This third part of “What I’ve Learned About Permaculture After a Dozen Interviews and Half a Year of Podcasting” recalls a whirlwind of back-to-back interviews along the northern span of the country.
Along this stretch of the journey we learned what our guests had to say about:
- Empowering entrepreneurship amidst your neighbors
- Using human waste as a fuel and fertilizer
- Growing green manure
- Setting up a farm-to-table hospitality business
- Natural building
- Community outreach and collaboration
- And running a worker-owned beach-side homestead
If you haven’t already read the first two parts of this story you can find them at:
A Charming Family Inspiring an Entrepreneurial Spirit
The next stop on the tour was the Chilamate Rainforest EcoRetreat, in Sarapiqui.
Meghan Casey, her husband Davis, and their two daughters were a charming family to be greeted by.
Davis was born in Sarapiqui and has a lot of family in the region. Their efforts at Chilamate Eco Retreat have become a cornerstone in their community.
Meghan’s organizational capacity, paired with Davis’s know-how and drive, blended with their shared visionary nature, has transformed the economic resilience of an entire village.
Sarapiqui sits along a long stretch of road that connects the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country.
The overwhelming impact that the pineapple industry has wrought over the region is stunning.
All the same, Sarapiqui has become a destination location for many of the visitors who pass through. Much to the thanks for this pioneering couple!
The work that they’ve done to extend prosperity into the region has developed into jobs and entrepreneurship within the wider community.
It’s anchored by Sarapiqui as an up & coming travel destination.
The Power of Internship Programs
An internship program is generally designed by a skilled person to take on and teach an individual or a group of people a vocation or skill.
In exchange for acquiring the knowledge, the interns would agree to work for the teacher for a specified period of time.
It can be a meaningful educational experience for the interns and a cultural learning experience for the teacher.
Meghan and a couple of friends started by offering English classes for people in the pueblo.
They started the classes on location as this was the most convenient way for them at first, but later the hotel became busier.
As a result, they were compelled to move the classes to the pueblo.
Cooking classes and art workshops are some of the skills being taught in their internship program, as well.
A Young Costa Rican with Incredible Waste Transformation Intelligence
From there, we continued west and stayed the night with some old friends of mine, Esteban Acosta and his wife, Jenny.
Esteban is a young Costa Rican man who’s taken his passion for biodynamics and turned it into a profession.
Biodynamics is a practice of agriculture that considers the inherent properties of plants and microorganisms and considers their interdependence with the world around them.
Esteban has spent many years traveling throughout various countries, teaching and implementing biodynamic systems on commercial levels.
He’s also been working, all these years, on bio-digester systems for both commercial and home-scale usage.
He has a new business called Viogaz that is the place to go if you are in Costa Rica and are interested in turning your compost, greywater, black water, and animal waste into a multi-yield system providing soil fertility as fuel for cooking.
He has an impressive experimentation station set up at his house, with an array of biogas-fueled appliances, including a stove, rice cooker, heat lamp, and more.
We enjoyed our morning coffee and a delicious breakfast, cooked with low-carbon, made-at-home fuel.
Esteban has a passion for systems thinking and is always looking for ways to get multiple yields out of his efforts.
How Farmers Can Plan and Systematize Projects for Maximum Results
Esteban advises that while keeping your “why” in mind, it's crucial to do lots of experimentation on your projects.
It's the best way to learn. Combine that with the wisdom of a teacher, and it can save you lots of time.
Before planting cash crops, research to find out if there are buyers for the output, or not.
Next, ask around to find out what the optimal crops are for your altitude and climate.
It may sound elementary, but too many people plant their favorite crops without considering all of the relevant factors of the area they decide to grow.
Besides, it’ll help take the guesswork out of the equation, and minimize the potential for sad faces when you’d rather be celebrating the fruits of a well-planned harvest.
Biomass: Clean and Renewable Energy from Plants & Animals
Esteban advises that you grow your biomass precisely where you want to plant crops such as Mexican sunflower and Mucuna but make sure you chop them before they get to the seed production stage.
Biomass is renewable organic material that comes from animals and plants.
Biomass remains an essential source of fuel in many countries. It's mainly used for heating and cooking in some countries. It can also be used to generate electric power.
The most common materials used for producing energy from biomass are waste, wood, and plants. They're called biomass feedstocks.
How Does Biomass Work?
Plants absorb energy from the sun through a process called photosynthesis, and they convert water and carbon dioxide into nutrients, like carbohydrates.
Biomass is a result of energy collected by a plant, from the sun, to build itself.
