Always Green

A “Winter Wonderland” in Chicago? I think ‘tis a season more comparable to a winter inferno-land, minus the heat. There is absolutely nothing wonderful about blasting icy winds and sub-zero temperatures. In order to escape this scene of death, this winter I decided to lead a volunteer trip abroad to Costa Rica. Although the prospect of 80-degree sunny weather was definitely part of the allure, what truly captured my interest was the chance to work on an organic farm and really act on the green principles we try to encourage here at Please Conserve. Actions speak louder than words, right?

After two plane rides, 7 hours of layovers, and a 3-hour, slightly nauseating bus ride, I arrived with my group to the miniscule, yet vibrant town of Mastatal. Miniscule being a very accurate descriptor since this petit community cannot even be found on Google Maps. Yes, that is possible. So, here we arrived far from the wrath of the technology that engulfed our every day lives to a place of serenity and silence that we were not used to but by the end, couldn’t bear to leave.  And although I could chronicle the group experience, including everything from working on the farm to visits to the local bar (a frequent source of entertainment), I wanted to focus on the story of the organization where we volunteered, Cabañas Siempre Verde- from the uncertain beginnings to the passion that drives the will to continue.

The idea behind Cabañas Siempre Verde wasn’t your typical “this was my childhood dream” kind of story. As founder Marcos Garcia said, it just sort of…happened. Garcia had grown up on his family’s farm, the site of the organization today, so farming, and in particular organic farming, was always a daily part of life for him. In high school Garcia took three years of permaculture, an approach that teaches methods of sustainable land use. The next step was to go to a university, but this ambition was suspended due to lack of funds. Not wanting to remain idle, Garcia took courses in carpentry and English, which proved to be quite beneficial in his future endeavors. A couple years later, Garcia built the first cabaña, which is Spanish for a cabin. His particular structure was a roofed, open-wall dwelling, elevated about 10 feet off the ground. “The first cabaña was a test of my building skills,” said Garcia. “ I wanted to see how well I could do.”

Turning out quite well, Garcia decided to build a second cabaña and in 2005 took a stab at running a volunteer organization. “ I just put all my skills, carpentry, organic farming, and English, together,” said Garcia. And what a risk worth taking. The farm succeeds in attracting volunteers from all across the globe, all backgrounds, all ages. In fact, during my stay we were accompanied by a young couple from Belgium as well as a retired woman from Canada. “People continue coming and they come back,” said Garcia. “That inspires me to continue.”

During their stay, volunteers get the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, generally suited to their interests and abilities, and depending on what needs to be done at that particular time of the year. Because our group was quite big, we were split up into smaller teams who worked on everything from gardening, to digging, to building a compost toilet. And believe me, no experience was necessary. Volunteering to work on building a bench from scratch, I was reminded that my only carpentry skills were those I acquired in childhood…building with Legos. But with Garcia’s patience and natural ability to teach, I was able to build a fully functional bench and no one was injured in the process. Garcia says that he hopes that such experiences will allow volunteers to immerse themselves into the sustainable lifestyle and teach them practices that can be applied back home.

Although the work is challenging and the Costa Rican sun does not spare any mercy on Caucasian skin, engaging in such sustainable projects is immensely rewarding and proves that a green lifestyle is attainable. “You can be sustainable in every aspect of your life, especially food and work,” said Garcia. Garcia’s volunteer farm proves this point and this is something he truly takes pride for. What started as an unsure venture has turned into a green haven. How fitting then, that the other part of the name, “Siempre Verde” in Spanish means, “always green”.

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The cabana, home to the volunteers. Photo by Sean Hill.

Just an everyday Mackaw sighting. No big deal. Photo by Sean Hill.


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