La Gran Vista Agroecological Farm is looking for volunteers
Eco farming in Costa Rica: Our mission is to develop a working example of a farm where each element works with one another with the objective of being self-sufficient while also serving as a model for other farmers in the area.
- To establish, in the projected future a Farm Educational Center
- Be self-sustainable
- Demonstrate to neighbouring farmers, students, and environmentalists interested in sustainable development, which would be an ideal model of environmental sustainability for the tropics.
Benefits – Volunteer with us you will learn:
- Organic farming practices
- Soil regeneration and conservation.
- How to make natural herbicides.
- How to make natural pesticides.
- Enhancement of the natural environment.
- Worm Composting.
- Medicinal plants
- Reforestation methods and seed saving.
- Biogas production
- And others…
The work will include:
- feeding the animals,
- planting seeds,
- soil conservation,
- maintenance of medicinal plants,
- using and producing organic fertilizer,
- maintaining the spring-water wells,
- and harvesting crops.
Each morning you will find a whiteboard with the day’s tasks, which will be assigned by Donald The work is at times challenging, but volunteers have invariably found it stimulating and rewarding. Please respect the instructions of the staff, and leave tools such as shovels and hammers clean and in their correct places inside the tool shed, along with boots or work shoes. There are several projects on which the volunteers will be working while at Finca La Gran Vista.
The pasture area on the farm is heavily degraded, with little natural vegetation and substantial areas of bare soil. Unwanted grass species currently there will need to be removed, the soil prepared for grass plugs (lots of digging), and then the plugs will need to be planted by hand. In addition, Donald installed an electric fence, which, apart from the wiring, was done by the volunteers. Every so often, volunteers will need to help trim down any weeds tangled in the wires and to restore a safe distance between the wires, to prevent them from intertwining. Moreover, each year, volunteers sow seeds in patches of soil where plants don’t already grow.
Medicinal herb plot
There is currently a medicinal herb plot with approximately 75 plants, for the production of natural shampoos, insect repellents, and herbal remedies. This will be a labour-intensive job requiring grass removal from the new lot, soil preparation, and transplanting the herbs by hand. In the future, Donald plans to harvest, prune, fertilise and process the plants for the Finca’s, and sometimes even for the volunteers’, consumption. The volunteers will also help process plants for the production of tea leaves, using a wood mill constructed on the farm.
Future volunteers will help with the construction of a solar dryer, a structure covered with a special type of plastic to gauge the ideal temperature to dry medicinal plants.
Terrace construction and maintenance.
The farm maintains a terrace system on the land in order to slow erosion and prevent soil loss. There is a need for more terraces to be built, as well as some renovation of the older terraces, particularly in the orchard area. In addition, volunteers will help by planting Vetiver grass (a species with soil-binding properties) above the terraces; another activity in which the volunteers can participate in the preservation of the terraces, from raking leaves to moving loose soil.
Volunteers will learn how to plant and cultivate a variety of vegetables organically, including tomatoes, beans, lettuce, radishes, chiles, and cilantro. This part of the project will also tie in with compost production, for which the farm uses California Red Worms.
The farm currently cooks using propane and wood as fuels. The energy source Donald favours the most, however, and the one that the Finca is building towards is natural biogas (methane). Since the volunteer-assisted construction of a specially excavated site that produces it, Donald hopes that, in the near future, biogas will act as the Finca’s sole source of energy. As volunteers undertake their project, they will have a chance to learn about an alternative energy source and how it works.
The house and shop were built by the family, with trees that Donald and Xinia planted over ten years ago. The volunteers will apply a protective wood treatment to both structures. This is an annual process Donald and Xinia has carried out since the Finca’s construction.
There is a worldwide decline in amphibians, one of the major causes of which is the decimation of wetland areas. As such, a frog pond, stocked with natural plants and native frog species, has recently been dug, an innovation of the Finca volunteers are very much encouraged to help maintain and safeguard.
To get protein on the diet, La Gran Vista Staff is growing “ Tilapia fish”, now are starting a new lot of fish.
Cabins for volunteers and visitors.
To accommodate the growing number of visitors to the Finca, plans are afoot to construct more wood cabins close to the neighbouring forest, providing an ideal spot for volunteers and nature enthusiasts alike. Volunteers will, therefore, be involved in its construction, cutting wood, painting, mixing cement, digging and decorating.
Although the above projects take priority, there are other tasks on which the volunteers can lend a hand, including cutting and chopping wood for the kitchen stove. If the students are interested, they can help Xinia to make natural shampoo and/or insect repellent from herbs one evening. In addition, there will be several other duties essential to the farm. For instance, the chickens and ducks require food and water every morning, and their eggs need to be collected.
Another possibility is feeding the animals (chickens, horses, cows), milking the cow and making cheese or yoghurt.
