bananas, starfruit, and several other varieties of tropical fruit.
The farm tour included a particular type of greenhouse that shielded sensitive greens from the torrential downpours associated with the rainy season in Costa Rica, while in the meantime it had a sophisticated rainwater catchment and irrigation system for those greens. Rice hulls and other organic compost material was used to keep the soils fertile, and chickens wandered the property, feeding on the leftover scraps of our meal.
After learning a bit about organic ag, we took a fun hike down to the waterfall and went for a swim in the cool mountain stream. We saw lizards, many birds, and really neat insects, in addition to hearing monkey calls in the trees above our heads, proving that human development can coincide with environmental protection and species habitat.
Anyone planning a trip to Costa Rica and interested in taking this particular tour should contact Andrew at Andrew[at]utsi.org. Uvita, a tropical paradise, is on the central Pacific coast, about 7 hours from San Jose International Airport. The farm and its owners have ambitious plans to provide an educational facility for organic agriculture in the country, working with the University of Costa Rica and local high schools, as well as traveling groups.
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and hopes that someday, the green economy will simply be referred to as…the economy.