When I signed up for a yoga retreat in Costa Rica last November it was a no-brainer – we were to spend seven days at an eco-lodge that also happened to be a biodynamic farm. The yoga was almost an afterthought. It was even better than I ever could have expected. Pura Vida indeed. Pura Vida is the Costa Rican answer to ‘how ya doin’?’ Literally it means pure life and slangily means – cool, great, awesome. You can use it to say hi, bye or to simply express satisfaction.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the bus was the intense floral aroma and the cacophany of sounds that seemed to pulse with life. It was breathtaking. As we dragged our giant bags of yoga clothes into our room I couldn’t help but notice the details of sustainability and environmentalism that were put in place here. I would learn later in the week that all the lumber used to build the structures on the farm came from the farm itself. It had never really been designed as a hotel so to speak but like most things it evolved over time. The rooms were spacious with 12 foot sloping ceilings. The windows stayed open the entire time I was there and the ceiling fan and low watt lamp were about the only electrical objects I used all week.
They run filtered water throughout the farm and each shower is outfitted with a small heater so that you essentially have tankless, on demand, hot water. They provide shampoo and conditioner that are biodegradable, a necessity for their piping. Every room had multiple recycling bins and the small cart the housekeepers used was electric and could frequently be found charging near the reception office.
Our first night at dinner we were treated to Tom Newmark who is a co-owner of the farm and Sacred Seeds, a sanctuary for medicinal plants, which is also on the farm. Tom is a passionate man and regaled us with tales of the new world of Costa Rica. He believes Costa Rica is the most exciting place on earth because 5 tectonic plates converged to create the bridge between North and South America. The biodiversity of plant life is some of the most prolific in the world. He also brought to light that Costa Rica is some of the youngest land on the planet.
His partner, Steven Farrell, runs the daily farm operations at Finca Luna Nueva (New Moon Farm). The Tico Times called him the hippie gringo farmer and that is an apt description as he is a tall gangly man with an amazingly white beard. He was sporting Keen sandals with socks and had the genial air of someone who was living Pura Vida. He walked us toward the farm and would stop occasionally to point out plants like Quassia Amara, the plant used to make Angostura bitters or the Vetiver they use for soil protection since it’s roots grow about 3 feet deep. As we neared the compost heaps Joseph, the soil microbiologist intern, explained his soil soup to us. He was especially excited because the farm is embarking on a 5 year carbon sequestration project akin to the Rodale study in the US. They are awaiting official word in mid-May and if they are funded he will be there for the full five years of the project.
After the soil lesson we moved on to the actual farm. We ate wild spinach off the tree, inhaled cinnamon basil and allspice, and chewed on peppercorns straight from the bush. We were also treated to cacao right out of the pod which was quite good. Steven explained some of their biodynamic processes as we were tasting. I like to think of biodynamic as the holistic older sister of organics. Biodynamic is more of a spiritual approach but similar to organics in that no chemicals are used. One interesting note that struck me was that you cut plants on the waning moon because the water is retreating in the plant. This allows it to continue growing whereas if you cut during a waxing moon the water is at the top of the plant and cutting it then kills the plant. Tom called some of the practices “voodoo with doodoo” and there are some crazy sounding things but they make sense – and the system actually works.
The food we ate all week was from the farm and we were treated to different fruits daily like the lube lube (loobee loobee), guanabana, papaya, Costa Rican guava, coconut (pipas), bananas, golden drops, jackfruit, rambutan, etc. They grow 7 different banana species on the farm (we only eat the Cavendish variety in the US). The guava was interesting and not like the pink fleshed one you are probably thinking of. This one comes in a long pod and when cracked open there is fuzzy white flesh that tastes sweet and light although the fuzzy texture was a little perplexing for most of us. For lunch and dinner there were always vegetarian options like rice and beans, ceviche of vegetables and a giant salad. There was also tilapia from the farm and the milk for breakfast was from the waterbuffalos that lived outside of our cabin.
There were other farm animals as well – pigs and goats. The pigs are the natural tillers for the farm – their rooting ability doing the job that most farms use heavy machinery for. Using animals for their natural abilities is another tenet of biodynamics as well as letting them live with their kind. A sow had just had a litter of piglets which were adorable, however her teats had been damaged by bats and so this would be her last litter.
We passed through the turmeric fields that supply New Chapter and it seemed appropriate to me that the Zyflamend I brought with me had turmeric that came out of the earth at this precise place. They produce something like 20,000 lbs of turmeric. It sounds like a lot but it’s just a 200 acre farm that grows all sorts of fruits and vegetables and is part rainforest and has a hotel on it – if that helps put it in perspective.
I think though that my favorite part of the tour was seeing my fellow yogis enlightened to the practical side of organics. I heard someone say – “You know, I used to balk that organics cost more than conventional but after this I’m totally willing to spend an extra dollar or two. It’s worth it.” I hope that more people can experience Steven, Tom and Finca Luna Nueva. As Steven said, one of the most radical environmental choices we make is what we put in our body. His radical choice of moving to Costa Rica and continuing to do what he believes in connects him to me in a way I won’t forget. He spent about an hour with me personally talking about his beliefs and the state of the world today and it reminded me that no matter where we are in the world, we are all tasked with caring for the earth as we all occupy the same space.
Claudia works at MOM’s Central Office.