Number One

When I arrived in Aquiares, our garden didn’t have drainage, beds, plants, seeds, or anything, really. There were a few pairs of boots, some shovels, and the three women that were going to work to together to grow organic food to sell. And there was me: a college student/aspiring farmer from Ithaca, NY here to help. The earth they’d been given was rich and dark, full of organic matter. But it was also full of water. Therefore, the first thing we had to do was dig some drainage so the water all could leave. After a week, we’d done it, but it wasn’t working as well as it would just one week later, with the help of men from the plantation who made our ditches deeper. So when I got there on September 22, 2014, it was dry. The ditches, the beds, everything was ready for plants.

We’d already planted a few things in the places that were driest at the start; they had radish, cabbage, and lettuce. Among these to keep away insect pests is basil, which is fragrant enough to discourage some insects. The raised beds in these areas were able to drain quickly and stay drier than the others that still had residual water, making them muddy and leaving the ditches around them as swampland.

In the ground

From seed: beans, carrots, radishes, corn, culantro, sweet and hot peppers,                              tomatoes

Transplants: cabbage, lettuce, basil, zucchini

In addition to planting and maintaining the plants, there has been a lot of other work to do. Rocks were removed, enough to piece together a floor on the ground. Dirt was massaged out of dense, wet balls into finer soil before planting, weeds were pulled, and ants were attacked with soggy coffee grounds so they would stop cutting the leaves off the plants. In addition to the coffee and the basil that is growing among other plants, it has been necessary to take more steps to discourage insects. We are adhering to organic methods, and to do so we are using garlic extract that will repel pests with its foul odor. There is also flor de muerto planted around some sections, which also has a strong smell to deter pests. We hope this will help with the holes made by caterpillars and snails, the chunks ripped from leaves by ants, and the beetle eggs that will hatch into hungry larvae.

It has been a lot of work, and amazingly fast without ever feeling rushed or urgent. I have three new friends that are like aunts to me, laughing and singing as we dig in the dirt. On Costa Rica’s Independence Day, they made me traditional food and we had a picnic in the grass by the garden, then we worked on the drainage with their families, who added fun and efficiency. We have worked together in the hot sun despite bug bites and mud holes, learning from each other and encouraging each other. The work is tiring but so, so satisfying, and I am proud to be a part of this community effort for the garden. With luck, our first harvest of the lettuce will be in 4-6 weeks, and I can’t wait to try the food we’ve grown together.

Intro

In the shadow of Costa Rica’s Turrialba volcano lies the town of Aquiares, situated within and among a coffee plantation in the mountains of the rainforest. I am here as a college student, 20 years old, aspiring farmer, to assist with the creation of a community garden. This garden is the responsibility of three women here. They desire to increase their earnings and promote healthy eating in the community by selling the vegetables they produce. The cultivation of their crops will be organic to promote the health of the produce, the people, and the environment here in Costa Rica. Aquiares has previously welcomed intern Alex Schmall, who conducted a survey of the population and completed a report on ways to improve the standard of living for residents of Aquiares. This garden was one of her suggestions, directly from members of the community.

I’ve been working on organic produce farms in the northeast U.S. since high school. Four years, two farms, some livestock, lots of veggies. I’ve learned an incredible amount while working in these places, and also in school. I came to Costa Rica both to teach some of what I know, and to learn more. I’ve already been able to do both. Many of the plants I’ve seen before, but Aquiares is different from Connecticut and New York. I’ve never been in a place that’s consistently sunny and hot in the morning, but has forceful rains and cooler air in the afternoon and evening. Costa Rica is famous for its biodiversity, but the weather is more intense than I’d experienced in the context of farming. My agricultural horizons are also broadening due to the immense number of native fruits that grow here. The locals are eager to have me try their comida típica, which is amazing but simple to achieve. People take great pride in their food here, and in such a close and connected community, I imagine the garden flourishing and bringing success and security to its creators.

I’ve been here for three weeks now, and I’m ready to move to Costa Rica after graduation. The people are as warm as the climate. Everyone has welcomed me with open arms, and they are gentle when correcting my Spanish and eager to learn various words in English. They are politely curious about my life in the United States, my school, and my home. They are also ready to share everything they know (which is a lot) about Costa Rica: its plants, animals, culture, everything. I’ve been on hikes in the mountainous rainforest, fishing in a river, and stargazing at an overlook. I’ve seen a multitude of birds, various snakes, beautiful, immense fields with tiny-seeming cows scattered across them…A tarantula and smaller spiders, huge, huge butterflies, a crab in a river, and the footprints of a sloth that were like tiny hands in the mud.

Aquiares has the most beauty you could cram into just one group of people in one place. I’m grateful every day to be here and at the same time it’s hard to believe I’m even really here.