La Agricultura   Leave a comment

This will be my last day with internet for a while, so I’m going to try to squeeze in a post really quickly. Normally I wouldn’t mind waiting, but at the pace we’re going, I will have to write for pages & pages to tell you about all I’ve done – we are packing our days full of great activities, and trying to squeeze class in as well, usually at night after dinner. It makes for long days, but each of our activities has been so great, I wouldn’t cut any of them out (except maybe class, but I guess that’s not really possible…)

I’ve mentioned briefly our activities in San Jose, so lets jump ahead to the next destination: Turrialba, home of CATIE, the Center of Tropical Agriculture Research and Education. I had heard of CATIE before, due to my background with cacao and all of the research that CATIE does with cacao genetics and disease resistance, and helping indigenous communities and small farmers work towards increasing production (that’s actually our focus for the next couple of days…). I am also writing my research paper for this class on different aspects of sustainable agriculture in Costa Rica – a topic that is near and dear to my heart and was very relevant especially in this first week of our trip.

Our first day in Turrialba once we arrived was to be introduced briefly to the area and some work of CATIE’s, with a lecture about the biological corridor protection system and its importance in this area as demand for agriculture (esp. beef) contributed to deforestation all around the country, and a trip to CATIE’s botanical gardens. One of CATIE’s main projects has been their creation of a plant library: species of important crops like cacao, coffee, pejibaye, sugar cane, achiote, and many more – for research of genetics, disease resistance, and productivity of these crops. Well the botanical garden, in a way, is like the reference section of this library: they have a garden that includes plants of nearly every tropical fruit tree in central and south america. It was amazing the amount of information that our guide Marco was able to share with us: Family, genus & species of all the trees, properties of the plant, including the roots, sap, flowers, and fruits. It was impossible to retain it all – to keep straight the fruits that are toxic and those that are only “slightly toxic” (uh, I think I’ll just avoid them all), or to remember which varieties of sapote tasted like condensed milk, etc. Possible the most important thing I learned is that a variety of impatiens helps with insect bites – simply by rubbing the petals on the bite – something that I’ve already needed to try on my chewed-up legs. Ethnobotany is so cool.

Learning tropical fruits at CATIE botanical gardens

Moving on: Day 4, the day of coffee (or at least surrounded by coffee plants). We visited two coffee farms: the largest coffee-producing farm in Costa Rica and one of the smallest; the first a large, conventional although shade-grown production, the second an organic family-run operation. Our (another) extremely intelligent “guide” from CATIE brought us to our first outdoor “classroom” of the day – a clearing under a giant Ceiba tree, partway up Volcán Turrialba with a great view of the valley below, to teach us about the process of processing coffee, about the production and management of farms – that also included a trip through the history of coffee but also of agriculture in general and the technological revolutions that have brought about this little pickle in which we find ourselves today. Due to lack of time and energy, I’ll refer you to the class blog for the rest of that part of the story. I’ll also just mention that I’m not so sure I have as much faith in labels like “Rainforest Alliance” certified coffee, as I was able to witness firsthand I am not getting what I believe I am paying for… As mentioned in our class blog, the mood was greatly uplifted in the afternoon with a DELICIOUS lunch (there’s just nothing like a good lunch from an organic farm, I should know) and a tour through the small, organic, environmentally friendly and intelligently designed family farm.

Speaking of great lunches, we were fortunate enough to have another today – again, we were on another environmentally friendly organic family farm – this one a dairy farm that produces the unique Turrialba Cheese. Through fun activities and challenges, we learned about the process of caring for the cows. It was truly amazing how this family ensured the self-sustainability of their farm – the coolest part being the biodigestor that naturally transformed hog & cow manure into methane gas – that was used for cooking in their house and for boiling water in the workshed to sterilize equipment to avoid using chemicals – and liquid fertilizer that could be spread on their pastures to help grow grasses and feed for the cows. It is amazing how simple some of the solutions are that are able to help reduce our problems/conflict between being environmentally friendly and successful in agriculture, and it truly confirms my desire to study such systems in hopes of helping solve such issues…

The theme continues tomorrow with our trip to the indigenous community the Bribri to learn about their management of cacao systems (yay!).


Posted January 10, 2012 by rwieme in Uncategorized

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