Wednesday, June 28, 2006

How a Rainforest Grows

I flew back to Costa Rica this last Friday. I experienced some of the worst (or best?) turbulence I have ever felt flying over a Honduran thunderstorm. I was stuck with a middle seat, but it turned out not to be too bad. To my left (the aisle) was a 15 year old boy named Chris from Albaquerque. He was traveling with his grandma on summer vacation. To my right (window) was a law student named Greg from Univ of Washington. He was coming to Costa Rica to study international human rights law for the summer. The three of us talked the entire trip. It was the best conversation I have ever had on a plane. By the end of the trip, everyone around me asked for a Finca Project brochure. (Apparently I talk loudly.)

Now I am back down south in Aguabuena. There is a new group of students here and an Earthwatch expedition. I had the chance to listen in on Dr Karen Holl´s lecture to the Earthwatch group about reforestation and rainforest ecology. Taking from some of what she lectured, I wanted to give a little explination of how a rainforest grows and why reforestation is so important...


When a forest is cut down (by humans or naturally by storms, avalanches, mudslides, etc..) there are generally two ways it can grow back. One is through seeds and the other is through roots and stems that resprout. Most trees need to start from seed.

Many temperate (non-tropical) forests have seeds that are buried very deep in the soil. They can "hibernate" for up to hundreds of years and then one day resprout. This rarely happens in a tropical rainforest. In the tropics the seeds generally need to be fresh.

Up to 80% of tropical rainforest trees rely on animals of some kind to spread their seeds. Some seeds even require that they pass through the digestive system of certain animals before being able to sprout. Many of the seeds are eaten by birds and then pooped out in a different place later. An average troop of monkeys will disperse 50,000 seeds per week. Other animals will actually plant the seeds, by hording them and burying them, like the dung beetle and some small rodents. Again, some of these trees will only sprout if they are buried by a certain animals.

For this to happen though, there has to be an available resource of trees, seeds, and animals...So what happens when these structures are absent?


In Aguabuena, over 80% of the original forest has been cut down in the last 50 years. There are only a few stands of forest left, most have no monkies and only a few rodents. A bird has little interest to hang out in an open field long enough to poop some valuable seeds. Therefore there is little infrastructure in place for the forest to regenerate on its own.

That is why it needs a little help from its friends (us). We need to provide some genetics (seeds) and some structure (trees) to jumpstart the natural regeneration. Dr Karen Holl and Rebecca Cole are researching what the minimum structure needed to start this process looks like. There are over 1900 species of trees in Costa Rica. The idea is you dont have to plant every single species. If you have the structure in place, the seeds will come. If you plant them, more will come.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Rainforest and Cancer

I havent written a blog in a while because some unexpected things have happened since my last blog. I found out my mom has breast cancer. I flew home (to Texas) immediately and hired our friend, Harold, to take care of the farm and the seedlings while I was gone.

I have been in Texas for two weeks now, and I am going back down to Costa Rica this Friday. I have mostly been taking care of my mom, having deep talks with her about what breast cancer means and how we can fight it together. Ultimately, I think it has been a great experience. I had been on the farm for myself for the past 3 months because Brendan was taking care of his dad who also has cancer. The world is crazy. Now we are both battling cancer and trying to save the rainforest. This has really jumpstarted an idea we had already had of exploring medicinal rainforest plants. When I go back down, I am going to start doing alot more research. My mom has started a really good blog chronicling her battle against cancer,

The other day I dragged my parents up Enchanted Rock to watch the sunset. At first my mom wanted to give up, but we kept saying, "just to the next rock". We made it. It was beautiful, and not too hot for Texas.

While I have been home in Austin, I have also had some good meetings with people and organizations. Let me give a little brief summary:

-Soup Peddler. Now we are linked up with the Soup Peddler. For those of you in Austin who buy soup from the Peddler, you can ask that 5% of your order goes to the Finca Project. You can order soup from

-The Wildthings. I had a meeting with this group of teenage girl environmentalists from Westlake High School in Austin. They are going to be one of our first students of our Cultural Exchange Program. Every year they raise money to go on a trip to help save the environment. This last year they went to Big Sur to help remove invasive plants. We had a great meeting at Wildwood cafe. They were very excited. It made me really happy to see young people (even younger than us) motivated to do good and excited for change. We are still looking for more high schools and groups of students to join our project.

-Audubon Society. I had another meeting at Mother's restaurant with my mom's friend, Burgess, and his good buddy, Bob. Bob is in the process of creating the Latin American committee of the Travis Audubon Society. He is very interested in issues concerning shade-grown and bird-friendly coffee. We had a great meeting and are looking forward to working with each other. Surprisingly, he brought me a copy of the documentary, Bird Song and Coffee: A Wake Up Call, a film about Aguabuena and the coffee crisis. It was an amazing coincindence. He was really excited about this documentary about our community "starring" all of my friends down there. I had gone to the first screening of the film in Aguabuena which had brought many of the farmers down there to tears.

Friday, I am heading back down to the finca. My short return to the United States has been really motivating. I have reports that over 50 of our seedlings have been transplanted to bags. I can't wait to go see how they are doing.

Paz y amor