It wasn’t until my time at Mastatal that I really saw the initiatives of global sustainability and cultural immersion intersect during this trip. It was there where one could rather clearly see the intimacy of community through the friendly encounters of the people of Mastatal. Sustainability was pervasive in the demands of everyday life, through emphasis on the minimization of impact on environment. Mastatal was a humble town of just a bit more than 120 residents. It was easy to walk along the main roads of Mastatal, even as part of a group that was visiting for a mere five days, to pass by someone who we’d previously met at the school or restaurant the day before. But what really tied it all together, through culture, sustainability, and community presence, were the four farms of Mastatal.
Much of the educational component of our trip was attributed to a handful of thorough tours provided by the individuals who lead the operations of each of these four farms. The farms each had many unique perspectives and focuses, whether it was their innovation with regards to sustainability practice, commitment to education, or the continued usage of traditional techniques passed down by generations. The timing of our trip meant that a new day in Mastatal meant a new farm in Mastatal, beginning with the farm which our group was housed for the week…
Finca Siempre Verde
Finca Siempre Verde is run by Marcos Garcia-Guzman, a long-time collaborator of the Costa Rica Program. Prior to the start of his tour, Marcos gave us a rather extensive history of his own motivations behind doing work for the farm. He’d done work as a carpenter, and found substantial fulfillment in education. He’d aimed to shape the farm around goals of growing produce in a sustainable manner, while also providing substantial advice on his practice to those, like our group, who had wished to establish connections to sustainability with our own education. Marcos spoke extensively on the ethical issues of the banana, coffee, and nut industries, and brought the growth of produce to something relatable and direct. While my own participation in the tour had been met with a premature end due to an allergic reaction, the tour had still been one of the most well-fed walkthroughs I’ve experienced. Pineapple to water-apple, sugarcane to citrus, the group had seemed to taste everything that could possibly be grown in this rich, tropical climate.
The next day, we’d visited Tim at Rancho Mastatal. This farm was located at the intersection of the three main roads of Mastatal, acting as the real center of this small town. Upon entry, we were prompted to sit around in a rather unique piece of furniture, which we later found was made of highly sustainable cob material. Tim then gave a brief lecture that discussed his own motivations behind founding Rancho Mastatal. He attended school at Cornell University, worked for the company Chiquita, left in favor of the Peace Corps, in which he met his wife. He and his wife later purchased the plot of land that Rancho is located on. Tim’s influences were wide and nuanced— he was an undeniable proponent for technology and innovation within the field of sustainability, and that was clearly shown in the projects he showed us at Rancho. He and his team had built countless homes and lodges with a precise focus on architectural design and material choice that enforced his goals of sustainability. He’d also built a bio-digester, which had won the 2012 award for “Best Compost Loo in the World” given by Permaculture Magazine. The system makes use of the methane found in human waste for use in cooking. As our time with Tim came to a close, it was easy to notice the exchange between the methods he had known in the US and the traditions found in Mastatal. Tim had a commitment to contribute to the community, while also pushing sustainability innovation to the cutting edge.
La Iguana Chocolate
Following Rancho Mastatal, we took a bit of a walk down to La Iguana Chocolate with Juan Luis, a farm dedicated to chocolate in Mastatal. Here, we learned a lot about the varieties in chocolate beans, processing, and details that go into making chocolate. Similar to Marcos’s tour, a lot of our time at La Iguana was spent to better acquaint us with the work that has to be done to get the food we like to eat on our plates. Juan Luis guided us through the traditional methods of chocolate making, beginning at the cocoa pod. He showed us how they picked, dried, and cooked the cocoa. We took part in removing many of the shells from the cocoa, to really get as hands on a look as possible. We then ground the chocolate ourselves, and watched Juan Luis as he added the sugar and the vanilla flavoring to the chocolate to transform pod to truffle. As a lover of chocolate, I was definitely one to sample every stage of the process. It was the first time I’d tasted literally 100% cocoa, and the bean tasted more like an almond than a chocolate bar (which I had absolutely have no problem with). Again, what resulted from this tour was a greater understanding of where our food comes from, and how vitality, hardwork, and patience guide the process of chocolate making.
The last of our tours was at Villas Mastatal, hosted by Javier, or Javi for short. What was perhaps was most impressionable about Javi’s farm was how much fun everything seemed. His presentation showcased his sense of humor, most evident in the name of his compost recipe—Lasagna, and his pig’s name— Pepperoni. Javi’s farm presented a lot of similar focuses toward innovation, as well as education. His lodging space for interns and volunteers was large, and he had formulated recipes for organic fertilizers that he credited much of the success of his crops to. He’d utilized aspects of farming that he’d learned from the internet, and really stressed that a lot of his work was committed to the exchange of information between him and the many people that visited his farm. He represented something of continual learning, the embracing of diversity when it comes to farming practices, and the awareness of tradition, all the while treating his work as something entertaining and exciting.
Values in Unison
As our final tour wrapped up at Villas Mastatal, it became rather easy for me to blur the many distinguishing characteristics of each farm. It wasn’t, however, the commonalities between each that made them all blend into a single conglomerate. Rather, what did blend for me were the similarities in the values that each farm represented. Each acted as an undeniable testament to what I saw as the embodiment of the culture Mastatal. Marcos, Tim, Javi, and Juan Luis were each utterly committed to their work— to push further and further in pursuit of sustainable growth and community engagement. Each of these farms reflected a devotion to building off of what nature had already long established, by exerting energy to find life and bring light to the simple. We met many other students and visitors who had been working and contributing to the sustainable practices of each farm, and by the end it was clear why these volunteers, interns, or student groups like us could find educational value in Mastatal. With the lifestyle they practice on their farms and in their communities, a life of simplicity isn’t something that people escape to to flee the twists and turns of life as a student or employee. The simple and sustainable life of Mastatal is inherent in its culture and its people. Here, people embrace nature for the sake of embracing nature, value community and connection for the sake of community and connection. It isn’t a matter of the constant pursuit of increasing one’s position in the social or economic hierarchy to find fulfillment in the gaining of what one doesn’t have. Rather, it is the discovery of pleasure and satisfaction for what is already present in one’s life. Its a life of clarity, of pureness, of ¡Pura vida!, and all that that phrase entails.