Our last few days in Costa Rica were spent at a wonderful place. It was not a resort next to the beach; it was nowhere near civilization. As a matter of fact, we did not even have electricity for most of our time there. However, of our entire stay in Costa Rica, Jose’s farm, a far and remote place named Hacienda Rio Carara, left in me the deepest of impressions.
Jose had an adventurous life. At the age of 20, he sold everything he owned and bought a ticket to Africa. What was supposed to be a six-months trip turned into four years of traveling across multiple continents. Afterwards, Jose literally drifted around for seventeen more years, having worked his way up from crew to captain on luxury yachts. Somehow, during his years of traveling, Jose earned a degree in Agricultural Engineering and now, after two decades, he finally decided to settle down in his home country to build his idea of a sustainable farm.
Listening of Jose talk is a treat. I’ve never met anyone so knowledgeable about nature. Walking around his farm is like getting a tour around an arboretum, where all the trees bear fruits and your tour guide planted everything growing out of the ground. Like many people accustomed to city living, I have never seriously thought about the origin of my food, and seeing these fruits, herbs, and spices in their natural habitat was wholly revelatory.
Perhaps the most intriguing was the variety on Jose’s farm. The practice of agriculture is in many ways inherently destructive to natural biodiversity since it forces only a few species of plants to be grown on one plot of land. What’s unique about Jose’s farm is it’s more like a big agricultural experiment than a commercial farm. Instead of growing cash crops, Jose chose multiplicity. After having planted everything from turmeric to oranges to sugarcane, he’s only getting started. Nothing is neatly organized in rows, and there is no plot of land used for specific plants. The entire farm looks like a part of the rainforest surrounding it, and that’s just how Jose envisioned it.
What I found the most interesting about Jose was his ideas towards the environmental movement. To him, words like “organic” and “eco” do much more harm than good. He explained how yielding the same amount of “organic” crops sometimes takes five times the resources required, and how “fair-trade” can also cause deforestation when the farmers cut down tree to grow coffee beans. Right or wrong, Jose is a man of opinions, and his opinions are backed by his observations and his own philosophies on sustainability. To Jose, it’s not about following certain doctrines, but rather using nature to its maximum efficiency. There is no dogma, and everything can be attempted as long as it doesn’t violate his fundamental principle of letting nature do its own work. Even GMO, a touchy subject to many in the environmental movement, is not beyond discussion. On paper, his vision looks like the musing of an idealist, but in reality he is deeply practical. What I realized about Jose is that he is, at heart, an engineer and an innovator, and like all engineers, the prospect of trying something new is intoxicating.
After all he’s seen and done, Jose wants to live a simple lifestyle. It’s hard to imagine such a gentle person was once a sea captain, and for the most part he just smiles and crack jokes. But, when the topic of farming and sustainability comes up, a light bulb switches on. Suddenly this mild-mannered man becomes so excited he could hardly wait to get his ideas out. Every word leads to a new id, and Jose can (and did) talk for hours on his visions.
I don’t know what Jose’s farm will be like in a few years; I don’t think he does either. That’s really what’s the most exciting, and I feel fortunate to have witnessed this beautiful dream in its infancy. After years working on yachts, Jose said the goal of the farm is to “share, not to serve”. I like that, and I look forward to what he’ll share with me the next time I visit.