Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

11 May, 2008

San Ramón: Organic Farming


Planting the Seeds
The first step in creating an herb garden is planting the seeds. Because they are so vulnerable for the first few weeks after sprouting, we didn’t plant the seeds directly into the garden outside. We filled the black containers you see here with organic fertilizer and seeds. They will live in the greenhouse for a few weeks until the seeds germinate and sprout. In the greenhouse they are protected from elements like harsh rain and wind that could potentially prevent the herbs from making it through the crucial early stages of growth. Once they are mature enough, they’ll be transplanted outside in the field.

Planting Seedlings
Juan Luis grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs on the farm. During the week that we helped plant seeds and seedlings, we put a host of different herbs and vegetables into the ground. One of his main products is cilantro, which grows from seed to harvest in a couple of weeks. We also planted red beans, which form pods with seeds for harvesting in about three weeks. Among the other plants we planted were lettuce, scallions, cabbage, basil, and tomatos. All of these products are brought to the farmer´s market in San Ramon for sale at the booth that hosts all of the available certified organic produce.

Weeding by Hand
Almost every day at the farm, our first task was to weed the herb garden. Because there are a variety of herbs planted within close proximity of each other, it was difficult at first to differentiate between weeds and newly sprouted herbs. After working for a while though, the differences became more and more obvious and by the end I wondered how I was ever able to confuse the two. Although very time-consuming and tedious, manual weeding is a crucial step of the organic growth process. Conventional farms can use fast and easy chemical methods to eliminate weeds that compete for nutrients, sunlight, and root-space. Because most weeds tend to be heartier and more resilient than other plants, it’s critical to remove them, and on an organic farm this means pulling them out individually, by hand.

Zeke Shoveling Organic Fertilizer
Applying fertilizer is an important step in the growing of seeds or seedlings. The fertilizer is made of composted material, which in this case was originally sugar cane. The unwanted sugar cane is taken from a nearby processing plant and placed under tarps to be decomposed naturally, creating a nutrient-rich soil. Throughout the week, we planted hundreds of seeds and seedlings and covered them with the natural fertilizer. Synthetic fertilizer can be harmful to the land, seeping into water sources and allowing the exploiting of soil, and also to the human consumer´s health. Natural fertilizer takes an organic product that would be discarded into the land
anyway and utilizes it.

Wash Station on Juan Luis’ Farm
This is the wash station on Juan Luis’ farm (above, left). Every Friday (the day of the big Feria in San Ramon) we worked on the farm we would help Juan Luis pick and wash the vegetables for market. The most commonly picked vegetables included different varieties of lettuce, boc-choy, cilantro, onions, spinach, and mustard greens. Most vegetables were rinsed and bunched before being placed in plastic tubs to carry back to Juan Luis’ house and then to the Feria (shown below, right). But the lettuce was put in plastic mesh sleeves either at the wash station or back at
Juan Luis’ house.

Organic Growers Association: Tierra Fértil
The organic growers association Tierra Fértil was started in 2004 after a failed attempt in 2000. The association sells at the Feria in San Ramón (stall shown here, above, left) and in Palmares. The association was founded by seven families, including the three shown here (from the left: Doña Ana, Don Juan Luis, and Don Toño). The organization sells fruits and vegetables as well as herbs (both fresh and dried) and compost. Members must commit to grow only organically and to help out with selling of produce. Both Doña Ana and Don Toño started growing organically because of personal experiences with poisoning from standard farming chemicals. All three individuals emphasized the importance of growing organically for personal reasons (bottom-up) rather than because someone else tells you to (top-down). Also shown in this picture (right to left) are Kelly Wassell & Danielle Sunde (program participants),
as well as Dr. Miguel Karian (program Director and interview translator).

Author: Sami Nichols & Esequiel Zylberberg

08 May, 2008

San Ramón: Orchid Garden Construction

Collecting Orchids
We collected various species of orchids throughout the nature reserve surrounding the biological field station. Along the trails, many of the orchids collected were found in fallen trees or on the ground. Here, Hugo, a university manager of the reserve, is collecting a unique species of orchid found higher up on a tree trunk. The orchids were put into large plastic garbage bags to transport back to the orchid garden. During the collection of the orchids, decomposing tree trunks surrounded by numerous dead vines were chopped up with a machete to be used as mounting material for the collected orchids.

