February 24, 2008 – San Jose Farmer’s Market and Poas Volcano

Since most farms/factories are closed on Sunday, today was a less intense learning day.  The Farmer’s Market was open, so we spent the morning there.

It seemed like it was about 10-12 blocks long – full of strange fruits and vegetables, noisy vendors, and people hawking lottery tickets like ticket scalpers.

Linda tries some coconut milk straight out of the container.

This vendor has a big block of ice and shaves off shreds and dumps in some fruit juice for a real icee.

A vendor who specializes in root crops.

The green, spiny fruits are guanabanana – commonly used for flavoring in desserts and in juice.

The watermelon from this booth was just fantastic.

Ticos have different understanding about egg handling.  The eggs here and in the grocery stores were unrefrigerated and sold in two dozen quantities.

These boys at the meat booth were happy to show how strong they are!

You could get fresh fish at the market.

Or even fresher fish as this vendor was selling aquarium fish nearby the fish vendor.

I couldn’t pass this vendor truck up. I’m hoping it was a problem in translation…

Next was the long and winding drive up to the Poas Volcano.  We never saw the volcano as it was shrouded in fog and clouds, but we could smell it, so we know it was really there.

Even though it was disappointing not to see the volcano, we were able to enjoy the trail through a cloud forest at the top of the mountain.

Look for Linda at the base of this massive tree fern!

This would make a heck of a floral filler for a Paul Bunyan-esque bouquet!

This plant that looks like giant rhubarb leaves is called Poor Man’s Umbrella.

Here’s a flower from some jungle flower.

one year ago…”Storm Day 2″

February 23, 2008 – InBIO Park/Group

Today we visited InBIO park, kind of a rainforest research theme park in San Jose. Lots of different concepts going on, and I’m not sure it all works together, but it is certainly worth a try.

Here are some beetles. They even had samples of the pupae you could look at in jars. A part of the park’s mission is to catalog all the species in Costa Rica. They have scientists collecting plants and insects throughout Costa Rica and keep one sample here and move another sample to their partners in the U.S. including the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The taxonomists here identify on average of four new species each week!

Here is a bird I’ve only seen in my Peterson Field Guide to Birds, the Anhinga. This bird sulks under the surface of the water with only its elongated neck and head out of the water, looking much like a cobra sticking out of the water.

A handsome iguana.

Our friend the sloth comes down the tree about once a week. We were lucky enough to spot it while it was descending. As our interpreter so kindly put it the day before, the sloth is coming down to “dump” – a once a week excursion.

Here is Felipe, one of the arrangers/hosts of the trip and a professor at the University of Costa Rica. The 22 members along on this trip were a diverse lot. Included were large corn/soybean farmers, extension professors and scientists, small farmers, and a famous state horticulturist and entomologist (if you listen to Iowa Public Radio call-in shows). It was kind of like summer camp all over again – with a lot of together time in the air, on the bus, eating meals, and touring farms. The group jelled well and really seemed to enjoy each other’s company.

one year ago…”Day 1 Storm of the Century (so far)

February 22, 2008 – Organic Farm Tour/Wal-Mart Brokers

Our first tour was to an organic farm.  The farm was located up in the mountains outside of San Jose, the capital city.

The man in the white hat is the farm operator and the woman is the daughter of one of the professors at the University of Costa Rica who came along as the interpreter.  Here Alvaro discusses his composting/soil fertility system.

There is a commercial potato farm across the road from Alvaro’s farm that struggles with pest and disease problems, requiring many applications of fungicides and insecticides.  Alvaro’s potatoes do not suffer the same problems and his explanation is the soil characteristics and the potato variety.

Here is an intercropping of carrots and radishes in one of his diversified beds.

Farming on a slope in a place that receives 120 inches of rain a year requires some ingenuity.  He digs these holes throughout his farm along natural drainages.  They receive water during rains and if the erosion starts moving soil, the holes catch the soil so it doesn’t leave his farm

Alvaro had many scarecrows to try to frighten off birds.  Here’s one that give the illusion of movement.

