Finding My Love for Farming
I chose my major, International Agriculture & Rural Development, for the international development side, inspired by my service trips to Ghana. I wanted to help third world countries in any way possible- end poverty, improve food security, access to clean water, health services, etc.
My major is one part development, one part environmental studies, and one part agriculture, all with a focus on developing countries. Starting classes at Cornell my freshmen year, I had to take classes focused on agriculture, and specifically one class called Sustainable Agriculture: Food, Farming, & the Future.
My class had a mix of students from my major as well as Agricultural Science students. I had absolutely no experience in agriculture and had never worked on a farm in my life. A lot of my peers in the class came from a long past of farming, many of whom grew up on farms or in the agriculture industry.
This class covered SO much and I still find myself referring back to my notes from it. We learned about the basics of soil science, water use, and the best sustainable practices in farming today. The best part of the class is that every week we got to visit a different local farm in the area and talk to people who are really doing this work and hear about their experiences.
After finishing this class, and learning so much about agriculture, I really wanted to gain actual experience working on a farm. So, I decided that for the next summer I would go WWOOFing on a farm in Costa Rica.
After emailing dozens of different farms and programs throughout Costa Rica, I finally found my perfect fit: Villas Mastatal Eco Lodge, an organic permaculture farm in the central valley.
Months of planning and researching later, I embarked on my first solo backpacking trip for 6 weeks. You can read about my overall experience at Villas Mastatal here but, in short, it was an incredible experience.
My first full day at the farm, we went on a hike up La Cangreja mountain, one of the most physically challenging things I've ever done, but so rewarding, and then the next day was my first day working on la finca!
My first day on the farm was also one of the hardest days of my entire time there. A group of fellow volunteers had gone to the beach for a long weekend so there were only a few of us working. Our days differed a lot because on a permaculture farm, everyday is different and you tend to nature.
Javi is the owner of Villas but Randall, a young tico (local Costa Rican) was in charge of our farm work most days. Randall is seriously a real life Tarzan! (pictured on the right) He's also SO knowledgeable about farming and permaculture! He constantly blew me away with his awareness and insight of each of the hundreds of different plant species and how they work together.
Javi had picked up some new fruit trees from San Jose and the first day we started by digging huge holes for them. Digging holes may sound simple, but about ten minutes in, I was dripping in sweat and my arms were shaking from weakness.
I have this idea in my head of starting a workout class on a farm because farm work is really a full body workout! Think trendy New York housewives take a weekend trip to a farm, eat organic food and sweat a little haha.
Randall and my friend Justine, who had been living at Villas for 6 months when I got there, laughed at my inability to dig holes and had to come behind me after each one and fix them. BUT I promise by the end of my time at Villas I was a digging pro! After this first day of work, where I had already learned SO much but also learned how complex and hard farming really is, I was so excited for the weeks to come.
This may sound so cheesy, but something about having your hands in the dirt is so satisfying and I genuinely felt a closer connection to the earth. Costa Rica is where I reinvigorated my passion for environmentalism.
I loved coming back everyday covered in sweat and dirt but feeling so good! Enjoy this melodramatic photo of me after a day of work haha.
Not only was it great exercise and a release of endorphins but watching the farm transform was so cool. From my first day to my last, there had already been so much improvement and changes on la finca. We planted hundreds of trees, built new structures, cleared areas, built walls and gardens, the list goes on...
The work on the farm could be hard some days but it was also SO MUCH FUN! We laughed a lot and had a great time together. Some of my favorite days were actually the hardest. One day we had to shovel and wheelbarrow compost and pig poop and empty an old compost toilet aka human poop for the entire day. One of my friends turned around at the end of the day and had poop on the end of her ponytail! It may sound gross but we actually had an amazing time and laughed until our stomachs hurt.
And one of the best parts about working on the farm is reaping the benefits of your hard work... the food!
For those 6 weeks I ate better than I ever have before. Fresh produce picked just minutes before we ate it, organic, in-season, and prepared so beautifully. There's really nothing more satisfying than growing your own vegetables, putting work and sweat into it, watching them grow, and harvesting them. We, the volunteers, always raved about the food and it was not only tasty but so healthy. All whole foods and entirely vegan except for occasional eggs from chickens on the farm. And whenever they would make something with eggs, Javi's wife Raquel would put aside a vegan version of the dish for me which was so sweet and thoughtful of her.
I felt so amazing. Being in the sun, moving my body, eating beautifully, immersed in nature, surrounded by amazing people, and having so much time to think and reflect. My mental and physical health were the best they've ever been. By the end, my skin was the best it's ever been and I was glowing.
On top of al of this, farms are beaaauuttifullllll! I don't know what it is about them but I think they are breathtaking.
In Costa Rica, everything was in balance and connected. A beautiful system of give and take. My body, my mind, the plants, nature, people, and food. The local farmers and community. It all flowed so beautifully.
This is where I found my love for farming and realized how important it is. It's impacts are so far reaching. For individuals, the environment, and communities.
Everyone should spend time on a farm in their lives. If you never have before, I so highly recommend it. Reach out to your local farms or go WWOOFing!
“Peace does not begin with any political party, religious movement, or social platform. It begins in kitchens and pantries, gardens and backyards, where the physical source of our daily life-food, the staff of life, our daily bread-is grown and prepared. From individual hearts and homes, peace radiates out to friends and neighbors, communities and nations. Whoever takes charge of the cooking is our general, our pilot. Brown rice, miso soup, whole grain bread, fresh vegetables-these and other whole unprocessed foods are our “weapons” to turn around the entire world.” Michio Kushi
If you want to learn more about Villas Mastatal or are interested in going there check them out!
and here is Javi's email: firstname.lastname@example.org