Setting up the wire grid system
The first step in setting up the orchid garden was to select a viable area between 4 trees and to clear the area of brush and decomposing vegetation. The area selected was beside a trail in between the field station and the micro-hydro power plant. Once cleared, the area was ready to set up a wire grid system which would be used to hang orchids collected from the rainforest. The wires were hung between 4 large trees at 120cm above ground level. Once the main wire framing was completed, wire rows were placed every 60cm. This provided adequate space to walk through the rows and for the continued collection of newly found orchid species.

Orchid Garden
After the collection of the different species of orchids, they were sorted by species type. Once sorted, the orchids were tied to the mounting material with hemp rope by Tanya Almada. The mounting material can be seen in the lower section of the picture. The same metal wire used for the construction of the orchid grid system was cut up and stuck through the mounting material in order to hang the orchids. The orchids were hung strategically so that each row contained the same species, or similar species of orchids. This way, the biologists visiting the field site will be able to have organized access to the various species of orchids.

Author: Tanya Almada

07 May, 2008

San Ramón: Greenhouse Construction

Pour that Concrete!
One of our tasks on the farm was to help Juan Luis with the early stages of constructing a cover for his herb garden. Similar to the benefits of germinating the seeds in a greenhouse, this cover will protect seedlings from dying as a result of harsh weather once they’ve been transplanted outdoors. Because the cover will be transparent, it will also magnify the sunlight, facilitating photosynthesis and therefore speeding growth. The support beams for the structure were a mix of metal pipes and pieces of lumber. We dug several holes for the beams, making sure they were the appropriate depth, and then filled them with cement to fix the beams in place.

Painting the Greenhouse Beams
Here we are helping paint metal beams for the construction of the greenhouse. The beams were sanded and then painted, increasing their durability through the rainy season. The process of scraping the rust off of the metal and applying two layers of paint to thirty metal bars four meters in length was a fairly time-consuming and dirty one. However, the greenhouse will serve as a shelter to the products during the downpours of the harsh rainy season, in which it rains just about every day for months on end. It will also prevent erosion and allow more precise control of watering through drip irrigation harnessed from a nearby stream.

Author: Sami Nichols & Esequiel Zylberberg

06 May, 2008

Palmares: Butterfly Garden

The ¨Mariposario¨ is the butterfly garden and it serves to increase and protect the butterfly population of the area, and for the education and enjoyment of the public. Along with the bathroom next to the center and the graffiti around the property, the Mariposario was subject to the main form of vandalism. The mesh covering the center was slashed six months prior to our arrival. Without the butterflies, the center has been in a state of abandonment. When we arrived the center was completely overgrown with weeds. We spent two days pulling out the weeds in the center and clearing the walking path. The last step was to repair the mesh netting, which we were told would be
taken care of soon after our departure.

'Our Only Home is Planet Earth:
We Take Care of It'
This sign is near the Mariposario where we worked, and close to the entrance of Madre Verde. It states the philosophy of the reserve. The main purpose of Madre Verde is to conserve the land because it is one of the main watersheds of the region for the town of Palmares. Community members come to share in the natural beauty of the area and learn about the conservation tactics of Madre Verde and how every aspect of the ecosystem plays a role in it. The sign has been vandalized along with the bathrooms and butterfly garden, possibly reflecting different viewpoints over conservation of land in the reserve.

Author: Lisa Rogers

05 May, 2008

Palmares: Building Repair

Restoring the Bathroom
Near the butterfly garden at Madre Verde Reserve, situated midway down the hill, are the bathrooms where vandalism has occurred. The public restroom that serves the Mariposario (butterfly garden) and the larvae hatching center were in horrible shape when we arrived at Madre Verde. The doors were falling off and, as seen in the photo, the roof siding had been bashed in and broken. Madre Verde is frequented by community members who visit to hike or have a picnic. In addition, with the improvements at the Mariposario, more visitors will be enjoying this area of the land. As part of our volunteer service, we cleaned and painted the public restroom. This was a major contribution because when visitors arrive to Madre Verde and make their way to the conservation and restoration areas, they must first pass the Mariposario and this restroom building. With a fresh coat of paint and new roof siding, visitors have a much more welcoming view as they climb the hill toward the rest of the land.

