We had the opportunity to visit with Daniel at his farm in el Paraiso. The visit started at his dining table as we lunched on traditional fare of rice and beans accompanied by pork. Daniel had been visited by some government folk the day before to discuss farming and in their honor he had roasted a full pig from his farm. Leftovers never tasted so good:) I love me a good pig roast!
The conversation was stimulating and we discussed many of the issues that existed in his community over time. Following lunch we set off to tour the organic farm. While I have spent time on farms before, Daniel's tour was top notch and I was inspired along the way. Pigs, goats, herbs, fruits, and peppers were waiting around each corner.
First stop was a methane tank created by pig waste. The tank cost $300 for Daniel to build and it will provide all the necessary gas for his home for the next 15 years. I calculated my own estimated home gas costs for 15 years to be $3600 minimum. Too bad I can't buy a few pigs and put them and a tank on my patio. San Francisco is a little crazy though, perhaps I can at least get it on the 2013 city ballot!?!
As we travelled up the hill further into his land we began to learn more about some of the problems Daniel faces in his community. A large issue in this community is the pineapple crop. Large industries came into the community and wanted to develop the land for pineapples as they were convinced that it would be profitable. This led to overnight deforestation causing many issues in the community. And when I say overnight, I mean actually overnight. People would wake up and parts of the forest would have been cut down while they slept. The government has not been interfering and until they do Costa Rica's forest will continue to disappear.
The pineapple farms are not organic farms and the chemicals used on this product is harmful in many ways. Most disturbing is how close the farms are to the school given that many kids that have to walk by this land on the way to school each day. I took pictures that reminded me of the pictures we used last year for our food justice challenge based learning project with the 5th graders. I wonder if the people of this community understand that the harmful pesticides they are using will have an effect on people for generations to come as they ruin their soil, and the dangerous chemicals creep into the river systems.
Another issue Daniel faces is that while his farm is organic the process of getting the government rating "stamp" is difficult. This basically means he is not identified but the government as organic despite all his efforts. The process to get this stamp is not quite finished. But knowing Daniel, he won't give up. He's working hard and the main reason is due to the product we discovered last on his tour. The pepper!
You could see the pride in Daniel's eyes as he described his peppers. I have yet to taste the ground pepper I brought home and he suggested i use it to marinate meat. I can't wait. He did inform and warn us that for some reason, on his land, the pepper came out much hotter than it does on other land in the country. Is it due to the organic soil he is working with? Their is apparently a big market for the pepper and he has grouped up with other community members to create a cooperative farming business. He's pretty much the main man and was recently lent or granted money to buy a truck for the business. I believe his coop is onto something great.
However, How do these small farmers compete with large American corporations that are coming in, growing with the use of harmful chemicals, and selling at a fraction of the price? How can we educate more people that organic, local farms are where it is at and that trying to produce crops for export will only ruin their country for future generations? How can we convince costa ricans not to allow deforestation of their land for the American dollar despite the fact that it appears that part of the Costa Rican dream is, "making it with/in America". Sounds like a challenge based learning opportunity!. Or project based learning?!? We will see.
People like Daniel remind me of those that we were able to lend to through kiva.org last year. Daniel needs packaging, labels, advertisements, and help sharing his product beyond his local community. I do wonder if we can find a way to work with Daniel in the future. Ell paraiso "paradise" wouldn't be the same without Daniel and my journey was enriched having met him. Eco tourism can hopefully succeed alongside his passion. I continue to wonder if this is the ticket to success in el paraiso?
As Daniel looked down on his property from high up on the hill, he informed us that we were standing in the spot where he dreamt his new home would be and that he woke up everyday, worked and lived for the future of his children. We asked him, "what will happen to your existing house?" He chuckled and replied, "It's going to be a parking lot for all the visitors". And I hope that as he continues to build his organic farm, the people will come. I hope Daniel will someday earn the house on the hill because this is his "Field of Dreams".