You will need to be reasonably fit for some of the work. Donald and Xinia work very hard, but their patience and sense of humour make for a cheerful working atmosphere. Volunteers will not have to work very early in the morning nor late at night. The working schedule, though intense, is intended to be exhilarating, not exhausting.
Given the nature of conservation/community development volunteer work, there are often numerous circumstances out of our control (e.g. the weather, relying on materials to be delivered in time, etc). Please understand that we will do our absolute best to keep tasks as described in project overview however if changes do need to be made we thank you in advance for your cooperation, flexibility and positive attitude.
Upon arrival in Costa Rica. Once in San José, volunteers take a three-hour bus journey to San Isidro ( Tracopa Company, stopping next to the Super Weber supermarket in a village called Repunta (15 minutes out of San Isidro). From there, volunteers will be picked up and driven to Finca La Gran Vista.
In terms of trips into town from the Finca itself, the local bus runs every hour to and from the nearby town of San Isidro, from a bus stop twenty-five minutes walking distance from the project site. Coming back from the town, volunteers in the past have found it easier to take a taxi all the way back up to the Finca (about 6000 colonies); the bus back is a cheaper option, but the walk from the bus stop is a good 40 minutes uphill.
The volunteers will stay with La Gran Vista family in a rustic cabin. There are four rooms set aside for the students, with two bunk beds in each, also there is an open place to set Camping Tents with room for six peoples or more.
Another set of cabins is soon to be constructed at the edge of the forest, two hundred metres from the main Finca building. The Finca is generally well-equipped, with hot showers and electric power sources in bedrooms. The volunteers are expected to keep their rooms clean, including the bathroom and kitchen. Xinia will provide cleaning materials. Guests are welcome to use the washing machine, as long as they are careful not to overload it. Xinia can provide the soap, but please use it sparingly. All waste can be recycled (apart from sanitary waste- please use the bin provided in the bathroom for this). Toilet paper must go into the bins marked “papel” in the bathroom, not down the toilet.
The host family will cook all the meals. The meals will consist of simple Costa Rican food and will include a lot of cooked rice and beans.
Volunteers can even learn how to process, and help drink, La Gran Vista’s very own house wine, a sweet concoction that always goes down smooth. With a large number of guests staying, Xinia will need a little help in the kitchen, and so each volunteer will help with food preparation for a day. This will give them a chance to practice their Spanish, learn a bit about typical Tico cuisine, make frescoes, and possibly cook with biogas.
We ask that everyone helps with the dishes after lunch and supper- it goes much faster with a little bit of help. The best and fairest way to manage this is for the group leader to organize small groups of three who take it in turns to wash up after each meal.
If you have special dietary needs, please let the La Gran Vista office know ahead of time.
Please remember that vegetarianism is not the norm in Costa Rica, but simple requests for no meat can easily be honoured. Don’t expect veggie lasagna or soymilk, but you will enjoy lots of salad, fruit, eggs, cheese, rice and beans. Volunteers are welcome to store their own food in the refrigerator, but please remember that space is limited.
Banks, stores and communication (e.g. internet, public phones):
Public phones and e-mail access are available in the nearby town of San Isidro (twenty minutes away), as are banks (Banex exchanges American Express traveller’s cheques for free) and 24-hour electronic cashpoints.
There are many activities for students in their free time, from relaxing in a hammock to enjoying the local scenery and exploring the local area. Donald organizes regular tours to the Dominical Beach, and visits to the nearby waterfall. At the local school, a ten-minute walk away, there is a decent-sized football pitch with proper metal goalposts where ‘mejengas’ (huge, frantic games of football, usually about twenty-a-side) often take place. Volunteers are warmly welcomed to join in whenever there’s a game (you can see the pitch, and thus when children are playing, from the Finca!)
If volunteers choose to participate in any activities during their free time, all costs associated with that activity (e.g. transport, tickets, etc.) are the responsibility of the volunteers, not Finca la Gran Vista. Also, any meals missed during free time activities cannot be reimbursed.
Health and Safety
Costa Rica has very good health services, and the nearest clinic is in Palmares, about ten minutes away. There is also a large hospital about twenty minutes away, in San Isidro. Temperatures range from 87-97° F during the day, dropping to 82-86° F at night. Expect daily showers in the afternoons during your stay.
The medical insurance policy in Costa Rica
All students must carry a comprehensive medical insurance policy; in addition, participants are encouraged to consult a travel clinic and/or their personal physician to discuss recommended immunizations for Costa Rica. We encourage every participant to be up to date on his/her tetanus shot (good for 10 years). La Gran Vista has never had problems with malaria or cholera of the area where the project is located, though these are both present in Costa Rica. Dengue is most prominent during the rainy season. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control provides tips about how to stay healthy while in Costa Rica, as well as recommendations for immunizations (www.cdc.gov ).