Author: Michelle Krieg

04 May, 2008

Palmares: Conservation & Environmental Education

 Seedlings for Restoration
One main aspect of the restoration process at Madre Verde is the seedling nursery. The baby trees are cared for until they grow large enough to survive as part of the developing forest. Donations are accepted for visiting the reserve and/or planting trees. Frequent contibutors such as local and international organizations, schools and churches sponsor an area and can then be responsible for reforesting it. This form of public involvement connects the community to the ecosystem and the purposes underlying the reserve. This allows for a greater respect and appreciation of the flora and fauna of the area and also generates a small amount of revenue for the project. The tropical pre-montane climate consists of 6 months of rainy and 6 months of dry seasons. Seedlings must adapt to the drastic moisture fluctuations. In addition, invasive weeds are competition for and threaten the survival of the small trees. We spent some time weeding around each of the small trees in the nursery and in the restoration areas. This gives them a greater chance of survival.

Perspectives in Conservation
As part of the education aspect at Madre Verde, signs are posted to mark the sponsors of different areas of restoration. Groups can follow the trail up the hillside and view areas where rows of seedlings have been planted by schools, churches and other organizations. During our time at Madre Verde, one assignment was putting up these signs. This work ended up being a lesson in the differing perspectives of restoration. In order to place a sign, the head caretaker of the land cut down a medium sized tree. This and other such activities led to much discussion among us regarding conservation, restoration and natural processes of succession.

Signage for Education
On our second day, we hiked up the mountain with armloads of newly made signs. These signs mark the areas of restoration that are sponsored by schools, churches and other organizations. As part of community participation and education, the signs demonstrate the involvement of local and international organizations in the preservation of this important watershed property. Children are brought to Madre Verde to gain an understanding of the importance of forested landscapes to their water supply. This land was previously used for commercial farming and the runoff caused pollution in the watershed area. In addition, the town of Palmares has a water shortage and is buying water from neighboring San Ramon. When hiking on the trails at Madre Verde, we were shown a creek that still had a trickle of water at the end of the dry season. In the past we were told, the creek has stopped running even during the rainy season. Now, as the forest regenerates, the children and community members alike can witness how trees retain water and see first hand that intact forest is important to prevent drought conditions.

Author: Michelle Krieg

17 April, 2008

Miravalles: ICE Geothermal Plant

 Natural Steam
Geothermal energy is a form of renewable energy derived from the natural heat of the earth. This heat is brought to the surface by thermal conduction and by intrusion into the earth's crust of molten magma coming from great depths. As groundwater is heated, geothermal energy is produced in the form of hot water and steam. High temperature reservoirs greater than 150 degrees C are ideal for commercial production of electricity. This picture is taken by the plant which shows the hot water and steam coming through the Earth´s surface. This is the type of steam that would be used for geothermal energy.

Miravalles I
This is the first geothermal plant installed: Miravalles I. It employes single flash plant Toshiba technology that was bought from the Japanese. The construction of the plant started March 2, 1994 and it took two years to finish. The unit requires 435 tons of vapors per hour to produce 55 MW, but at it´s full capacity it is able to generate 60 MW. This picture shows the first section of the process. The tubing shown is for bringing the vapor from the reserviors to the seperator & then to the turbine. Afterward, the recondensed vapor is sent to the cooling towers.

Miravalles II
This is the vapor input for the second unit installed: Miravalles II. This more modern technology was manufactured by Ansaldo, an Italian firm. Construction was started on August 13, 1998. This plant also required two years to complete construction, but the production was backed up for two more years due to problems with the new technology. This plant produces the same as Miravalles I: 55 MW. This picture shows the flow of the vapor that is extracted from the reservior into the vapor seperator. The vapor seperator then seperates the gas from the water under pressure and then transports it to the turbine to generate energy.

Cooling Towers
After the water vapor is used to generate energy, it is transported to the cooling towers. Within the cooling towers the vapor is cooled and condenses into water. Here the water is cooled to 29 degrees C by huge fans on the top of the building blowing down. After the water goes through the cooling tower it is still too hot to inject back into the reservior. In order to further cool the water, it is delivered to lagoons were the water is allowed to cool down for a period of itime. Once the water gets to the temperature of 15-20 degrees C it will be safe to re-inject into the reservoir.

