San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sustainable Living: Walking the Talk

Grow your own food. Generate your own electricity. Build your own house and live off the land.

It is this do-it-yourself attitude that encapsulates Costa Rica’s myriad sustainable living communities.

From organic diets handpicked out of homegrown gardens to homes constructed with Mother Nature’s raw materials such as cob and jute, these small, self-sustained tracts are buffing Costa Rica’s reputation as the world’s little green gem to a glistening shine.

“Sustainability starts with one’s attitude and spirit,” said Eric Rivkin, an organic chef who is building a 180-acre sustainable community in the Southern Zone. “If we learn to take care of ourselves, we take care of our country and our planet.”

For Rivkin, sustainable living starts in the kitchen.

He is the founder of Viva La Raw, a nonprofit organization that promotes a plant-based diet. Rivkin is creating a new Costa Rican cuisine based entirely on locally grown foods, a recipe book he calls “the ultimate in sustainable agriculture.”

Rivkin encourages people to eat fresh, locally grown greens, fruits and berries to save money and live healthier. According to his research, the traditional dairy- and beef-based diets have lead to high rates of digestive disease in Costa Rica.

“All this meat and dairy doesn’t build strong bodies; it builds weak bodies, and that’s why you see ads for Viagra everywhere,” he said. “We can reverse this by changing the food we eat. You want to be strong like a gorilla? Then eat what the gorilla eats.”

At his home, Rivkin will prepare you a fresh cabbage boat with curry sesame pâté or a colorful mango and papaya torte topped with kiwi and strawberries.

Also, Rivkin cited a 2008 announcement from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that urges consumers to eat less meat and dairy to curb the effects of global warming. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, meat production is responsible for 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

So forgoing meat is “good for your wallet, your body and the planet as well,” Rivkin said.

Rivkin’s Southern Zone home is completely off the grid. He relies on a small 2.5- kilowatt hydroelectric turbine to generate the electricity he consumes and plans the same for his developing 180-acre community named La Joya del Sol.

“When you talk about water, it’s not just H2O; it’s the messenger for the seed to grow and the source of energy for humans,” he said.

Because the property is located at a high elevation with plenty of water runoff, Rivkin anticipates that micro hydroelectric projects will supply all the electricity the homes will need. Because residents will rely mainly on raw foods, the need for refrigeration will be low, he said.

For frozen goods, each home will be equipped with a traditional ice chest made from frozen recycled bottles and insulated with the sawdust created from community woodworking projects.

The homes will be built out of what Rivkin calls “earthcrete” – locally found materials – rather than concrete.

“We won’t have concrete boxes,” he said. “Concrete takes energy from the body. It absorbs moisture and it takes life from something rather than giving it back. It has no business in residences.”

If you would like to take a sustainable lifestyle tour with Rivkin or taste some of his raw-food recipes, e-mail him at or visit his website at for more information.

Over on the Caribbean coast, Costa Rica offers up another sample of sustainable living. Punta Mona (, an 85-acre organic farm seven kilometers south of Manzanillo, near the southern border with Panama, also lives completely off the grid. The farm offers workshops that exhibit Costa Rica’s innumerable medicinal plants and that showcase different types of permaculture design – agricultural systems or methods that seek to integrate human activity with natural surroundings so as to create efficient, self-sustaining ecosystems.

Punta Mona also sponsors an internship program for those who wish to learn the ways of the jungle and sustainability. Internship commitments are for a minimum of one month.

Punta Mona is affiliated with Kopali Communities (www.kopalicommunities. com), a team of “farmers, entrepreneurs, developers, artists, teachers, architects and dreamers from all walks of life” dedicated to creating sustainable communities in Costa Rica, according to the group’s website. Also, in the scenic mountains southwest of San José, Rancho Mastatal environmental learning and sustainable living center ( offers courses on natural building, organic gardening, yoga and environmental and ecological studies.

Be patient when waiting for an e-mail response from some of these groups. Some projects don’t use telephones and check e-mail only occasionally. But who needs technology when Mother Nature is your house-keeper?

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