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True Terroir at a Self-Sufficient Farm in Costa Rica

1/27/2011 9:27:08 PM

Tags: Rancho Margot, Juan Sostheim, farm to table, Costa Rica, Costa Rican tourism, organic farm in Costa Rica, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

I’m not going back. I’ve found my home, and the only thing missing is my kids.

We’ve just spent two days at Rancho Margot, a 500-acre self-sufficient organic farm and community overlooking Costa Rica’s Mount Arenal and Arenal Lake. I’ve showered using water heated by methane from the farm’s blackwater compost system, with soap made here on the farm. We practiced yoga to the sound of the rushing Cano Negro River, then feasted on an omelet made with fresh eggs and the farm’s homemade cheddar cheese. Pieter is in the kitchen with Fernando, brining a just-slaughtered chicken that they’ll cook in the wood-fired brick oven. Next door, children on break from the local school are laughing and climbing on jungle gyms built from logs and old tires in Rancho Margot’s free day care center.

I’m sitting in the farm’s open-air dining area, dying to capture this place’s magic, but words seem insufficient. I keep stopping to chat with staff, volunteers and guests as they come through with hot coffee dosed with warm just-pasteurized milk and plates of fresh papaya. Irum, a yoga teacher whose class this morning opened up my chakras and started the tears flowing, tells me about her journey here. She felt the magic, left her corporate job and is now building the first privately owned house here. I fight back more tears.

Juan Sostheim has built this community as a place for people to connect—with like-minded others, with the land and with our own inner voices. You can’t come here and experience this farm’s rhythms without beginning to question things. Here, possibility blossoms into reality with a force matched only by Mother Earth herself. Why couldn’t the methane generated by the community’s compost be used to heat the water? Juan gave it a try and found out that it could. Why couldn’t the farm grow pineapples without chemicals—in a country that uses more chemicals per acre than any other? It took three years to produce one pineapple, but now the fields are full of them. Why couldn’t the farm’s volunteers and staff help resuscitate monkeys, hawks and other animals whose traumas would otherwise leave them helpless and vulnerable? So far, one ocelot, two monkeys, five parakeets, one raccoon, four deer and 11 aguti pacas have been rehabbed here and released back into the wild. Why couldn’t emus replace resource-intensive cattle as a sustainable source of red meat? Juan just bought 11 of the dinosaur-like birds and is incubating eggs to find out.

With horses, kayaks, mountain bikes, hot pools and 11 natural springs, Rancho Margot is a vacation paradise—but that’s not really the point. After suffering a heart attack and being told that he could either change his lifestyle or become his cardiologist’s best patient, Juan sold his chemical business and transformed his life. He helped introduce Burger King to Europeans in the 1970s; he understands the threat that our industrial food complex presents. “We feed our animals wrong, and we feed ourselves wrong,” he told me. “We become the recycling unit for all the garbage that’s out there.” Juan sees the food crisis that’s just around the bend, and he wants everyone to learn how to eat what they have on hand.

His goal with this place is to show the world that there’s a better way—that we can untangle ourselves from the grid and thrive. Once guests taste the difference in pork that’s been fed table scraps rather than concentrate, plug their computers (yes, we all brought them) into the hydro-powered energy system or spend the morning watching hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, they can’t help but take all this possibility home with them. If they can bring themselves to leave.

margot sign 

On the road to Rancho Margot. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

margot juan 

Juan Sostheim has built a self-sufficient farm and community. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

margot farm 

Volunteers till the fields. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

margot cheese 

Cheese is made on the farm. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

margot emu egg 

Juan is incubating emu eggs. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

margot steven with emus 

Steven Mulder is nurturing the farm's 11 emus. Photo by Barbara Bourne 



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