Control Room
This picture shows the control room which is inside the same building as the turbines of Miravalles I and II. The other two plants are located in different areas nearby. From this room, ICE is able to control and monitor all of the Miravalles power plants except Miravalles III. Miravalles III is foreign owned and so it is monitored by those companies. ICE sells Miravalles III the steam and buys back their generated electricity. The other three geothermal plants employ about 80 local workers who control, monitor and maintain the plants. If anything irregular is happening at one of the three plants, emergency shutdown valves can be controlled from this control room.

Miravalles Power Grid
This is the Miravalles power grid to which all the geothermal power plants are connected. The power from this grid first goes to the Arenal area, and then on to San Jose through the ¨Sistema Nacional Interconectado¨. Currently, Miravalles provides enough electricity to power the entire province of Guanacaste. All of the Miravalles plants together generate a total of 142.5 MW, providing between 10 to 13 percent of Costa Rica’s total electricity. This is a great clean renewable energy source for Costa Rica, but the reservoirs in Miravalles are only thought to last about 20 years. With ICE’s good care and maintenance it is hoped that the reservoirs will last up to 26 years.


Excess Steam
These are the cooling towers where excess steam is released into the atmosphere after the energy has been produced by drving the turbines.

Author: Tanya Almada

15 April, 2008

Cañas: Las Pumas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

Afternoon Nap
A Jaguar takes a nap during the hot Spring afternoon in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Although her cage contains a variety of native trees and plants, soft grass, scratching posts, climbing platforms, and scented bags of eucalyptus and vanilla oils, our guide says that she prefers to stay in the cool shade of her concrete-floored “bedroom.” Jaguars are the biggest predator-carnivores in the Neotropics, feeding on monkeys, birds, turtles, iguanas, and other larger mammals. They are active night and day, and are known to travel over 200-300km/day! In Costa Rica today, Jaguars are endangered of extinction due to hunting by farmers (to reduce cattle loss) and habitat loss from deforestation.

Not only Pumas are kept at Las Pumas Rescue Shelter
Las Pumas currently shelters five of the six endangered felines of Costa Rica, including the Margay (Leopardus wiedii), Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguarondi), Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), Puma (Puma concolor), and Jaguar (Panthera onca). They also provide safe housing for other animals such as the gray fox, racoon, white-faced monkey, white-tailed deer, orange chineed parakeet, keel-billed toucan, orange-fronted parakeet, red-lored parrot and scarlet macaw. The primary objective of Las Pumas is to rehabilitate and release animals back into conservation areas, but sometimes animals are kept at the shelter if they demonstrate a physical or emotional fragility.

Lilly Bodmer de Hagnauer, Founder of Las Pumas Rescue Shelter
Approximately 40 years ago, Mrs. Lilly Bodmer de Hagnauer began to care for injured and orphaned wild animals in Costa Rica. After a few years she had accumulated over 160 animals of 60 different species. To house the animals, she first constructed Hacienda La Pacifica, S.A., a small and private wildlife rehabilitation shelter in Cañas, Guanacaste. In 1985, she built an even larger facility, Las Pumas Rescue Shelter, which is still in use today, sheltering more than 80 individuals of 22 endangered species. Lilly died in 2001, but her Rescue Shelter continues to operate as part of the Arenal Tempisque Conservation Area (ACAT).

¿Cuál animal es la mejor mascota? (Which animal is the best pet?)
One-forth of all homes in Costa Rica keep a wild animal (birds, parakeets, reptiles, and even small cats!) as a pet, and every year 27,000-35,000 baby birds are poached for pet trade. Las Pumas Rescue Shelter takes in, recuperates and releases back into the wild animals that have been confiscated by the authorities or donated by local people once they become too difficult to look after. To reduce illegal pet trade in Costa Rica, the shelter also operates an environmental education program where children learn the role and importance of wild animals in their native ecosystems.

Employment and Volunteering Opportunities
Las Pumas Rescue Shelter currently offers employment to 10 local residents who live in the nearby Corobicí and Cañas communities. These local people learn about farm and wild animal management, tourist relations, construction and bricklaying. There is also a foreign volunteer exchange program at the shelter, where up to three volunteers can live at the station for up to six weeks, assisting in environmental education and animal care. A normal day at the shelter consists of breakfast at 5:00am, then work starting at 6:00am, which includes sweeping paths, preparing fruits, vegetables and meat for the animals to eat, doing ground maintenance, giving tours of the facility, assisting in animal rehabilitation care, and monitoring the activity and preparing daily logs of permanent animal residents.