The energy contained in these organisms can be transformed into usable energy in two ways – direct and indirect. For example:
- You can burn it to create heat or convert it into electricity (direct)
- Or let it ferment and process itself into fertilizer and biofuel (indirect)
According to NationalGeorgraphic.org, the world's top biofuel crops are:
- sugar cane
- palm oil
- cottonseed oil
Esteban teaches us how to make it from our own kitchen scraps, greywater, and blackwater!
Rather than poisoning the groundwater with landfills and septic tanks, he transforms that waste into cooking gas and fertile soil.
Healthy soil biology replaces the need for soil amendments, and we come closer to creating sustainable systems.
For effective results, use small amounts of high-quality compost, with high quantities of cheap biomass crops grown on the fields.
Simply apply your biodigestor’s compost tea on top of the biomass you’ve chopped for mulch!
Small & Slow Solutions: The Path to Building Resilience
Being in the La Fortuna area was so exciting. The volcano was visible for days as we traveled around the region.
As eager as I was to soak it up in one of the region’s many hot springs, there was still work to be done.
The day we left Esteban and Jenny, we headed up to visit with Nico Botefur of Essence Arenal.
Essence Arenal started with a couple of small cabins hosting visitors to the region.
Nico had inherited the property and soon afterward began exploring permaculture and applying what he’d learned. And the results are impressive.
While many permaculture projects start with the gardens and grow their cottage industry over time, Nico began with a pretty straightforward bed & breakfast model and used the revenues to grow his gardens.
In the years that he’s been stewarding the property, he’s effectively reforested nearly the entire property in a way that continues to feed back into the restaurant that he built to feed his guests.
Nico is a shining example of using small and slow solutions as a path toward building resilience.
Nico Botefur's Secrets to Starting Small & Pushing Through
According to Nico Botefur, passion is the first key to success in whatever project you're working on.
Your love for what you're doing will keep you going, even in tough times.
One excuse that most people give is a lack of capital to buy all the materials for their guest hosting facility.
Don't let that deter you from starting somewhere. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Start small and progress at your own pace.
For example, Nico started with the salvation army tents. They're affordable and get the job done.
Another economical way to host people is the use of glamping tents. It helps bring people closer to nature, and most of your guests will appreciate it.
If you notice the need for a service in your project but can't seem to offer it due to insufficient resources, the solution is simple. Invite your neighbors to provide extra services to your guests.
The Key to Attracting More Visitors Regularly
According to Nico, giving your guests a quality experience is the best marketing investment you can make.
Word of mouth advertising about your establishment will spread like wildfire in their circle of friends.
Give your guests extra opportunities to celebrate what makes your place special. And make them feel at home.
With selfies being the norm of every traveler these days, pictures of your property can go viral across social media platforms that your guests use.
Make your establishment easy and fun to explore by creating a map of it and blow it up to a large size.
It’ll orient your guests to where they are and encourage them to explore the place to the fullest.
Value Your Team
Make every team member feel like they're part of a team, and encourage them to welcome guests as they would into their homes.
Brave Earth: A Blend of Natural Building and Appropriate Technologies
After our interview with Nico, we headed back to La Fortuna to meet Aly Kahn and Alnoor Ladha of Brave Earth.
Brave Earth is a newer community in development, and they’ve chosen to focus on building a beautiful retreat center to be the revenue provider of their project.
The methods that they’re using to build this place, though, are a blend of natural building with appropriate technologies that’s worth taking a look at.
Our podcast interview focused on elements they’re using to create resilience in their local pueblo and harmony at home.
The YouTube tour we did the following day captures a glimpse of the techniques they’re using to sculpt their piece of paradise. Check out the video we took, to learn more about their methods.
Fuerza del Amor is the name of their non-profit organization that is involved in some impressive outreach projects and community integration. Among them are:
- Neighborhood work parties.
- Organizing a village-wide neighborhood watch
- And community rec center
And Finally… The Hot Springs !!!
After leaving Brave Earth, as fun and enchanting as it had been to visit all of these fantastic places, we were in deep need to rest and assimilate the experiences.
What better way to do that than in a hot spring!
While La Fortuna is full of fancy commercial installations where one can enjoy a variety of curated experiences, most using a common-to-the-region style of ferrocement stone-looking sculptures, we decided to head to the more natural, and incidentally free of admission, Rio Chollin.
It was glorious. You park on the side of the road, walk under a bridge, and you’re in a free and open river that comes down through one of the mega-resorts in the area.
