Friday, April 28, 2006

A little tour of the farm

I finally got a hold of a camera, so I took some pictures of the farm and Aguabuena, so hold on to your hats, and we´ll take a little walk around.


Aguabuena and Coopabuena are a ten minute walk away from each other seperated by the Rio Salto. This hill (which is a mountain if you look at it from the ocean on the other side) rises above Coopabuena to an altitude of over 4000 feet. Santa Cecilia and Santa Teresa are two villages higher up the mountain, Santa Teresa being at the top.

To the north and east of here are the volcanic Talamanca mountains that you can barely make out behind the clouds. These mountains are much higher, rising from 7-1200 ft. This is the home of the nearly inpenetrable cloud forests of Parque Amistad shared by both Panama and Costa Rica. The mountains in this picture are in Panama.

Now to our farm.

If you follow this road down long enough you will make it to our farm.

The Reforestation Nursery (still under progress)

This week I began the germination of our first seeds. I planted over 6000 seeds. The two seed beds down in the background are the beginnings of our seedling nursery. These two beds contain two different species of trees.

1. maria
Marias are a common canopy tree of this region. The wood is of medium hardness and considered very valuable for furniture making among other things. Because of this, many have been cut down in this region. These trees grow relatively fast. In this seedbed, I planted 1200 seeds. I cover them with banana leaves to protect the seedlings from excessive sun and as an attempt to stop too many weeds from growing.

2. nogal

Nogales are a Nicaraguan black walnut. They are not indeginous to this part of Costa Rica. They grow very fast. They are becoming increasingly popular among the campesinos here because the grow so fast. Since we our goal is to use only indeginous trees for our reforestation projects, we have some reservations about this tree, so I am only germinating 300 seeds. These are in the bed next to the marias.

3. danto

Dantos are an endangered tropical hardwood. The wood is extremely hard and is excellent wood for construction because of its extreme durablitiy although it is difficult to cut through. Many people in this region dont know of these trees, or have forgotten about them because of their scarcity. These trees prefer to grow above 1000 meters in riverbeds. Thus, they make a nearly perfect tree for our project. The only drawback of this tree is that it grows very slowly because the wood is so dense. In this picture I have 4-5000 seeds soaking in water before I plant them in the ground.

After these seeds sprout, I will put each in its own separte bag to grow for at least another 5 months. We plan on begining the transplantation project in a year, next April or May. Next month, I am going to return to Las Alturas de Coton to collect different species.


Thomas, our friend from Michigan, is a worm farmer that sells his products in famers markets in the US. He taught us how to cultivate worms. This is the system:

Compost goes in each basket, and as the worms eat their favorites, their poop becomes excellent fertilizer. They slowly move up to the fresher bins, leaving behind enriched compost. We keep the environment wet for them, and the excess water drips down and we collect this worm juice "jugo de lombrisas".

This stuff is extremely potent.


This area of the garage serves a double function as a carpentry table (built by Josh Mills) and a resting place to read, drink coffee and swing in the hammock.

Im going to end the picture show with this picture out our back window.

More to come

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Brief History of Nicaragua

La Independencia
In 1821, Nicaragua gained its independence from Spain along with the rest of its Central American neighobrs. The majority of the 1800s, Nicaragua was characterized by large land owners and an increasing US interest in transportation systems and fruit production. By the 1920s the US marines were playing the role of the Nicaraguan National Guard to protect US business interests. In 1936, the US withdrew its military presence as President Somoza was elected to power. Somoza set up a corrupt military dictatorship that would last over 40 years.

La Revolucion

In 1979, the Sandanista revolution finally ended the Somoza regime. The FSLN (Frente Sandinista de LiberaciĆ³n Nacional) initiated an agrarian reform, dividing up land from large land owners and giving it or selling it for extremely low prices to poor farmers. Like the story of many countries during this time, the United States would not tollerate this threat to international business, particularly to the large land owning American corperations like the United Fruit Company.

