San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

La Finca Tori Restores Cloud Forest near Barva

Tree and bird: two fundamental elements of nature forever interconnected. At La Finca Tori in Paso Llano, a small mountain village on the road to Barva Volcano in the Heredia province, protecting trees and birds is the lifework of the farm’s founders and the 10 members of the nonprofit association Tree and Bird.

A few weekends ago, La Finca Tori opened its doors in one of a handful of Puertas Abiertas (Open Door) events it holds each year.Visitors received a tour and explanation of the farm’s reforestation project, met children’s author and sculptor Carin Spinelli, explored the property’s trails and petted its giant Ardennes horses.

Spinelli, from Sweden, and husband Christian, from France,moved to Costa Rica 12 years ago from their previous home on a small island off the coast of Australia. In 1997, the couple took over the property, then a dairy farm, in the mountains of Heredia, north of San José. The surrounding forest had been heavily damaged by the presence of man and livestock, and only patches of forest remained.

With the help of Costa Rican forestry engineer Ana Barquero and her brother Allan, the Spinellis began a project to return the farmland to its original cloud-forest state. From 2000 to 2004, 10,000 trees were planted on the property’s bare corridors to reconstruct the forest.

The couple brought two Ardennes – an old breed of draft horse – from France to help with the planting work. Their manure enriches the soil used for the extensive and scientific planting process guided by Ana Barquero. Trees are grown from seed, with seedlings raised in a vivero (nursery) until they are strategically planted in the forest.

Today La Finca Tori is a picturesque farm in a verdant cloud-forest setting, just a few kilometers from Barva Volcano inside BraulioCarrilloNational Park (see separate story). The farm’s layout is small and inviting, with the farmhouse, nursery and barn set close together. The Ardennes horses are the first point of attraction upon arrival.

The seed nursery is well organized with tiny labels identifying seeds and larger pressed plants lining the walls. Outside the nursery, Spinelli’s sculptures add an artistic touch to the natural environment.

I walked a 500-meter trail to a small waterfall and river, enjoying the well-labeled trees along the route and the cold raindrops on my face in the crisp mountain air.

My tour guide was Allan Barquero, who lives at the farm and manages La Finca Tori’s Web site. He emphasized the importance of reforestation and other daily environmental practices.

“Every day there is less forest,” he said.“We must learn how to plant trees, use compost and produce less garbage.”

A passionate conservationist, he spoke about the significance of protecting the environment for future generations and called on us to ask ourselves,“What can I do to help protect nature?”

Children from the nearby PasoLlanoSchool are learning the answer to this question firsthand, through a project called Niños Activos Recuperando el Bosque (Active Children Recovering the Forest). Kids come to the farm to learn about the tree-planting process by planting their own trees. In doing so, each child feels forever identified with a particular tree and thus learns the importance of his or her role in protecting the environment.

The commitment to children and learning begins with Carin Spinelli, who has written three children’s books in the 12 years she and her husband have lived in Costa Rica. The most recent, entitled “La Muñeca de Emilia” (“Emilia’s Doll”), illustrated by Spinelli, tells the story of a girl whose community throws its garbage outside and in the river. One day the river swells and floods the town, forcing Emilia’s family to their rooftop, where Emilia drops her doll and must swim after it.While underwater she meets some dying fish that agree to save her only if she promises to change her pollutive ways. Thus the book conveys an ecological message in a way children can understand.

All proceeds from the sale of Spinelli’s books and sculptures are donated to local schools. Groups of children are always welcome at the farm for tours and to meet the talented and kind author. Other would-be visitors must wait for a Puertas Abiertas event or become members of the Tree and Bird Association.

Founded by Ana Barquero, Tree and Bird is dedicated to protecting the forest and educating children about conservation. The nonprofit association seeks members to support the continued preservation of La Finca Tori’s reconstructed piece of cloud forest. A threeyear membership costs $300; after three years, the fee is $100 per year. Money generated from membership fees goes toward ensuring the farm stays protected and is not sold. Tree and Bird members can visit the farm any time, receive Spinelli’s books free of charge, and are always invited first to events featuring her books and sculptures.

According to Tree and Bird’s mission statement, “We must remember we are part of a chain in the ecosystem that, if broken, affects us all.”

To be a part of this chain and become a member, visit or call La Finca Tori at 266-1100. For information about the farm, visit


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