Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

04 May, 2007

San Ramón: MUSADE Community Social Work

Ensueño: Café, Arte, y Amistad
Shown here is a view of the MUSADE store, Ensueño, from the street. All of the products in the store have been hand made by women in the community. Anyone can come to MUSADE with something they have made, and MUSADE will sell it for them, giving them seventy percent of the sales. The store offers a variety of items, such as jewelry, clothing, paintings, souvenirs, and coffee makers. It also serves as the front office. Marí, shown at the desk, among other women, do the financial books for the store, make appointments for social work and psychology,
as well as answer any questions about the organization.

Saturday Group Activity
In this picture, a group of teenage girls from the community are participating in the Saturday craft activity. Here, the girls are making frog key chains out of beads. Every week, the activity changes. Other activities may include theatre, singing, and games. These activities are offered to women, children, and adolescents in the community. Many times they work well coinciding with the support groups that the women attend. While the women are in their group, the children are occupied. However, you may often find a mix of small children, teenagers, mothers, and grandmothers all sitting in the same room, struggling over how to make a beaded frog.

Author: Claire Wingerd

03 May, 2007

San Ramón: Organic Coffee Farm Volunteer Work

Chris With a Machete!
Chris and I spent half of our time working in the coffee farm with the coffee plants. We helped Gary prune the plants. We cut off the smaller stems from the branch Gary trimmed with a large machete, as you can see Chris with in the picture, he is loving it! The stems and leaves were left on the ground in the coffee farm and help as an organic fertilizer and a component to prevent weeds from growing. After gathering plenty of the branches, we piled them up and brought them to Gary’s neighbor. He traded the branches, which the man used as firewood to cook with, and in turn received horse manure. The manure is used for the farms composting, and is discussed in other pictures. The pruning of the coffee plant is pretty excessive, more excessive than non organic coffee farms. This allows the plant more room to grow, and they grow healthier. Chris and I also helped dig holes and replant trees for Gary; this was helping him maintain a natural fence around the farm to keep out other chemicals and pollution.
We were able to use lost of cool heavy farm tools!

Author: Nicole Lynch

02 May, 2007

San Ramón: Nectandra Reserve & Institute

Classroom Facility
Here is a picture of one of the classrooms at Nectandra. The facility was put in as an education center for the community. Although Nectandra’s entrance fee is a bit pricy, ($50 for non-locals/$25 for locals) Mrs. Lennette welcomes many young students and members of the community as complimentary guests. It should also be noted that when groups come for free she still must pay the staff to have all of the facilities open. Not only is she not making any money, but she is spending money to let people into the reserve. One of the most interesting aspects of this classroom is a table which has molds of various footprints found in Nectandra including; Jaguars, Tapirs, Peccaries, Pumas and Ocelots. These species are very rare in Costa Rica today, due to deforestation and poaching. Visiting the reserve gives visitors the opportunity to understand the importance of protecting natural habitats like Nectandra. I will also note that when I visited the reserve and did a hike on one of the trails, Alvaro Ugalde and I were able to see two wild peccaries, wondering around in the forest, stuffing their snouts under some dead leaves, looking for tasty insects. They did not notice us because we were up wind, but we sure got a whiff of them! It was amazing to get to see these rare mountain pigs because they normally are nowhere near where humans are, and are also quite endangered. The peccary is the main source of food for the “elusive jaguar” and the decrease in prey has lead to a decrease in the jaguar population. So seeing them was a sign of good things to come. One hopes at least!

Sample Moss Diversity
This is a picture of what was once a clump of mosses, which appeared as one. As you can see, there are now four. Mosses have a tendency to layer and build off of one another. Mrs Evelyne Tam Lenette (resident biologist and reserve owner) is using these samples to study the morphology of spores. It is in through spores that moss spreads and speciates. With the same samples, she is also studying the types of mutualistic relationships exemplified here by their compound building. All specimens found are dried and put into a herbarium for later comparison with new discoveries.


Species Identification: 117 Moss Species
Here is a picture of the inventory of mosses which have been identified at Nectandra Reserve. There are 117 present here in Nectandra of the roughly 450 that thrive in Costa Rica. This is pretty impressive for a 300 ac/sq property. Moss is the most important element in a cloud forest because it allows for the capture and slow release of water to trees and plants. The climate has actually been changing over recent years, including fewer clouds and less precipitation annually, which leads to extensive dry periods, even out of the dry season. This in turn is detrimental to the moss populations. The dryness is the result of the deforestation of the San Carlos plains below. Moisture is sucked out of the clouds as they pass over the plains, before they make it up the slope to the cloud forests. Evelyne Tam Lennette, resident biologist and reserve owner, diligently works to have a substantial index for species abundance.

The Art of a Forest (With a Little Assistance)
Here is an example of the lovely landscaping at Nectandra, designed by Arturo Joaquin. Arturo is not only the resident naturalist, but administrator and tour guide as well. He is an excellent guide through the reserve because he knows every meter of it. When landscaping, he went through the deep forest and brought samples out to plant in trail-range so that visitors could have an idea of what is found in the preserved primary forest. The area which contains the trails and facilities is known as “the garden” and this 4 ha area is the only area that the public is allowed to visit. The remainder of the reserve is for scientific research and, of course, preservation of the ecosystem in its natural state.

