By Will Raap
Founder and Chairman
Over the years, Gardener’s Supply has successfully incubated and supported a number of complementary enterprises with improve-the-earth-through-business missions. Close to home, these have included Vermont’s first and now largest community composting facility, and its first and largest community-supported farm (now providing organic produce, eggs, cheese and meat to more than 1,000 people each week of the growing season). In support of these and other local initiatives, we also founded the Intervale Center, which is now an internationally recognized nonprofit organization promoting sustainable farming and local food production.
It was about ten years ago that I began wondering if this approach to building linked, values-based enterprises that yield a more sustainable economy could work in a less-receptive and less-developed setting than Vermont. In 2000, I began working on this question in Costa Rica where my wife’s relatives live. What we’ve found is that our vision of working to support local agriculture has had to adapt to the local realities and opportunities in Guanacaste, the northwestern province in Costa Rica that we now call our home away from home.
One of several projects in the works is a farm we’ve named Finca Lagunita. The farm is our first effort to spark a renewal and diversification of local farming. The Farm’s motto is “Recordando el pasado, sembrando el futuro” (Remembering the past, sowing the future). We are growing traditional crops for the local market, including corn, beans, rice, squash and plantain. We’ve also introduced new crops that appeal to the local expat market (such as cherry tomatoes and heat-tolerant greens), and new techniques (such as composting) for dealing with the low fertility, soil erosion and runoff issues that plague our area. The weather problems in Guanacaste are more severe than they are in Vermont (heat, intense sun, wind, no rain/too much rain). Plus we have some new challenges, like monkeys eating the papayas, and iguanas grazing on our baby tomatoes and stray rodeo bulls busting up the shade houses. Among our biggest issues is synchronizing production with the peaks in local demand for farm produce during the ups and downs of the tourist seasons.
One thing we have confirmed with Finca Lagunita is that—much like in the States—there is a growing enthusiasm among both new home buyers and established local residents, to know where their food is produced, to have personal contact with the growers and to feel the security that some part of their diet is coming from “close to home.” Finca Lagunita also plays a role in the broader watershed goals, as its sunken beds, designed for wind protection and efficient watering in the dry season, are a major water harvesting trap and refuge for aquatic birds in the rainy season. As well, the farm infrastructure and staff allows us to produce thousands of native plants that are made available for erosion control and habitat restoration.