We also suggest that you bring basic medicine for headaches, diarrhoea, stomach aches, and mosquito bites (a strong anti-itch cream). Remember to bring any prescription medications you will need as well as any over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, Tylenol, etc. you’d normally take. Most over-the-counter pharmacy products are readily available in San José and can be bought before going to the project site, though it is best to arrive with most of what you will need.
One of the most common, yet preventable, ailments of visitors to the tropics is dehydration. Water is treated in Costa Rica; however, some people may experience slight stomach upset when they first arrive in the country. To be safe, you may want to buy bottled water or boil water for your water bottles in the mornings or at night. Whatever you do, just be sure to drink lots of water every day to avoid getting dehydrated, especially on working days! Should you get diarrhoea, please inform the coordinator immediately- usually, the problem resolves itself in one or two days. Wash your hands frequently, rest as necessary, and drink lots of liquids.
Sunburn & insect bites in Costa Rica
The sun is another important health factor to consider- you can burn in the tropics even on cloudy days, so always use sunblock (SPF 30+) and a hat, and drink plenty of water. Moderate to severe sunburns are not uncommon among visitors and volunteers, yet they are completely preventable. Please be cautious in the sun: a severe sunburn can quickly ruin your trip.
Blisters and mild abrasions are common when doing outdoor work. Mosquitoes are present at dusk and into the night, so use repellant after sunset. You may also want to sleep under a fine-meshed mosquito net. All participants are strongly advised to use a flashlight when walking anywhere at night, as a precaution to avoid stepping on a snake. Also, at night working boots (not sandals) should be worn. If you are allergic to insect bites or stings, work in long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
No use of dangerous machines.
Volunteers will need permission from Donald to use machetes or electrical machines. Always follow all the safety protocols and guidelines. Donald’s eldest son Max has a Red Cross First Aid certificate, should there be an emergency on the farm.
Bring a positive, hard-working attitude. Volunteers must have their own comprehensive medical insurance, plus some sort of travel insurance, including a cancellation policy. No alcohol is allowed on the farm; if you go out into the community to have a beer, please respect the wishes of your project host family. Smoking is allowed only in designated areas outdoors. The community has only a limited amount of water, so please use it sparingly (i.e. one shower per day, one laundry wash per week). Most phones do work here, but it is much cheaper to buy into the local system. Nice 3G phones run about $150 and $35 per month
What to Bring
- Light rain jacket (rain pants optional);
- Sunblock SPF 30+ (can be purchased in San Isidro upon arrival in Costa Rica);
- Calamine lotion (or another anti-itch cream)/after-sun cream;
- Insect repellent (it can be purchased in San Isidro upon arrival in Costa Rica);
- Rubber boots (it can be purchased in San Isidro upon arrival in Costa Rica);
- Camera with extra film/memory cards;
- Headlamp (or flashlight) with spare batteries;
- Basic First Aid Kit (including treatments for blisters, minor cuts, muscle aches, and insect bites);
- Re-usable water bottle;
- Lightweight beach clothing, swimsuit and pack-towel;
- Tee shirts, shorts, capris (casual clothing- quick dry if possible);
- Sleeping sheets or lightweight sleeping bag;
- Sandals or flip flops to wear inside;
- Sun hat/ball cap, bandana;
- Notebook, pens, pencils.
Electrical appliances (eg. Cameras, MP3 players) can be charged up at power sources in the dormitories, so do bring any necessary chargers and electrical adaptors you may need.
Also, if there are any pieces of working clothing, footwear, books, etc. you no longer want or can’t fit into your bag at the end of the project, Donald very much appreciates anything you may wish to ‘donate’ to the Finca. Of course, the project warmly welcomes any monetary donations, which can be sent to the address on the title page.
The following are species of mammals in the area:
- Caluromys derbianus zorro de balsa
- Philander opossum zorro cuatro ojos
- Caluromys derbianus zorro de balsa
- Philander opossum zorro cuatro ojos
- Tamandua mexicana oso hormiguero
- Bradypus variegatus perica ligera
- Choloepus hoffmanni perica ligera
- Dasypus novemcinctus cusuco
- Sciurus granatensis ardilla
- Sciurus variegatoides chiza
- Coendou mexicanus puercoespín
- Dasyprocta punctata guatusa
- Cuniculus paca tepezcuintle
- Canis latrans Coyote
- Nasua narica pizote
- Potos flavus martilla
- Procyon lotor mapachín
- Conepatus semistriatus zorrillo hediondo
- Eira barbara tolomuco
- Galictis vittata tejón
- Leopardos wiedii** caucel
The following are some of the birds you might see in the area:
- Ramphocelus passerinii* Sargento
- Thraupis episcopus* Viuda
- Atlapetes atricapillus Saltón
- Atlapetes brunneinuchus** Saltón
- Passerina ciris Siete colores
- Carduelos xanthogastra Mozotillo
- Quiscalus mexicanus* Zanate
- Diglosia plumbea Pinchaflor
Phone: (506) 8924 8983 ask for Donald Villalobos.