The smell struck us as we stepped off of the bus, welcoming us to Terra Viva (“Living Earth”), a small, sustainable farm located at Monteverde, Costa Rica. Gaudy Picado met us wearing rain gear from head to toe and carrying an open umbrella. “Hola! Hello,” she greeted us quickly before leading us into the shelter of her six stall milking room which she—and her fellow milkers—jokingly call “the gas station.”
This was like home to me (Eryn). The scent, the cows, the iodine and the forest around us. Having grown up on a farm, I felt a thrill at these familiar—yet distinctly different—surroundings. One large difference I noticed was the lack of “rags.” In the states, the farm I had grown up on used rags to clean the teats of the cows before milking. On Terra Viva, they use newspapers that they collect from surrounding communities about once per month. My first thought was that this was a wasteful practice; instead of re-using rags, they were throwing away soiled newspaper. I soon remembered, however, that people regularly add newspapers to their compost and I suspected this was the reason behind this practice. This was confirmed a few moments later when Gaudy spoke of the compost pile they have in the forest. In Costa Rica, decomposition is quick and the forest is always hungry. Within about a month, this pile is completely decomposed and ready for the hungry forest.
One experience I (Laura), really enjoyed while visiting the farm was watching the rest of the class help make cheese with Gaudy. I had never seen this done before, but I love cheese! Watching the curds separate from the whey was very cool and packing the cheese into tighter balls was an activity enjoyed by all—even us observers. Making your own food from what you have is an important skill to have!
Gaudy’s farm is carbon neutral; this is different from being carbon free or organic. Carbon neutral means that the carbon that is produced by the farm is balanced by the carbon that is taken in and stored by their forestlands and pastures. While considered sustainable—they are working toward their Blue Flag certification—they do include antibiotics and other medications as needed. The Blue Flag certification is similar to how organic farms in the United States are certified organic. I (Laura) feel that this was one of the most fascinating elements of Gaudy’s farm because they are working on not only being environmentally friendly but also efficient with limited resources. Gaudy’s choices are reflective of the Blue Flag certification: the heat from the milk that the farm produces is used to heat water and there are solar panels that capture energy from the sun which is then being converted into the electricity that her farm uses.
Changing the hearts and minds of people can be quite the challenge. Before meeting Gaudy and her cows, chickens, and dogs, we as a class didn’t fully understand the concept of ‘sustainability’. Sustainability means much more than having little to no impact on our surroundings; it means educating, informing, monitoring, managing, and safety for all—the environment and people (Blue Flag).