Young Farmer Bursary

Funded by the GDAS Charitable Grant Scheme

Lucy Mitchell-Dwelly's Account of her Volunteering Project

Due to the amazing opportunities available to me as a member of Young Farmers, and funding help from the Gransden Show with a generous bursary, I was able to volunteer in Costa Rica earlier this year, in August.

Meeting nine agriculturally minded people at Heathrow, we set off on our 19 hour trip to the Barra Honda National Park. Here we met staff members Daniel, and Oscar (whose mum makes amazing tortillas and biscuits at her home bakery). We also met Jose Mario, leading our project, his project. He explained that a sizeable amount of land was being sold abroad and to large companies. His initiative was to offer small loans, advice and inspiration to locals working with him. By traveling over to help, we had already funded the tools and time needed to construct an organic garden at a local primary school. We had one week. Armed with wheelbarrows, shovels, pickaxes, a machete and most importantly bokashi (a fertile manure mix) we set to work.

Levelling the ground, we made use of space, allowing for three trenches. One 40cm deep and two 15cm. After the first day, with one trench excavated, we had our first burst of tropical rain. It flooded the site and created little streams leading to our shower blocks and strumming the surrounding leaves; leaving as quickly as it came. It didn’t, however, leave our trench, we had to empty that manually and then take care covering our trenches as soon as we had completed them. These trenches became beds, filled with bokashi and sifted soil. Once complete we covered the beds with simple plastic sheets, stretched and taped over structures of metal poles and piping. Finally, we included a drip water system attached to a water tower running over the beds.

While at the school we ‘gringos’ saw the interest this had created. Joining us in their breaks, the children sat on the floor outside their classroom, watching us work and shouting ‘Hola’ mixed in with some confident ‘Hello!’. These children have the responsibility of looking after the garden with the help of Jose, hopefully inspiring the children and community to locally produce. Typically radishes, cilantro, lettuce and similar vegetables can grow all year round, educating the process to achieve this is important to the project.

On the first day of our project, it was also Sam’s birthday – another volunteer – and an event which allowed pancakes for breakfast and a cake after dinner. We also quietly went to the pub with Oscar and Jose for a few beers and merengue dancing. The pub was a half open deck attached to the owner’s house, typically empty other than our party and a few children, or a couple of customers. We tried the local beers, Imperial and Pilsen, and their spirit cacique, much like a rum, and traditional drink of Costa Rica. We visited the pub a few times after volunteering to chat, drink and dance.

After our one week volunteering we had an adventure and beach weekend. Zip lining, tubing, horse riding and visiting a spa, we were well rested for the following week; one involving less manual labour. We visited two other natural parks, one privately owned. Here coffee, mango and bananas were grown, as well as hosting a greater biodiversity of fauna and flora. Seeing a viewpoint from a higher altitude was spectacular and swimming in a waterfall river made this visit picturesque. Finally we visited El Toledo National Park. We learnt about their history with chocolate and local arable land, how pineapple fields were easily unsustainable and requiring an approach with low chemicals and high crop turnover, an approach used by few.

Arriving at El Toledo, we walked two hours to our cabin, while our luggage took the more conventional, tarmacked route. We saw many animals in our stay, including toucans, sloths, frogs, chicadas, dung beetles, howler monkeys, lizards, (frogs in the shower) and giant butterflies. Sadly, we left after two weeks, and now wait in anticipation to see our garden in full swing.

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