Daniel Vega is an organic farmer from Costa Rica. We went to his farm last week to learn about his work and how Costa Rican farmers can become organic and sustainable. We harvested and shelled peppers (Tejas ate 100 at one time!), made compost, fed pigs, planted vanilla, and transplanted cacao trees (13, so one was named after each of us). The most valuable experience was hearing Daniel’s story about why he turned to organic farming:
Originally, Daniel worked with non-organic banana and pineapple operations.These plantations were run by big corporations that played a major role in the illegal excavation of primary and rainforest which caused the region’s ecology and biodiversity to suffer greatly. Although farmers like Daniel recognized the immorality of these practices, they needed an income to put food on the table for their families. This form of food production cuts down thousand of trees and crippled the once thriving, biodiverse environment. The workers were required to drive huge bulldozers through the forest to clear the land. This machinery ripped up the rainforest while destroying waterways, habitat, and thousands of years of plant communities. Although he was doing all of this to feed his family with a minimal paycheck, he was also not able to bring back any of the local fish or plants from the destruction because it would be evidence of the illegal activity.
Daniel then told us one of the stories closest to his heart. He explained the transformation in his life from conventional farming to organic and why he promotes love and harmony with the earth. In addition to the destroyed rainforest, the pineapple and banana monoculture farms used tons of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. These contaminated waterways, and killed off many of the fish and aquatic life in the region. Seeing and contributing to the destroyed waterways is another reason that Daniel has vowed himself to organic and diversified farming practices. He explained that this change has been not only connected to the health of the river, but also the health of the community, wildlife, personal health, and happiness. From his days of working in conventional agriculture, the chemicals from the non-organic farms have made Daniel lose his hearing, taste, and contributed greatly to different skin conditions.
One night while driving, he came across a monkey in his path. Seeing the monkey, he started down from his dozer in an attempt to get the monkey to move out of the way. When he looked behind him, he saw four other bulldozers all telling him to continue on. Closing his eyes, he continued forward. This was also the last straw. Daniel and six friends came together and agreed that they were fed up with this line of work and worked towards farming in a new way. This is when he rediscovered polyculture farming and all of the benefits that come along with it. This was 2007. Since, he has overcome many challenges with a lot of different friends and family in the region. He became organic certified in 2013 and was finally able to build his family a permanent home last year.
Daniel has received death threats for trying to educate people on organic, polyculture farming but he believes his life mission is to pass along his story and organic farming values. It is also worth noting that he is the last one of the seven men still alive that decided to opt out of the conventional operation in 2007.
All of us found this story and our two days at his farm extremely valuable in broadening our understanding of global agriculture and the impact of our demands on land use decisions in other places in the world. He welcomed us in and treated us like family. His love for the rainforest and genuine effort to help his community is demonstrated every day through his livelihood. He is someone who lives out the values he wishes to see in the world. He greatly inspired every one of us to live our own lives as authentically, organically, and compassionately as he does. We are extremely grateful to meet and work alongside such an inspiration.