San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Building a Demonstration Nation: Third Sustainable Living Encounter

THE Punta Mona Center for Sustainable Living and Educationis accessible only by boat or a three-hour mudslide down governmenttrails in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge on thesouthern Caribbean coast.After filing off the boat – a 10-minute ride from the town ofManzanillo, interrupted by a temporary stalling of the motor – visitorsof the third annual Sustainable Living Encounter were greetedin Punta Mona by at least 20 smiling faces, each charging a differentamount for the ride and pointing in opposite directions forregistration.Chaos? No. Permaculture.The arrival of more than 75 visitors from at least 10 differentcountries for the Jan. 28 encounter generatedwhat seemed like confusion to those of uswho didn’t begin to understand permacultureand sustainable living until after we had completedthe three-day workshop.“PERMACULTURE is a philosophy ofsolutions, based on the premise that we arelosing crucial knowledge for survival,” saidStephen Brooks, owner of the 30-acre PuntaMona farm.“Back in the day, farmers didn’t use pesticidesor chemicals to make crops growfaster. If you look at any forest, it’s perfect –naturally. This is what permaculture tries tomimic,” he said, during a farm tour through awild free-growth of cacao, cola nuts, teatrees, mangostine, caliandra and star apples.“Here is a simple solution to worldhunger,” Brooks said, pointing at a chiaplant, native to Mexico. “You steam this, andit’s loaded with nutrition; if people knew thisaround the world, nobody would starve.”And no one does starve at Punta Mona –except carnivorous guests before they adaptto the diet of roots, grains and salad that keeps residents healthy andenergetic year-round.“Our diets consist of whatever we harvest from the farm. Ofcourse, we sometimes bring in rice and pasta, things we can’t produceourselves,” said Mexican-American Zak Zaidman, whohelped organize the encounter.THE self-sustained community operates successfully withrainwater collected in tanks that can be heated with solar panels,which provide energy to the farm.The exemplary lifestyle of Punta Mona residents – who live atthe farm temporarily or come for brief visits, Brooks explained –made participants of the encounter gradually understand the workshopdid not require traditional organization.Some activities, such as the presentation of designs for sustainable-living projects at the farm, ran on schedule. A group of universitystudents from the United States and Puerto Rico presented“Norman’s Paradise,” a plan to add a pond, birdwatching decks andcabins to the Punta Mona Center. Students, teachers and visitorsobserved the presentation, part of a 10-day course offered at thecenter to obtain permaculture certification.THE permaculture course, taught for the first time this year byBrock Dolman, director of the Occidental Arts and EcologyCenter in Occidental, California, is centered on the three ethics ofpermaculture.“Permaculture – a term for ‘permanent agriculture’ coined byAustralian Bill Mollison in the 1970s – focuses on care of theEarth, care of the people and a distribution ofsurplus,” said Dolman, who presented a slideshow during the encounter on communitiesand individuals who have adopted permacultureas a mode of existence around the world,by transforming their homes and communitiesinto self-sustained environments.“Capitalist systems depend on externalities– costs to the planet. Permaculture, however,is the scientific design of human settlementsthat mimic natural systems in theircomplexity, diversity and resiliency, andensure the integrity of all the cycles that lifedepends upon,” Dolman observed.THERE was some chaos. A tentativeschedule on the wall split the encounter intoactivities that never happened, such as“Construction and Conception of a Biodigestor,”a giant tube that transforms humanwaste into fertilizer, scheduled for Saturdayat 1:30 p.m. “Natural Fertility, Awarenessand Health,” Sunday at 10:40 a.m., and “TheWonders of Fermentation,” Sunday at 11:15a.m., also failed to materialize.After a while, however, finding out whyactivities didn’t start on time – or ever – became unimportant.Argentinean participants Sergio Addamo, Mar Cremeriuz andtheir son Galileo, 4, pulled their own workshop together to teachvisitors how to make ocarinas, indigenous musical instruments, outof clay extracted from a stream on the farm.Mother Rainbow, affectionately referred to as Abuela Rainbowduring the encounter, shared her yoga and meditation expertise byoffering a spiritual cleansing session for women, the intensity ofwhich brought many to tears.Every night, a group gathered around a bonfire by the beach toplay drums and dance.By Sunday, it became clear the encounter had served its purpose, with or without a strict schedule. In thesame way permaculture tries to imitatenature, the workshop aimed to educate visitorsby presenting them with the everydayliving conditions of people who care toprotect the environment.TO further their goal of spreading permacultureand sustainable education, thesustainable-solutions team has traveledtwice in the last two years from Californiato San José on a modified school bus poweredsolely by vegetable oil (TT, Jan. 21,2005, Jan. 23, 2004).During the two-month trips, the caravanstopped in towns throughout Mexicoand Central America, explaining theadvantages of vegetable oil and biodiesel,a petroleum-free alternative to regulardiesel to power vehicles without harmingthe environment.The sustainable-solutions team alsoplans to hold an educational encounter Sat.,March 5, by the lake in La Sabana Park inSan José, starting at 8 a.m., for those whowere unable to experience the Punta Monaworkshops. Activities will include yoga,meditation, capoeira lessons and workshopson permaculture, healthy foods andhow to convert vehicles to run on biodieselor vegetable oil. Those who wish to delivera workshop or confirm their attendance cane-mail can learn from the Punta MonaCenter year-round, since the sustainable livingprogram is open to visitors, volunteersand students at all times.Spreading the philosophy of permacultureand the Punta Mona Center forSustainable Living could help turn CostaRica into a “demonstration nation,” asBrooks put it, to set an example for the restof the world.For more information, visit or e-mail

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