Contributions Welcome
Las Pumas Rescue Shelter is sustained primarily on voluntary contributions and donations from institutes, companies, organizations and farms. To feed the animals, cows are also donated by Hacienda Montezuma in Cañas, and fruits veggies are donated by local markets. Over the last 10 years, the shelter has accumulated 67.4 million colones ($136,000) from contributions, but unfortunately they still are facing a 20.9 million colones ($42,000) deficit. To raise additional money, the shelter has increased their visibility by offering more tours and educational classes, obtaining national and international media coverage, exhibiting the shelter to nature photographers, and advertising in Costa Rican travel books. If you would like at make a contribution to Las Pumas Rescue Shelter, please contact

Author: Michelle Krieg

15 March, 2008

La Tigra: ICE Penas Blancas Hydroelectric Plant

Ronald Shows Us How Hydropower Works
In the picture, Ronald is walking us through the touch screen computer system that controls the turbine that is shut off. He didn't want to mess around with the functioning turbine... The entire system can be turned off by simply pressing 'stop' on the screen. One can see at what capacity the turbine is functioning, how much electricity is being produced, and can manage most of the plant's operations on this screen. While the turbines are controlled on these screens, the station itself is managed from San Jose, over a hundred kilometers away! Ronald actually lives in San Jose and commutes to the plant a week at a time.

¿How Much Water from Hydropower?
At the lowest of three levels in the Peñas Blancas hydroelectric power plant is where two of these contraptions are located. A large tube carries water from the Peñas Blancas River down to the plant, where it is split into two tubes to feed the two Francis turbines. At maximum capacity, each tube shoots 18 cubic meters of water through...per second! The water flows through each of the tubes through a spherical valve, which is responsible for starting and stopping water flow. Keep in mind that the water flows from the left of the picture to the right, where the large spherical valve is located. This plant receives around 2,000,000 cubic meters of water per day!

 Hydropower Turbine Axle
The rushing water flows through the open spherical valve and hits the Francis turbine, which in turn begins to spin rapidly. The turbine is connected to a vertical axle which is pictured here. The axle is also connected by these enormous bolts to the generator axle above it, which turns the generator. This connection between the turbine and the generator is responsible for turning mechanical energy into electrical energy. This entire contraption will spin at a nominal speed of 514 revolutions per minute. Our tour guide Ronald had to make sure the operators didn't plan on turning it while we were in there, these machines can be incredibly dangerous to those without proper training.

How Does the Spherical Valve Work Miguel?
Miguel explained how exactly the spherical valve works. The valve cannot regulate the amount of water coming through; it can only turn the water flow on and off. The power plant is 135 meters lower in elevation than the dam, meaning that a great deal of water is coming towards the plant at a high velocity. 'Head' as it is referred to, is the altitude difference between a reservoir and the hydroelectric plant. The water thus comes through with a lot of pressure in order to turn the turbines. When water flow must be cut off, pressure to the hydraulic system is reduced, which allows a weight to close the valve automatically.

Hydroelectric Hydraulics Revisited
Hydraulic power is used for a few different things at the Peñas Blancas hydroelectric plant. First and foremost, the spherical valve which turns the water flow on and off is regulated by a hydraulic system. There is also an emergency brake at the plant, just in case. This is just one of the many safety measures taken by ICE in constructing this plant. The brake is simply a piston which, through hydraulics, is pushed up into the generator to stop it in case of emergency. The hydraulic system also controls the blades of the Francis turbines and shifts their angle to the water in order to maximize efficiency. All of these hydraulic systems are controlled by the machine pictured above.

Where Does the Water Go After the Hydroelectric Plant?
Once the water is forced through the turbine, it drops down into a canal that stretches 1,976 meters back to the Peñas Blancas River. In this way, the station can be seen as a closed system. It diverges water from the river, through the plant, and back to the river. Although hydroelectric projects do not contribute to global warming, they do have a very serious impact on their immediate surroundings. The river dries up as most of the water is held up in a reservoir, which floods immense stretches of land containing ecosystems and cities. Costa Rica derives 70% of its electricity from hydropower.

