Tucked within the lush green hillsides just south of La Fortuna, Costa Rica, lies a hidden gem. Spread out across 207 acres of sky-scraping trees and ground-hugging vegetables, herbs and flowers, one man has crafted what can only be described as a tropical Garden of Eden.
For the last twenty one years, Steven Farrell, a California native, has devoted himself to organic farming. Grooming the land and making use of the climate, the naturally fertile soil, and native Costa Rican vegetation, he has produced what is called a “forest farm.” In other words, his focus is not on row crops, but on working with the natural ecosystem to sustain the rainforest and produce food.
Finca Luna Nueva is alive with the sights, sounds, and smells of Costa Rica. Sloths and toucans can often be spotted, perched high in the palms, and hummingbirds found frequently in the sweet fruit trees. The farm is visited regularly by about 250 species of birds and houses 35 different species of frogs, an important indicator that the land is healthy, Farrell explains.
At 66 years old, Farrell himself echoes the essence of his surroundings. With piercing blue eyes, a distressed red bandana tucked beneath his rugged grey beard, a research hat slung across his neck, and a mind chock-full of knowledge eager to be shared, his energy is just as vivacious as his garden.
“I was always connected with nature,” he says, tracing his interest back to his Cub Scout days.
Farrell took up an “organic lifestyle” in his college years, when he was attending Florida Atlantic University. He recalls the first time he was inspired to eat clean.
“I remember I saw a program on PBS about a coconut cream pie and theywent through the ingredients and there was no coconut and there was no cream in it and thought, that was the most absurd thing.”
He and his college friends, inspired to lead healthier lives, started raising their own food in the garden of their home. While following the Rodale Composting Book and the Rodale Growing Book as their manuals.
After spending a year in Europe traveling to different farms, he wound up in California where he worked for five years on an organic farm in Santa Barbara and sustained his real agricultural education.
After receiving his agricultural education, he moved to Costa Rica when he was 33 years old to pursue macadamia nut farming. Farrell soon found the climate too wet and the rain severely impacting his harvest. He was eventually able to purchase the land that now houses Finca Luna Nueva, and began trying other crops.
“I love it,” he says, of the home he has made for himself. “I couldn’t think of living anywhere else.”
“His farm is his work of art,” says Danilo Solano, a consultant at Luna Nueva.
As Farrell’s vision grew, so did his farm. Today, he cultivates about 120 edible crops, producing everything from common household vegetables like tomatoes and peppers to exotic treats like jackfruit and acai berries. He grows cultural staples such as pineapples and papayas, but also lesser known plants such as the nutty-tasting katuk, and moringa, which offers a complete protein with more calcium per serving than yogurt.
He also tends to about 150 cacao trees on his field. The pods are harvested as Farrell alongside his fellow farmers, extract, ferment the cacao beans, and later grind them with an authentic 3,000-year-old metate to produce casero-style, artisan chocolate.
Part of the farm is dedicated to cultivating and preserving “sacred seeds.” According to Farrell, deforestation is causing about 150 to 250 species to go extinct every day. “But,if we can take those plants and semi-domesticate them in different areas, we’ll have these pockets of genetic material that we can reintroduce to other areas,” he says.
Everything Farrell grows at Finca Luna Nueva is done through biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamics promote a holistic approach to farming, interrelating the importance of the soil, microorganisms, plants, animals, and environment.
First conceptualized by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, biodynamic farming is considered a spiritual science, one that promotes healing the earth, believing it to be a sanctuary for nature spirits. Though Farrell says he’s skeptical about gnomes and fairies himself.
“I haven’t seen any yet,” he jokes. “I’ll send out an email when I do.”
Cara Cipolla, a holistic nutritionist from Toronto, Canada, has been working at Finca Luna Nueva for about three months now and believes thoroughly in its spiritual qualities.
“Some days, you meditate and you’re just really in tune with what’s going on. It sounds really silly but you can talk to the plants and they listen.”
Despite his upbeat demeanor, Farrell’s passion stems from a bleak vision of the future.
“I felt that the world was heading to a terrible conclusion,” he says. “Tom, my partner on the farm, we would just lament that, here we’ve done all this work and we were just moving the deck chairs on the Titanic but no matter what we’d do, the whole ship was gonna go down.”
But two years ago, he discovered the power of regenerative farming. This technique emphasizes the importance of returning carbon into the earth by composting and nourishing the microorganisms which live in the soil.
“We release more carbon from farming, than we do from all the tailpipe emissions in the world,” reveals Farrell. This reality is what has inspired his newly found sustainable methods for farming at Finca Luna Nueva.
“We are on nature’s side,” Cipolla elaborates. “We really try to compliment it and benefit it in the best way possible.”
Joseph Biechler, director of the research department and compost manager, has been working at the farm since February 2013. He is a soil ecologist and microbiologist who believes that the farm is paving the way for research in regenerative agriculture. He also admires Farrell’s thirst for knowledge, desire to keep expanding and improving his methods.
“It’s like working in a school,” says Ismael Torres, who has worked as a tour guide at the farm since 2010.
“You learn something new every day.” Torres believes deeply in Farrell’s work, calling him “a guardian of mother earth and protector of nature.”
“For many, he is a hero,” Solano elaborates. “He’s a little bit crazy, but it’s a sublime kind of crazy, he’s the kind of person with very noble ideas and strong convictions.”
Farrell, who lives 20 minutes away from the farm and works on it six days a week, says it is his children, his 19-year-old son and 25-year-old daughter in particular, that motivate him.
“I want young people to have the same wonderful life and experiences that I had getting to know nature and becoming a part of it.”
He believes the future lies in this generation’s hands, to create a thriving planet that can be enjoyed for another 60 or 70 years. Farrell says, “There’s a lot of hope. I take that hope, and I dedicate my life to doing it.”
His advice for consumers?
“Put your dollar where your fork is. Buy local, go to your farmer’s market. Ask them about their system, drill them, and if they know what they’re talking about, they’ll be happy. Buy from people that are doing it right. We really need to all work together.”
Written by: Laura Oikawa
Photos by: Yunuen Bonaparte & Austin Henry Wallace
Designed by: Blanca Navarro