La Flor Agroecological Farm Finca Agroecológica La Flor Promotes education on sustainability and alternative living models through training and capacity building programs, internships and one-to-one designed collaborations related to ecological agricultural practices, arts, and sports. Paraiso, Cartago, Costa Rica Sitio Web
La Flor Agro-ecological Farm is a project led by the civil organization ASODECAH in Costa Rica. It seeks to create and promote best ecological and human practices through volunteer programs, workshops, school visits and collaborative activities with the surrounding communities. It also offers a space for those who seek an alternative way of life, living and working on the farm, and contributing to formulate civic awareness regarding sustainability.
Approximately 20 years ago, the farm was established in the town of La Flor in the mountains of the Costa Rican province of Cartago, with the aim of working together with local populations in the construction of an alternative and sustainable agriculture model that would promote environmental, social and intercultural education among the same communities and with foreign students and visitors.
To get closer to the communities, the promoters of the initiative began by inviting them to participate in the project, bringing their ideas and proposals for the design and implementation of a fairer and more ecological agriculture model. The initial response from neighboring residents was unfavorable. Few understood why people outside the community opened their doors and asked for their participation in the construction of a project that was alien to them. It was then that other ways were devised to promote collaboration with the local population. On the one hand, programs were created that allowed employing people, which was attractive due to the lack of work in the region.
Today almost all the families of the town have worked at the farm. In addition, the members of the initiative began to invite students and volunteers to spend time on the farm caring for the forest, working in the garden, and contributing to the communities with donations and working together to improve their conditions (eg cleaning the river , teaching courses in schools, organizing events, etc). This not only served for the civic-environmental training of the visitors but also that of the benefited communities.
With the same spirit of getting closer to the people, the farm has also organized activities with vulnerable groups from surrounding villages such as coffee sessions with older adults, or capacity building courses (medicinal plants, wormwood, etc.), in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica.
All these efforts have helped to increase the level of participation of the neighboring population, but they are still insufficient, since the proposal is still alien to the local culture, predominantly Catholic or Christian-evangelical and conservative.
To extend the scope of its project to promote education for sustainability, the promoters of the initiative took advantage of its 10 hectares of land to build cabins with capacity for approximately 40 people.
These allow them to receive not only tourists and students but also volunteers. These, in exchange for lodging, food, training, and first-hand experience in techniques and models for sustainable agricultural development, not only help by cleaning roads, working in the garden, recovering the forest, constructing cabins, taking care of the animals, improving the means of dissemination of the project and social networks, etc. Some also help by giving courses both to local communities and to other visitors to the farm.
Currently, the courses include the teaching of Spanish, techniques of sustainable agriculture, yoga, medicinal plants, dance. The volunteer program is still working on finding mechanisms to attract the Costa Rican population from other cities, who are also unfamiliar with the concept of ecological farms and who cannot pay for their living expenses as required. Lately, most visitors have come from the United States, Canada, and Europe.
The profits generated by the courses are shared among the instructors and the civil association that run the farm and whose governing board, approves and monitors the projects proposed by the volunteers on a case-by-case basis.
Even if constituted as a non-profit organization, the initiative was forced to change its strategy of financial self-sustainability based on donations as they were difficult to obtain. Instead, it formulated mechanisms to diversify its sources of income:
- Sustainable development courses were prepared (forests management, garbage recycling, etc).
- A program to teach Spanish for foreigners was created.
- Schools and tourists were encouraged to visit.
- Organizations and companies were invited to organize retreats at the farm.
- Ways were looked for to take advantage of local resources (eg use of the fertilizer of the animals for the maintenance of the orchards).
- The production of local inputs was stimulated (milk, eggs, etc)
- Bio-construction techniques were learned, which allowed to save some expenses, etc.
Today profits generated by the courses, added to the quotas contributed by the volunteers and tourists to cover the expenses of their stay, are enough to keep the project afloat.
The initiative of the Farm is in a moment of transition. Its founders are handing the project to a group of young people who once participated as volunteers and who today are establishing a new team. The team has already spent months renewing the facilities and devising new ways to manage and promote the initiative. This group is multidisciplinary and inclined to promote civic-ecological practices through arts and sports.
To diversify financing of the project and to rely less on the requirements demanded by their traditional clients, they have redoubled efforts to increase the visibility of the project and attract more visitors, including it in hosting sites such as Airbnb.