International Agriculture

Today we had the fortune of going to a large farm in San Antonio, Costa Rica. It was about half an hour away by car, through winding, narrow mountain roads, among the foggiest fog that was like a white sheet over our eyes wherever we went. It was raining tiny drops everywhere and the air was still, covering all of us in that cloud together. At the farm we saw two types of greenhouse that had thousands on thousands of sweet pepper plants, and we saw neat rows of tomatoes under protective plastic. There were pastures with sweet Jerseys shrouded in fog, a milk room, a processing plant, a barn where the cows were eating and licking at each other’s faces. The people were humble and kind, and also geniuses. Because they’d built those greenhouses and that milk room without engineers or architects for their buildings, and they work hard every day to maintain their business, practiced hands tying up healthy plants. As our guide told us of their ingenuity and innovation, the man at the dairy merely shook his head and told us that he just likes learning; that’s what life’s about.

I was in awe of the beauty of the area and its people, along with their plants and their cows and the simple and sweet way of life they had. In the greenhouse, we could hear water rushing in a river that runs next to the farm. Moreover, though, I was in awe of the way that they’d created an effortless system that will keep going indefinitely. This is not a certified organic farm: they use any number of fertilizers and pesticides and chemicals through spray, powder, or irrigation. They don’t have an integrated crop rotation or permaculture or the Three Sisters, but they have such initiative and a beyond admirable work ethic. I can see them doing any number of those things in the future, if that’s what they are led to do. Their system has already integrated plants and animals together, and coupled them with human ingenuity. This has to be the future of agriculture as it must adapt to climate change and fluctuating markets and every undefined possibility of the future. This farm, these people, inspired me.

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Back at home in Aquiares, I took another tour of the garden with Seidy. She showed me every one of her medicinal plants and I wrote down their uses as she explained them to me–something I’ve wanted to do since my first week here. She has everything from aloe and prickly pear cactus to basil and rosemary (a natural anti-inflammatory!). The basil is a little different and its flavor was potent and more minty than I was used to. There are plants for stomachaches, to prevent scarring, antibiotics, anti-tumor, for nausea, for earaches, for anemia, for coughs, and also to add shine and volume to your hair…for burns, to lose weight, to purify the blood, and more than one to calm your nerves. Seidy could tell me more than one use for every one of her plants, and exactly how to use them. Some are eaten, some you soak to make tea, whether it be the branches, or the leaves, or the fruit. She is a veritable encyclopedia of information.

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Lemongrass–one of the many medicinal plants found in this garden

These two very different experiences were very connected for me. They both demonstrate a closeness with agriculture that’s been lost in America. I’m not saying that all of Costa Rica is like this, but I have learned so much from people who design and maintain giant greenhouses of so many sweet peppers, from a mother who brews teas for her family to take away stomach pains and coughs, and from the old man who visits the garden and told us which plants attract which pests. This international experience has shown me more than I could’ve imagined when I embarked on my journey, and maybe some of it is uninteresting, technical plant stuff, but I can also cure your bladder infection with a handful of herbs.

In other news, things in the garden have been going extremely well. We’ve sold radishes, lettuce, culantro, and green beans. Soon we’ll have cabbage and celery to add to the mix, as well as new varieties of lettuce. The community is supportive and excited. I can’t walk down the street without people shouting from their houses, “Let me know when you have culantro/radish/lettuce/beans!” The biggest problem we’re still facing is the attack of the ants. When we see them, we follow them back to their anthills and kill them. Some of them have homes high up on the hill, and we are rewarded with a gorgeous view of our hard work at the top:

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The whole process has been going so well. I feel grateful to work every day.

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