With stunning views of El Valle del General and Costa Rica's tallest mountains, including Mount Chirripo, La Gran Vista Agricultural Ecological Farm is well named. It is situated in the county of Perez Zeledon, three hours south of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Protected forests, sublime beaches and fabulous waterfalls can all be found nearby. Finca La Gran Vista was established on January 16, 2001, as a non-profit project with the aim of spreading awareness of environmentally sustainable agricultural methods to other farmers in the region. It is intended to provide an example for other farms of how the following practices can be employed successfully:
•Soil regeneration and conservation.
•Enhancement of the natural environment.
•Reforestation methods and seed saving.
The manager of the project, Donald Villalobos, is an agricultural engineer who has worked with the Ministry of Agriculture for over 33 years and has seen first hand how traditional farming practices have contributed to habitat degradation in Costa Rica. To bring about change in the way agriculture is practised, it must be demonstrated to the farmers that the new practices are superior to those currently in use. In an effort to foster this kind of change, Donald has set about creating an ecologically friendly farm that uses the land sustainably; in doing so, he has virtually eliminated soil erosion on his property.
The finca receives volunteers regularly throughout the year from across the world, and particularly from the USA, Canada, England and Australia. Their involvement is invaluable to the development of the farm and to the fulfillment of the main goals Donald has set. Over the years the finca has been fortunate enough to receive volunteers from English and Amarican companies, foreign students at Spanish language schools in Costa Rica and ecology students. Notable recent achievements include constructing an electric fence, digging a frog pond, excavating a special site to produce natural biogas, replanting grass, constructing a spacious living area for volunteers at the front of the main building, constructing terraces, planting trees and repainting the school and church in the community, El Peje.
The farm is run by a family of five: Xinia, Donald, Max, Larry, and Terry. Finca La Gran Vista is twelve acres in extent, and accommodates horses, chickens, ducks, medicinal plants, fruit trees, grass for forage, several crop species, spring-water wells, an area of rainforest, red worm composting for soil regeneration, and a pond.
Background of the Project:
The main aim of this project is to provide a working example of a farm that operates in a sustainable manner, removing the need to clear new areas of forest. Each volunteer task has been specially chosen and rigourously prepared to help ingrain the values of the farm and the ethos it engenders – that is, maximizing farm production in a highly sustainable, ecological way. Specifically, the goals of the project are:
1.Soil conservation measures (construction of terraces, planting of soil-binding grasses);
2.Pasture rehabilitation and fence construction;
3.Vegetable cultivation in raised beds;
4.Treatment of structural wood in the farm buildings to protect from termites;
5.Construction and subsequent maintenance of greenhouses;
6.Planting of fruit-bearing trees;
7.Reforestation of trees native to the area;
8.Sharing of ideas with visiting local farmers;
9.Sharing of ideas with visiting local children and foreign students on ecological school tours;
10.Managing free-range poultry;
11.Cultivation of the Californian Red Worm for the enrichment of organic fertilizers;
12.Showing visitors the multiple uses that certain plants have, as treatment for both human health and plant welfare;
13.Fabrication of composts using materials grown on the farm;
14.Involving the volunteers in activites that allow for a greater appreciation of Costa Rican culture.