Here’s one wearing a cap from Iowa State! That should be good enough to scare any pest away!

Alvaro also uses vermiculture to help break down organic materials and improve his soil.  He piles up weeds and wast organic matter in the field and seeds them with the vermicomposting worms to break down the piles faster.  Here we are admiring a sample of the worms and the powerful castings.

Alvaro is very much an innovator. Here is a drainage that comes from his pig pen to an inlet pipe.  The interpreter used a kind word to describe the animal manure.  She said “the dump from the animal.”  Alvaro has recently been convinced that his system would not work nearly an well without animals as part of his system.

The dump goes to what he calls his artificial intestine, a makeshift methane digester.  He made this system for less than $100.  The slurry goes into the digester, there’s a relief valve for the methane and a water lock for the liquids leaving the bladder.  He pipes the methane to a stove that he uses to dry things in a nearby shed.  He hopes to someday build his house here and use the methane for the cookstove in his house.  Again, a really neat low-tech solution to making nearly free energy from a waste product in most modern non-integrated production systems.

Finally, he didn’t let us go without providing the 22 of us with lunch!

The second half of the day we visited a fruit broker that was recently purchased by Wal-Mart.  We visited the warehouse where the farmers dropped off the products and they were routed to trucks.  We were not allowed to take photos, had to take off all our jewelry, including rings, earrings, and the like.  The warehouse was essentially a building with loading docks on both sides full of crates of products in the middle.  They were happy to take many pictures of us (although we were forbidden to do likewise).

The owners were very proud that Wal-Mart purchased them, but their formula for offering farmers credit to expand, offering growing assistance, and cornering their market sounded a lot like business from colonial days on forward – get farmers in debt, become the primary source of information, and control access to markets.  The farmers in this system even have to buy and package the products.  So, if you are a potato farmer, you have to bring all the potatoes already weighed, cleaned, and bagged in the retail containers/bags and purchase all the packing materials and handling equipment.  The morning and afternoon could not have demonstrated a bigger contrast in growing and distribution systems.  Interestingly, the organic farm was the most popular visit for most of the trip participants.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #62

February 21, 2008 – Arrival in Costa Rica

After a 10 day absence we are back! We’ve been in Costa Rica and just returned.

As I get time, I will have about 10 days worth of photos from an agricultural tour of Costa Rica. We were invited to trek to Costa Rica by a group at Iowa State that is the beneficiary of a global agriculture grant. About 22 of us went down to Costa Rica and this summer about 15 or so Ticos (Costa Ricans) will come to Iowa to do likewise. Our hosts were from the University of Costa Rica and they arranged the itinerary that included a variety of farms and lodging as you’ll see in the next few entries. It was a rare chance to get an inside view of tropical agriculture, with great variety – from a small organic farmer high up in the mountains, to a fruit broker recently purchased by Wal-Mart.

In our introduction to Costa Rica we learned some interesting facts. Costa Ricans have a slightly longer life expectancy than the U.S., a nearly equal literacy rate to the U.S., but only 10% of U.S. income. The country has a much higher standard of living than its Central American neighbors and when we asked the presenter why he thought the reason that Costa Rica was so much better off than its neighbors, he said in part, it is because in 1948 Costa Rica abolished the military. In so many cases, Ticos saw Central American countries using military force most often against their own citizens, with frequent civil wars, military coups, and the like. They reasoned that the country was so small, if a big country really wanted to invade, their military would not be able to stop an invasion any way. So, they funneled all the military spending into education, health care, and other services and the result is a country that many immigrants from other countries flock to for work and a chance at a better life.

one year ago…”Last Snowbanks?

February 20, 2008 – Attic Progress

A bit of a milestone has passed in the attic.  All of the beadboard is up on the walls and most of the fixtures are up. We just have the trim, painting the floor, the built-in bookshelves and closet and storage doors to build/do.

This is the view to the south out the new dormer.  Although the attic update pictures are legion on this blog, here is the same view before dormer and here is the view of the roughed in the roughed in dormer.

one year ago…”A Dark Side of Rural America”