Author: Esequiel Zylberberg

12 March, 2008

San Ramón: Family Organic Coffee Production

 Organic Coffee Harvesing
A family business harvesting organic coffee in San Ramon. Here they are separating the red beans from the few green ones and also removing rotten beans. The whole family is involved in this enterprise. One of the many challenges for organic coffee growers in Costa Rica is the lack of organic processing plants near the coffee farms. The wide fluctuation in market prices has discouraged farmers from forming organic cooperatives because at current rates, conventional practices are more lucerative. Modernization has caused more family members to take jobs in cities and there are fewer family laborers in rural areas. In order for the organic farmers to be compensated for the extra labor costs they endure, organic coffee should be priced 38% higher than conventional coffee.

Organic Coffee Processing
In order to be certified organic, the facility that processes the coffee must process only organic berries. Gary sells his coffee to a local processing plant about 15 minutes away from La Patriana Farm. It is a family run, small scale plant whose facilities are located at the house of Pablo and his family. One shed contains the machine that separates the coffee beans from the berries. Outside behind the shed, there are wooden shelves covered in plastic where the beans are dried. We were lucky to see the plant in action and watched as the machine took in the red berries and expelled white coffee beans and berry pulp. The berries are then sent elsewhere to be roasted and the pulp is used for compost.

Author: Lisa Rogers

11 March, 2008

La Fortuna: Medicinal Plant Garden

'El Jardin' (Medicinal Herb Garden)
This organic herb garden located in Fortuna was founded by a woman named Christina and is now maintained today solely by her and her husband. The herbal garden was created about fifteen years ago. The institution Andar came to a community in Catarata to teach people how to grow plants and medicinal herbs for a group called GEMA (Grupo Ecologico de Mujeres de El Abanico), where Christina learned how to grow her plants. GEMA is a womens’ group based in Arenal that produces organic teas, spices, and medicinal herbs, and they buy the dry herbs Christina produces. Also, the University of Costa Rica helped teach the women of GEMA about medicinal herbs and gardening. The garden is open to visitors and Christina sells herbal teas made from her plants and other GEMA gardens, along with her own Shampoo.

Medicinal Plant Education
Christina gives tours of her facilities: The garden, a shaded area for her plants, her verma composting (worm composting), her kitchen where she produces her shampoo, and her cows whose milk she sells. Her small finca (farm), approximately 6 hectares, provides the local community with fresh milk, herbs to naturally cure most ailments and shampoo. She maintains it while educating around 40 people a month from all over the world, including France, Germany, and Australia on her sustainable practices. Two companies from France and one from Germany purchase her products. Additionally, her farm provides an ecosystem haven for many birds, such as toucans and hummingbirds, who come because of certain flowers. Also, there were many nests in her garden that were hanging on the trees of her property but the wind knocked them over so she picked them up and hung them in her garden patio.

Medicinal Plant Samples
Depicted above are a few of the things that the herbal garden contains. To the left you can see aloe Vera, which is good for your skin. You can put it on your sun burns and cuts to help your skin heal. On the right is pepper. It looks beautiful, but caution--it is spicy if you take too much in at once.
Pepper is an example of one of the spices in the garden.

Medicinal Plant Products
Shown here are dried herbs (left) and the shampoo that Christina makes & sells (right), which is made with organic herbs from her garden. All of the shampoo is produced in her home and is mostly sold locally. Her shampoo helps with dandruff and hair loss and is also said to strengthen the hair and revitalize its natural shine. The label on the shampoo is presently 'Eco Verde' something she came up with. However the name will soon be changed to 'El Jardin la Aroma-Tica' (the name of her garden) which translates to 'The Tica perfume or fragrance', in order to unify her projects and get more advertisement out. She is also currently working on getting a certificate that will allow her to sell her products to local hotels.

Drying and Shading the Plants
Before sending the herbs to GEMA, Christina dries them (the image of the drying room is to the left). Then someone from Abanico, the main GEMA sight, comes and picks up the dried products for packaging, and labeling. Some herbs are made into teas and some are made into spices. Some plants, according to Christina, need to be sheltered from the strong Costa Rican sun, so she has built a shaded area to protect
some of these plants. This is also the site of the vermicompost.

The Vermi-Compost
Vermicomposting uses earthworms to turn organic waste into a very high quality compost, in this case Christina uses the manure from her cows. The worms digest the manure, and the result is a rich, dark, earth-smelling soil conditioner. The great advantage of worm composting is that it can be done indoors and outdoors, thus allowing year round composting.

