By Thomas Newmark, Finca Luna Nueva Lodge
Make chocolate in the rainforest? Of course! You’ll take a thousand-year journey through the history of growing cacao and making chocolate, even using an ancient cacao grinding stone recovered from the Caribbean slope of the great Atlantic rainforest in Costa Rica. Plus, you get to drink and eat the tour, experiencing the spicy Mayan “Drink of the Gods,” the silky sweetness of our hot chocolate, and bars of chocolate flavored the way you, the jungle chocolatier, like it!
Learn about the brightly flavorful medicinal honey of the famous “Mariola” stingless bees? Yes, those bees are what we consider the livestock of this farm, pollinating native plant species and creating delicious honey. You’ll see how we’ve created homes and habitats for them and how they support the great biodiversity in our fields.
What about tasting tropical spices like cardamon, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg, and mace? They all grow here, and we use them in preparing our foods and specialty drinks. You can take herbal tours and learn how we dry, grind, and prepare our many herbs and spices.
So, if it’s a farm-to-table experience in the rainforest you’re seeking, we’re here to fill your senses. We can check that box! But what about filling your souls? Is there a rainforest medicine that gives you hope about the planet? We think so, and it’s called regenerative farming. Farming is so often blamed for many of the world’s ills, and many environmentalists feel that we need to limit farming to a bare minimum of acres, in order to conserve wilderness. Simply put, this approach says intensively and destructively farm some areas in order that other areas can survive. That ecological concept is called “sparing,” and it’s NOT how we approach farming here at Luna Nueva. Instead, we have a mindset of “sharing,” where we produce food in a way that mimics how rainforests create food energy. We and others call this concept of farming “regenerative,” reflecting that we grow food in a way that repairs and enriches our ecosystem.
This concept is simple: Finca Luna Nueva is in a hilly region of the rainforest where the land “wants” to become a rainforest. Left undisturbed, our rich volcanic soils would quickly cycle through brush to secondary forest and then finally on to primary rainforest. These are the Laws of Nature of this place, and they are strong! You’ll feel and see the fertility – everything grows quickly here. We joke and say if you drop your car keys a car might grow. In the not-too-distant past we cleared some land to grow turmeric, and when we allowed that land to fallow, the seeds in the soil almost overnight turned that plot of farmland into rainforest. You can walk that region on a trail we call the Sacred Seeds Sanctuary.
Rather than fighting against those natural tendencies, we, and those who practice regenerative farming, instead celebrate the nature of the place and farm in a way that resembles how a forest works. You’ll see this when you take a farm tour here – our fields don’t look anything like the normal commercial farms of North America. Charles Darwin, upon first seeing the Great Atlantic Rainforest, asked “why the riot?” Why, indeed? Biologists still debate that question, and while we can’t give a definitive answer, we can sure celebrate that riot of diversity. We farm in a way that has plants at every height, from the ground up to the canopy, with leaves of every shape and orientation, capturing as much of the sun’s energy as possible and turning it into food for all creatures and creation. Our forests inspire our farming, and it’s our belief that our farming, by “sharing” the ecosystem, will help regenerate ecological health.
We’re not alone in this belief, and scientists regularly visit us to study our farming techniques. We recently had scientists from two major US universities use our regenerative cacao field as a research station. These researchers hinted that our soils were powerhouses of fertility and health, and we are expecting scientific papers that will soon report on the results of this research. Yes, it turns out that a vacation at Finca Luna Nueva will take you into a science classroom, except this one has monkeys, sloths, a pool, and great food!
And what happens if we humans can “share” an ecosystem and produce nutritious food in a way that creates ecological health? What happens if the diverse plants of our farming system can draw down excess CO2 from the atmosphere and put that carbon to work in the creation of new soil? What happens is planetary healing! What happens is an answer to the existential challenge of how to feed seven-plus billion people without destroying the environment. What happens is excitement, energy, and a renewed spirit to live in harmony with Mother Nature. What happens is you get a vacation where recreation includes the re-creation of life!
And you also can get massages in our spa, do yoga overlooking a tea garden, eat and drink in our poolside restaurant and bar, milk the cows in our dairy, climb the tower designed by the famous bamboo designer Jorg Stamm to watch astounding tropical birds, take night hikes with expert guides, listen to howler monkeys, swim in paradise, hike the Luna rainforest in our backyard, go zip lining, explore the neighboring Children’s Eternal Rainforest, take white water rafts and go canyoneering, and soak in volcanic hot springs.
And while you’re doing all this, let the twin energies of sharing and regeneration fill you with hope and delight. Pura Vida!
Article by Tom Newmark, co-owner of Finca Luna Nueva Lodge, a farm and ecolodge in the mountainous rainforest of Costa Rica that teaches regenerative agriculture. He is the co-founder and board chair of The Carbon Underground, co-founder of the Soil Carbon Initiative and a founding member of that standard’s Design Team, past board chair of the Greenpeace Fund USA, and a founding member of the Leadership Council of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems at California State University – Chico. He is also the past board chair of the America Botanical Council, publisher of the peer-reviewed journal HerbalGram.