Organic farm at Tierra Pacifica
Gardening in Costa Rica has its challenges: weather extremes, nutrient-depleted soil and wily pests, to name just a few. Tierra Pacifica has operated a 10-acre organic farm and orchard interspersed with habitat ponds for almost a decade.
We have used the farm not only to learn about what crops we can grow in these challenging conditions, but to explore food growing for the local market while enriching the soil organically. We finally developed a great compost recipe using vetiver choppings and we are producing tons of compost now.
Our best successes have been with tropical perennial fruits including bananas, cuadrados, citrus of all types, mangoes, star fruit, guindas, cashews, etc. No surprise there.
Annual vegetable crops have been a challenge. We have tested 30-40 varieties of tomatoes and a few produce consistently, mostly cherry tomatoes and paste tomatoes. Eggplant, cucumbers and sweet peppers can be coaxed into good production. Beans can grow well, especially a local long bean variety. Okra is the star annual for us; just need to find some good recipes! Greens have been a challenge, but we have had success under a shade house, especially with chard, kale and some lettuces.
The big success we have with greens is a semi-perennial, creeping vine called Brazilian or sissoo spinach we imported to Guanacaste. This is an amazing crop that grows well in partial shade, dappled sun or full sun. It is started form rooted cuttings and produces throughout the year, in the ground or in pots.
We have also had great success with local “super food” crops including moringa trees and flor de Jamaica (roselle). Our most profitable crops have been Brazilian spinach, vetiver (for organic matter and erosion control) and perennial hot peppers.
In the future the TP Farm will focus more on successful tropical fruits (including planting 100′s of new trees along TP roads), vetiver, moringa and flor de Jamaica, and we will offer organic planting beds to TP residents to grow annual crops.
How to Transform Local Food Systems in 3 Not-So-Easy Steps
The Tierra Pacifica Farm partners with a local non-profit organization (Restoring Our Watershed) in service of its mission to restore the 28,000 acre watershed that Tierra Pacifica sits within. Together we have helped dozens of local small farmers test new crops. Here are lessons we learned:
1. Access, improve and gain long-term, cost-effective control over productive land so local farms can sprout.
The TP Farm and Restoring Our Watershed recently established a new no-interest micro-lending program. In its first 3 years, the program has provided loans to honey, egg, vegetable and nursery plant producers to help them employ their land more productively.
2. Grow the market incrementally by boosting supply, then demand, then supply and so forth.
The first outlets for local produce were Supermarket Junquillal and restaurants in the Plaza Tierra Pacifica Commercial Center. Then came Los Pargos and Tamarindo farmers markets, and now local restaurants and hotels in our area of Guanacaste. Micro loan producers have secured contracts with local restaurants. E-newsletters are reaching new customers. Next year, more local farms!
3. Help new and existing farmers access skills and resources to serve the local market.
In Costa Rica, we are expanding the micro-loan program and are beginning to plan for farm education and consulting, peer-to-peer exchanges, and cooperative infrastructure.
One of ROW’s key goals has been to establish a micro-lending program to stimulate local food production. In August 2011, we gave out our first loan to help several local residents purchase beehives. The new beekeeping operation will provide a sustainable source of income for two families, with the first harvest expected this December. Honey production is an ideal first project as there’s strong local demand for the product, a good profit margin for the borrowers, and a beneficial effect on the environment.