By Kelsey Porter, Macalester College ’18
Kelsey is currently in Costa Rica with the Spring 2017 Tropical Diseases, Environmental Change, and Human Health program.
During the time that we studied at La Selva earlier in the semester, we had the chance to visit Finca Sura, a natural pineapple farm nearby. Finca Sura is considered “natural” because its caretakers use sustainable methods to grow pineapples, unlike most large-scale plantations. As we approached the farm, I admired the crimson decorative palms that line many of the roads and pathways.
When we arrived, we were greeted by one of the farmers, who led us to the open-air dining room and offered us some initial refreshments: fresh, cool pineapple juice. The sweet taste was quite welcome on such a warm, sticky day. Next, we went on a guided tour of the farm to learn about the plants of Finca Sura and the methods by which they are grown. Before reaching the pineapple field, we were surprised and delighted to become acquainted with Matilda, the family pig:
Throughout our visit, we learned about the factors that differentiate Finca Sura from its “organic” and “conventional” pineapple farm counterparts. Organic pineapple farms avoid using chemicals, but they place black plastic across the ground to keep out pests. Unfortunately, the plastic is not always effective, and it also contributes to waste production since it can only be reused two or three times. Conventional (large-scale) farms use a mixture of pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides to kill off potential threats. They also allow pineapples to grow quite close to each other, and as a result, each individual does not receive adequate nutrients from the soil. Furthermore, conventional farms often lack effective crop rotation methods. They plant the same crop in the same place for many years and only let the land rest for one month between growing seasons, leaving the soil in a state of perpetual depletion.
Finca Sura, in contrast, has developed sustainable (and fairly simple) ways to keep their pineapples healthy. For starters, they are completely chemical-free. This may seem impossible in the Age of Pesticides, but the farmers at Finca Sura use creative strategies to keep the critters away. They plant a variety of tasty supplementary plants, such as bananas and papayas, in various sections of their farm. As a result, many of the birds and insects that would normally devour the pineapples instead choose to munch on the delectable diversity of other fresh fruits. Additionally, the farmers make sure that individual pineapples have enough room to grow by separating and re-planting young plants as they sprout. To maintain a balance of pineapples at different stages of development, the farmers also sometimes cut the green leaves at the top (the crown) to delay maturation of the fruit. Lastly, Finca Sura uses a crop rotation cycle—3 years on, 1 year off—to allow the soil to fully recover between growing seasons.
After learning all about the pineapples, we had the chance to taste them. Our guide picked a couple mature ones from a nearby field and skillfully diced them into bite-sized pieces. I usually don’t like pineapple in large proportions, but these were so sweet and fresh that I could have kept eating them for awhile!
When we returned from our tour, we were treated to a second, even more decadent round of refreshments: guanábana juice, sugarcane juice with ginger, fresh coffee, and pineapple bread. Since it was close to dinnertime, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the hearty snacks.
Overall, I really enjoyed learning about the techniques used by Finca Sura. I wondered why other farms don’t adopt similar methods to make their practices more sustainable. Are these methods considered too labor-intensive? Too costly? Too slow? Whatever the reasoning, I think that the long-term effects of heavy chemical use have already started to reveal themselves in daunting and widespread ways. I hope that farms like Finca Sura are able to teach others, so that sustainable farming practices can expand beyond the scope of small family farms.