San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Well-Planned Organic Farm Sets Example

PACAYAS DE ALVARADO, Cartago– Compared to the neatly trimmed rows ofneighboring farms, Ricardo Montero’s one-hectareproperty looks, from a distance, likeovergrown chaos.A closer look, however, reveals theland is one of the most well-planned farmsin the country, which also stands in sharpcontrast with those that surround it.For the past four years, Montero hastoiled over his hectare to create an organicfarm bursting with fertility and more than100 different plants as well as pigs, cows,chickens and goats.The farmer produces specialty organiccheese, rare species of organic beans, organicdisinfectant and medicinal plants to treathis animals should they become sick.“WE have all of these plants together,and not one threatens or damages eachother. Some grow better together,”Montero says, gesturing at his propertydiverse with tomato and avocado trees andyellow amor en bolsita berry plants.“These people next door, they justgrow potatoes, and a bug got into them,and took their whole crop,” Montero said.“When they lose, they lose everything.”The Costa Rican graphic-artist-turned farmeradded that two families survive offhis one hectare, while some producers inthe region struggle to survive off of 20hectares.Montero’s neighbors, who have notstrayed from conventional agriculture,watch him closely to monitor his success.“When I planted fruit trees, they allwaited to see what would happen. Nowthat they are seeing the results, they lamentthey didn’t do the same when I did.”COORDINATORS of the ReventazónModel Forest (see separate article) and theCosta Rican Electricity Institute (ICE)hope Montero is serving as an example tohis neighbors.Protecting the watershed of theReventazón River was Montero’s goal instarting the farm, which also boasts twobiodigestors that daily convert pig waste to20 hours of electricity to power his cheesepasteurizer.Athough Montero is considered a modelnow, and is visited by tourists and expertsalike to see his methods, the past four yearshave been a real struggle, he says.PRICES fetched on the organic marketare not enough to sustain the market, hesays. Organic farmer’s markets are faraway, and prices paid aren’t worth the trip.Large organic distributors pay low pricesbecause they buy in bulk.Potential organic growers are furtherlimited by the fact that it takes three yearsto start producing organic. Until then, theyhave nothing to survive on. Loans forsmall producers are usually limited toorganized groups, he adds.Montero has grown to take on a nichemarket. He sells to people who know andlike his products and their origins.“But for us here, we grow like thisbecause first we eat,” he said. “And what isleft over we sell. For this it is sustainable.And this is the most important.”

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