As we played and rolled around in the shifting blend of hot water from below with the cool river water washing through it, my mind wandered back to a day when the countryside wasn’t dominated by ownership and commerce.
Instead, it was a land where nomads passed and could gather and restore themselves amidst their travels and freely enjoy all that the area had to offer.
The jungle and its richness have been all but stripped away and commoditized.
However, being in places like this humble little river helps to restore my remembrance that the essence of the living earth beneath us all is still alive and vital within its own right.
What percentage of humanity that’ll be able to adapt to the changes that the planet’s beginning to go through is unknowable, but the earth is going to be just fine.
SailCargo Inc: Zero-Emissions Cargo Vessels of the Future
The trip to the river was wonderfully refreshing. Still, we were beginning to get a little road weary, and I was eager to get back and prepare to launch the podcast.
We left the cool climate and vistas of the mountains and drove the windy road down to the coast to meet up with our old friend, Lynx Guimond.
I first met Lynx at an Envision festival sometime around 2012. He was looking for a biodynamic beekeeper, and I connected him with Esteban Acosta, who I mentioned earlier. Good things came from that union.
We crossed paths online a couple of times but never got to know each other much beyond that.
On the other hand, Chela knows Lynx very well from his days living in Monteverde, woodworking and building some super cool tree platforms.
I’ll mention it here, but to see what’s going on there, you HAVE TO check out the video that we made of the place on our YouTube channel.
These guys are building an ocean vessel out of sustainably harvested wood to become a prototype for zero-emissions cargo vessels of the future. All while building a permaculture homestead on the beach!
Before Lynx told me in our interview, I didn’t realize the degree to which the fuel used by ocean vessels is of such lousy quality. It’s a horrific contributor to the pollution of our oceans.
Consider how many times any given thing travels across the ocean back and forth from raw material extraction to production, to packaging, to distribution, etc. It’s mind-blowing when you think about it.
Experimenting with methods to reduce and eliminate petroleum dependency for cargo transport is a massively impactful undertaking.
Besides the inherent value in all of that, the business is designed in partnership with a non-profit organization that effectively raises funds for the research and development of these technologies and to plant trees as part of a local reforestation program.
Conclusion: Imperfect Action is Better than Perfect Inaction
So that’s it. After the interview, we drove the long coastal road back to Uvita and climbed the mountain to our perch, here in San Agustin, overlooking the Talamanca mountains and the valley below.
The launch of the podcast was a long, painful blur.
I did not give myself sufficient time to be more ready. I could have been in less of a hurry. I paid for it.
Due to various conditions, I stumbled through the process, still chanting the mantra that imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.
Permaculture helps us find the space in between. I am still a student. As I always will be.
Amidst the rush to get the podcast launched, Brandy Heyde Montegue reached out to interview me for her podcast, For Animals For Earth.
In the scramble to do “all the things,” I said yes, and was captured in the moment of launching the show and the swirl of emotions around it all.
Listening back to those episodes, points that ring out most pertinent to new land-owners include:
- Stay open to new ideas and opportunities to maximize the value that you can offer your guests and their experiences, which require the minimum need for ongoing maintenance once established.
- Make a list of unique experiences that your guests can enjoy as a guide for them to see the place with an expanded point of reference. For example:
- create video tours
- create a welcome guide
- have a guest book in place
- create a photo gallery of animals, birds, insects, and flowers that they might find
- collect meaningful testimonials and reviews
- Recognize that what you have to share is valuable.
- Gaining a point of reference for rural living is a life-enriching opportunity worth giving to oneself, let alone a valuable one to offer others.
- Offer a small piece of land for neighbors to grow food on or to graze their horses.
- Find someone in the village who wants to provide meals for guests. The cultural connection will add to the overall experience of your visitors while spreading the wealth with your neighbors who need it.
- We have to start spending more money or time researching to direct our buying power and support places doing what we want to see done in the world.
- Forgiveness is an invaluable tool for longevity and cohesion. Embrace the fact that we all have faults.
- Forgive yourself for where you are, but get sure about where you're going.
- Support projects that you like by subscribing, rating, and reviewing them in notable places. Share their content with friends.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey through this wonderful land. If any of these visits sounded like something you’d like to hear more of, make sure to take a listen.
Episodes 15-20 of the podcast, have been dedicated to recapping what we learned on the specific topics of:
- Financial Sustainability
- Hosting Guests, Students, and Volunteers
- Land Management
- Physical Infrastructure
- And Cultivating an Impactful Belief System
Leave a comment and let us know how you’re transforming your dreams into impact!