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Pigs in Paradise: Tasting the Good Life at a Biodynamic Farm in Costa Rica

1/25/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: Costa Rica, Finca Luna Nueva, travel, agriculture, biodynamic farming, permaculture

It’s 6 a.m., and Finca Luna Nueva is coming to life. After a solid night’s sleep, we woke at dawn and climbed to the top of a 60-foot high observation tower to watch the sun rise over the Arenal Volcano. Parrots and toucans are chasing each other through the sky as hummingbirds flit by. In the kitchen, the cooks are whipping up fresh eggs and slicing just-picked papayas and pineapple. The farm crew is heading out with shovels to harvest ginger and turmeric roots.

 At home, I’m a night owl. This is not my habitual rhythm. Yet after just a few days at this small eco-resort surrounded by 147 acres of primary rainforest, I’ve stopped setting a wake-up alarm. There’s so much to learn and experience on this 60 cultivated acres of certified organic and biodynamic farm; I’m out of bed as soon as the roosters crow.

 Yesterday Finca Luna Nueva general manager Steven Farrell showed us the lay of this land, originally founded to grow organic ginger and turmeric for New Chapter whole food supplements. Since its inception in 1994, this 207-acre paradise has blossomed into a retreat and education center where guests come to relax, get closer to the land and connect with their food sources. The resort can accommodate 33 overnight guests and also educates tourists and students during two-hour farm tours—an integral part of this place’s mission.

 We spoke at length with Matias Baker, a biodynamic journeyman from California (also known to folks here as “the magician”), who spends a couple months a year down here studyinnvg this area’s natural rhythms and developing preparations specific to the tropics. Biodynamics, he tells us, is a constantly changing and morphing art, and the methods developed by its German founder Rudolf Steiner tend to be Eurocentric. As a steward, he is developing a personal relationship with this fertile earth. He’s starting to see interesting new patterns, especially in climate. “If we have an idea of how to read those rhythms, we can establish buffers for what’s coming down the shoot,” he said.

 After lunch Steven walked us through the farm, where permaculture, biodynamics and good organic practices intermingle to create verdant fields of fresh food. He’s working toward creating a completely closed system; currently he brings in only a small amount of calcium carbonate, a drum of seaweed, and 5 gallons each of organic zinc and organic boron. Otherwise, this farm feeds itself—and the 1,200 to 1,400 guests who come through each year. Ginger and turmeric, the farm’s cash crops, are planted on fields interspersed throughout the 60 acres. After their roots are harvested, dried and sent off the United States and Germany, the fields are planted yucca and taro root interspersed with papaya and pineapple. For the next three years, the fields lie fallow and the brush takes over, perfect feeding grounds for the pigs who turn the soil looking for grubs and mushrooms and rejuvenate it with their waste. The cycle is repeated in the fifth year, when the earth is yet again ready to grow healthy ginger and yucca.

Steven stopped to show us the stinging nettle that is used as rennet for the farm’s homemade cheese and as a biodynamic compost preparation. We munched on fresh bok choy, lemongrass, tropical lettuces, cilantro and a deliciously sweet oregano (that the natives use in mojitos) from the nursery and greenhouse. When we stopped to visit a sow, wallowing in the mud and feeding her piglets, I confessed to Steven that I was terrified of this animal. I grew up in Iowa and had some major run-ins with vicious pigs, I told him. “That’s because those pigs are convicts,” he said. The animals here are allowed to roam freely, expressing their natural selves, exercising, foraging for food and reproducing. Steven, a vegetarian, doesn’t eat the pigs, but the guests do enjoy fresh pork that tastes like nothing I ever had in Iowa. The pigs are an integral part of this farm’s dynamic. “I would have them here even if we never served them in our restaurant,” he said. “They are such a plus for this farm.”

It goes both ways; I’ve never seen such happy pigs. And as this place sinks deep inside me, I’ve never felt quite so happy and content myself.

nueva steven 

Steven Farrell talks abobut some of the healthy fruits that grow at Finca Luna Nueva. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

nueva matias 

Biodynamic journeyman Matias Baker with the farm's compost. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

nueva teas 

Biodynamic preparations contribute to the farm's abundance. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

nueva fruit 

The farm's abundance is a bonus for guests. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

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