San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Remodeling the Front Yard With a Green Thumb

It was an odd place to find inspiration, but Dagmar Facio’s trip to her neighborhood Auto Mercado last month changed the way she plans to approach food from now on.

Facio could not find lettuce, carrots or other fruits and veggies on her shopping list three days in a row at the Auto Mercado in the eastern San José neighborhood of Los Yoses. Rows of juice bottles and a blanket of apples attempted to fill the gaping hole where produce is usually stacked.

For Facio, one solution remained: grow her own food. And do it organic.

“This is going to happen, and it’s going to happen all over the world. We will have no food,” Facio said, minutes before workers came to rip up her front yard in preparation for a new organic garden.

Food scarcity is a worldwide concern as the price of basic goods becomes ever more expensive. The Costa Rican government announced its own plan in early May to substantially increase local production of rice, beans and white corn by offering credit, insurance and technical assistance to local farmers (TT, May 2).

Facio has little faith in the government’s plan.

“They’re just talking,” Facio said. “I don’t think they’re doing anything.”

Her friend and neighbor, Sol Fernández-Val, agreed.

“I think they’re just giving us bull,” she said.

The two women, friends since meeting at an anti-free-trade agreement rally last year, launched an investigation into produce scarcity at their local Auto Mercado.

An employee told Facio the missing veggies were due to excessive water from Tropical  Storm Alma more than a month ago. Shecalled it a “lousy excuse.”

Fernández-Val is equally irate.

“It has nothing to do with the weather,” she said, adding that all three types of agricultural produce – organic, hydroponic and traditional – were not available.

Erik Pacheco, chief of Auto Mercado’s produce distribution center, told The Tico Times that “American” variety lettuce was in short supply last week. He attributed the scarcity to excessive rain and said some lettuce was rejected because of its small size.

Regardless of the cause, the Los Yoses neighbors took the situation into their own hands. They contacted Maiceros Urbanos, a group that guides would-be urban farmers through the process of growing their own organic gardens.

Early one recent morning, Facio stood alongside her front lawn, watching with misty eyes as Luis Pages and Dagoberto Navarro dug up the  25-year resident’s precious gardenia bush andchopped down her banana and guava trees.

Fernández-Val, an ecologist and organic farmer by trade, stood beside her for moral support.

“To create, you have to destroy,” she said, as she watched the trees fall one by one. “It must be sad; it’s like giving up.”

Admitting she felt torn, Facio nevertheless called her garden “craziness” for its haphazard growth in recent years.

Hers will be the first Maiceros has prepared in San José. Most of the group’s projects, Pages said, are located around Cartago, east of the capital.

Pages, director of Maiceros, explained the process as Navarro wielded a machete and shovel as if they were extensions of his arms.

First, they clean the area where the garden will be, collecting plants and wood chips for a future compost pile. Then, a soil sample is collected for future chemical and fertility tests. Once the results arrive, the group prepares the soil for planting, adding organic fertilizer to the plot.

The property owners and Maiceros representatives talk about what they would like and are able to grow before planting the garden. “It’s not about planting just to plant,” Pages said.

Lettuce is high up on Facio’s wish list, as are eggplants.

Beyond offering private workshops on organic gardening, Maiceros Urbanos shows films and gives classes and discussions on home organic gardening in and around San José.

Pages sees organic gardening as the future of agriculture and envisions it as a way to unite neighbors.

And so it has, at least for Facio and Fernández-Val. But the two already were convinced of organic farming’s importance.

Both host talk show programs on Radio Gigante 800 AM. Not surprisingly, Fernández-Val’s is called “The Seed” and Facio’s is “Del Pensamiento a la Acción,” or “From Thoughts to Action.”


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