Institutional Connections of the Garden
Fundecooperation para el Desarollo Sostenible provided the group GEMA with money which helped them with their group effort. Fundecooperation was founded in 1992; there mission is to help improve social working conditions of the general Costa Rican public. They focus on sustainable tourism, environmental drive, clean technologies, sustainable agriculture, and fairness in general.
Vaccaciones con Familias Campesinas is a group of families in small communities of northern Costa Rica that accommodate tourism by trying to show tourist how they live their daily lives. Visitors can stay in a home stay and live like the locals. Some of the things that tourist can do are: Milk cows, fish, or help with the agriculture production. The organization also offers trips from one side of Costa Rica, the pacific, to the other, the Caribbean, which can last up to 21 days.

Author: Rosalinda Gonzalez

09 March, 2008

La Fortuna: Biogas-Powered Cottage Industry

Farm-Scale Biodigestor
This biodigestor is basically made up of a large bag that is filled with manure (in this case cow) and water and the methane gas that is released as a by-product of the decomposition process is used as an energy source for Christinas house (the tube connected to the bag in this image goes directly to fuel the stove in the kitchen). The entire operation cost around 300,000 colones, which is approximately $600. The sign standing above and to the left of the biodigestor (the close-up image on the right) reads: “Mi Proyecto participa en el Plan de Gestión de la Cuenca del Rio Peñas Blancas”, which is in reference to the main power distributor in Costa Rica, ICE, paying for a portion of the biodigestor in an effort to preserve the health of the river basin.

Shampoo Manufacturing Room
Christina makes all of her shampoo in a room right next to her house. She keeps the area very clean and abides by health regulations. When you enter the shampoo making room the first thing you see is a sink, where you wash your hands. Next to that is a methane powered burner. She uses the methane produced from her biodigester to fuel the stove that she uses to make the shampoo by running a tube from the biodigestor in her backyard to the burner. This practice makes her shampoo manufacturing process more sustainable, because she is producing her own gas, and it is from a local source (her cows).

Author: Rosalinda Gonzalez

08 March, 2008

San Ramón: Finca Patriana Organic Coffee Farming

Tour of Organic Bird-Friendly Coffee Farm
During our visit, our group was given a tour by Gary, the owner of La Patriana farm. His wife was out of the country at the time. Gary stated that it was her idea for La Patriana to become a bird-friendly coffee farm and they are now the only certified bird-friendly coffee farm ever in Costa Rica. To be bird friendly, a farm is required to have 10 different species of trees within a 50 meter radius. For this reason, the farm resembles a forest and one must look closely to identify the individual rows of coffee in the understory. La Patriana is also certified organic (to be bird-friendly a farm must be organic) and until last year was part of a cooperative of 8 farms. Unfortunately, the other 7 dropped out of the coop and went conventional due to the reduction in market premiums for organic coffee.

Shade Grown Coffee
Coffee plants are naturally meant to be in the shade. Traditionally, they do not thrive in the direct sun. In addition to providing the partial shade a coffee plant needs, trees in shade grown coffee farms provide habitat for many species of birds. The recent reduction in shade trees in coffee growing areas has disrupted migratory bird populations up to 1500 miles away from coffee growing areas. Coffee harvests have three phases: Primary, main phase and final phase. This plant in ready for the final phase of harvest and therefore has only a few berries on each branch.

A 'Cajuela' of Harvested Bird-Friendly Coffee
When coffee is picked, it is measured in cajuelas for sale as well as to compensate pickers. After measuring each cajuela of coffee, the coffee berries are placed in bags for shipment to the processing plant. Notice the stark red color inside the coffee bag. Organic certification requires that the coffee berries that are picked are all red. Conventional coffee allows both red and green berries. Fully ripened coffee berries are red and
this results in a better quality coffee.

Gary Stenlund & Coffee Picker
Because his farm is only about 2 acres, Gary does not employ very many workers. He needs help only 2 or 3 times a year for 2 or 3 days at a time. When he does hire pickers, Gary hires from the local community. Many of the pickers grew up with families in the coffee business and are therefore very efficient. The pickers do have to adjust to picking only red berries when working for La Patriana. Gary pays a fair price and on the day we visited this picker was completing the final harvest. He made around $10 that day for 4 or 5 cajuelas of coffee. The picker stated that during the main harvest he made double that. This is a very fair wage for Costa Rica, but the work is seasonal and for La Patriana, is available few days in a year.

A video on Finca Patriana can also be found in the field study section of the EEI VideoBlog.

Author: Lisa Rogers