My kids and I just returned from Costa Rica, where we spent two weeks at Rancho Margot, an off-the-grid sustainable ranch and resort along the Cano Negro River overlooking Lake Arenal, the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, Monteverde National Park and Arenal National Park. We did all the touristy things that people do in Costa Rica--ziplining, horseback riding, hiking--and we enjoyed the spectacular scenery. But we all agree that we miss meals the most.
Two solid weeks of just-picked fruits and vegetables, free-range eggs and pork, and homemade cheese and butter is a treat that everyone should experience. (Really, it’s a treat we should give ourselves daily.) Combined with the lively company--students, dignitaries, yogis and families from all over the world--mealtimes at Rancho Margot were a feast for our bodies and our souls. Just thinking about it makes me hungry (and homesick).
When the Sostheim family bought the 400-acre property that they named Rancho Margot in 2004, it had been destroyed by decades of cattle ranching. Just one tree remained, and the sandy soil was trampled and useless. Their goal was, and is, to reforest the mountainous property and replenish the native flora and fauna. They’ve planted hundreds of trees and turned acidic, downtrodden soil into rich, abundant earth that grows food--without chemicals--for volunteers and guests of their resort, education and wellness center. Fruit and vegetable gardens, a pig pen, a chicken coop and a dairy, tucked among hills alive with birds and butterflies, provide up to half the ranch’s food needs. (The family hopes to be completely self-sufficient within the next decade.)
Rancho Margot's chemical-free farm and dairy provides fresh food for resort guests.
Photo by Barbara Bourne
Rancho Margot’s animals eat protein-rich food grown on the ranch, and their manure is turned into rich compost that feeds the ashy soil. (Human waste, full of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, must be treated separately.) Today a dozen hummingbird species, as well as yiguirro, sangretoro and green quetzal, flit among the heliconia and bamboo orchids that spill onto Rancho Margot’s winding paths. The ranch is returning to its natural abundance while employing local farmworkers, cooks and craftsmen. Carpenters make furniture using teak and laurel from nearby La Tigra and giant cane from the ranch; soapmakers turn the kitchen’s spent cooking oil into soap and laundry products; and cheesemakers roll out wheels of farm and goat, cheddar and mozzarella.
Fresh milk is turned into delicious cheese wheels at the farm's cheesemaking shop.
Photo by Barbara Bourne
Staying at Rancho Margot opened up worlds of possibility for my suburban kids and me. We experienced the beauty of self-sufficiency and saw how truly sustainable development benefits the local community as well as the global one. We met people who will, no doubt, change the world. But mostly, we long for the butter.