La Guerra

The Reagan administartion began a covert opperation that has become known as the Iran-Contra affair. The administration secretely sold arms to Iran to fight the Iran-Iraq war, and, with the money made on the sell of the guns, funded a right wing counter-revolutionary army (the Contras) to bring down the Sandanista regime. To Nicaraguans, this was known as La Guerra. The World Court finally ruled that this was against against international law. President Reagan publically refused to admit any knowledge of the affair, and then two weeks later made an address admitting his mistakes. Everyone indicted in the affair was eventually pardonned by the Bush Administration. The Contra army (trained by the School of the Americas) was designed to use terroristic tactics to force the public to elect a government that would be more economically favorable to the United States. It succeeded. After two years of starvation, the people of Nicaragua "elected" a government that promoted the neoliberal ideals of the Reagan-Bush-Bush adminitstrations.

With this background, it was an amazing experience to live up in the mountains above Matagalpa with farmers who had lived through these atrocities. When I asked them, they shared with me the horrors of two years of near starvation, standing in lines all day to maybe receive a scoop of rice or beans. Luckily, these were farmers who could mostly sustain themselves with their crops, but many still went hungry. They told me that the fighting never made it to their communities. Many of the boys would leave to fight in the lowlands near Managua, but most of them stayed up in the mountains to wait it out. I found it amazing that they were so hospitable to me, an American, whose government had funded this war.

More on Nicaragua to come.......

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Isla Ometepe

Easter is called Semana Santa in Latin America, and the entire week before Easter is a huge celebration. It is almost impossible to travel during this time because every bus is packed-full of relatives visiting relatives, and buses stop running thursday-monday. In the mad rush to find a boat to the island I had to convince some Nicaraguan soldiers that I was on the list of chosen people to enter the boat they guarded behind chain link fences. The entire beachfront of San Jorge that sits on the western shore of Lago Nicaragua was packed with beer, big speakers, parades, and food vendors. Magically we made it on the boat.

The island is the largest lake island in the world, and the lake has some of the most unique biodiversity. Since it is so close to the sea, many fish swam upriver including bull sharks. Over the years they have adapted to the fresh water, agua dulce, and have become unique species. The sharks have sadly almost disappeared now due to overfishing. The island is home to two volcanoes, Volcan Concepcion (still active) and Volcan Madera (not active).

My friend Josh and I came with Yelena and Joey from CAN (Community Agroecology Network in Aguabuena). We came to visit the Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Islands Association. The org. is dedicated to aiding the island through various programs including buying and marketing the coffe from the cooperative to consumers in Washington, bringing internet services to the island, and creating an "escuela libre" for students of all ages. Thanks to the hospitatlity of its project managers, Peter and Devon, we had an amazing visit.

The coffe cooperative was hit hard by the difficult political climate of Nicaragua and world coffee market. Like the story of so many coffee towns, it used to be a thriving community but through political corruption and lowering coffee prices, it became a ghost town, now begining to be "revived" by tourism. After the 1990 elections that brought Nicaragua back to the path of neoliberal economics (if you dont know the story of the Iran-Contra affair, I suggest learning about it), the coffee cooperative was forced/coerced by the government (or the United States, World Bank, and/or IMF....) to take big loans that nearly threw them into abyssmal debt. You can check out the cooperative and buy coffee from them through

It is very interesting to see the differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Climatically, Lago Nicaragua is drier than Coto Brus, the home of our finca, and much hotter. Culturally, Nicaraguans seem to have more pride, more of a sense of nationality probably due to their more turbulant history of revolutions and civil wars. And economically Nicaragua is a much poorer country.

We are heading up to Matagalpa to visit the coffee cooperative up there. Matagalpa is a sister community of Coopabuena as CAN (Community Agroecology Network) works with both communities. We are going to meet up with Julietta and Walter from Coope Pueblos. It should be interesting. I will keep yall posted.

Paz y amor