The Glorious Tree Fern This is the lovely tree fern, which is found abundantly in the cloud forests. Healthy cloud forests are highly precipitous places, at an average elevation of about 1100m and a tropical climate, that provide homes for hundreds of thousands of species and countless environmental services. Mrs Evelyne Tam Lennette was specifically looking for a cloud forest when she decided to purchase & establish Nectandra because they are among the most unique and rare of all forest types. They make up only 2.5% of all forests, and when Mrs. Lennette was in the process of buying the property 7 years ago, they accounted for 3%of world forests. Deforestation for agriculture and climate change will wipe this precious ecosystem out before the end of the century, unless rapid action is taken. Mrs Lennette hopes to use the reserve to raise awareness of the importance of preserving such forests, by asking people to come in and familiarize themselves with the forest. It makes me think of how one would react when engaged in war: As a combatant, it is most likely a lot harder to kill someone you have met and know, then a faceless enemy. Her goal is for people to know their environment and recognize all that lives within it.

Alvaro Ugalde (My Hero)
Here is a picture of Alvaro Ugalde, as we were hiking along one of the trails in Nectandra. Alvaro has played an instrumental part in conservation of natural habitats in Costa Rica. In fact, he and one other man were the activists who initiated the National Park system of Costa Rica, back in 1970. He not only helped the Lennettes to find and acquire this property, but he is now president of Nectandra. His efforts are specifically focused on involving the community in protecting their shared watershed (Balsa/San Carlos). This watershed is one of the largest and most important in all of Costa Rica. He is constantly thinking of innovative ways to engage the community as a whole in conservation and sustainable practices, while using the resources that Nectandra has to offer. Examples of projects in action are the H20 Championship, which is sponsored by Nectandra. The championship consists of 'futbol' (soccer) teams from various sub-watersheds competing. Winners receive trophies, new uniforms and free park admission. This event has the potential to raise the awareness of at least 160 people. Another project is the E.L.F. (Ecological Loan Fund), which provides loans for land and watershed restoration projects. There is no monetary interest with the loans, & interest is paid off in labor of the land.

Author: Devon Howard

01 May, 2007

Chachagua: GEMA Medicinal Plant Processing Facility

The Women of GEMA
Shown here are Milia on the left and Nydia on the right, two group members. Nydia is in charge of the office and coordinating student and tourist visits. Milia, as with our group, gave us a tour and talked about the history of the group and what they do. In the future, they would like to bring more student groups like ours as well as more tourists. They are presently working on building a garden in the back of the facility in order to show student groups as part of the tour. Ideally, the group would like to be selling their products nationally and eventually internationally. But for now, poco a poco.

The Story of GEMA
This is a picture of Miguel and Milia, one of the 11 members of GEMA, standing in front of their display table and the shelves full of their products. Milia is telling the story of the group, while Miguel translates for us. When the women were starting out, their husbands did not support them at all. They thought the women were crazy for wanting to try to grow organic, medicinal plants. Because they did not like the idea, and the women had to ask their husbands for land, the men gave the group poor land to work with. However, despite this potential set-back, the group educated themselves on organic gardening/agriculture, and after several trial and errors, they succeeded.

Herbs in Bulk
Pictured here are bags of bulk tea before they are either individually packaged and prepared with GEMA´s label, or sent to MANZATE as is. There are 11 farms amongst the group members, where all of the products are grown. Each household is responsible for growing, harvesting, and drying the products before they bring them to the production facility. Once at the facility, those products are either packaged in small plastic bags or put into one pint canisters. The natural condiments are mixed and then put into plastic salt-shaker type containers.

The Herb Packing Machine
This is a picture of the compressor that packs and seals the canisters of tea. The larger canisters are not being produced in as large quantities as the smaller plastic bags of tea. The women would like to be using those as their primary packaging, however, they don´t have enough demand just yet. Right now, they are selling their tea directly to the public at very few places. Aside from the on-site facility, they also sell it at a local Eco-lodge called La Catarata, which actually has worked in conjunction with GEMA. GEMA now operates the medicinal garden of the lodge and the mother of the cook there is a member of GEMA.

GEMA: The New Building
GEMA was founded around 1995, when a group of women in a community outside of La Fortuna, decided that they wanted to do something to improve their lives. A Peace Corps volunteer came in as a facilitator and provided them with some ideas as to how they would go about doing this. Growing and selling medicinal plants was one of the ideas, and it turned out to be the one chosen by the women. The building in this picture is the four year old processing facility. When the group started out, they were located in an older, run down facility.

Medicinal Herbs Display Table
Currently, GEMA has twenty-nine products available for purchase. This includes natural condiments, as well as different kinds of tea. They also offer teapots, bags, shirts, and various other GEMA or Costa Rican souvenirs. As of now, they are not able to sell directly to the public because they must obtain approval by the government, and it cost approximately $100 per product simply to submit an application for approval. At this point, this is not feasible for GEMA, and therefore, they must sell through the company of MANZATE. They sell one kilo of loose leaf tea for roughly $3. Not only is this less money than what they could sell to the public for, but they also don´t have their own label and their teas are being mixed with non-organics.

Author: Claire Wingerd